|The village of Onna, after the 2009 L'Aquila |
earthquake. Photo: Darkroom_Daze (Flickr)
DPhil Student, Institute of Development Studies
This year’s 'Science in Public' conference hosted by Nottingham University was excellent. I came away from two captivating days of presentations, discussions and (at times heated) debates having learnt a lot… and inevitably feeling frustrated in the knowledge that there was so much more to be learnt from the panels that I wanted to, but couldn’t, attend.
This is my attempt to summarise the ideas and messages from the conference that most challenged and changed the way that I think about science and society.
Science in Public
In 2012 this annual conference series, which was originally known as ‘Science and the Public’, underwent a radical name change, becoming, as it is today, the ‘Science in Public’ conference. OK, so it’s not a particularly drastic change, but this subtle alteration reflected an important discontent about the separation of science and public as distinct spheres of operation. Of course, such a distinction is neither straightforward nor necessarily appropriate, as I’m sure almost everyone at the conference would agree – with the possible exception of the keynote speaker Harry Collins (whose presentation was aptly described in the most popular tweet of the conference as ‘unusual’).
‘Science in Public’ – which gives a nod to Gregory and Miller’s 1998 book – although perhaps slightly clunky, makes more sense than the previous name. In fact, what was clear across the panels was that science operates within multiple publics; that publics operate within science; and that politics, policies and power pervade. But the organisers can be excused for not opting to host the “Science in Publics in Policy in Science in Policy in Publics in Science” conference, which in all but name the conference was.
Across the panels that I attended, a number of really interesting ideas were expressed about how the components of the science-public-policy nexus relate to each other. I summarise some of those that I found more surprising here: