Fear of the public or the taming of fearful publics?

05/01/2009 at 22:20 Leave a comment

At one of the first conferences on ethical aspects of nanotechnology in Columbia (SC), Hilgartner and Thurs presented some empirical results pointing out some interesting patterns of ascribing fear to ‘the’ public. In line with this argument, Arie Rip published an article, in which he even diagnosed a ‘nanophobia phobia’ – the fear of science and science policy of fearful publics. Recently, Richard Jones, a nano-scientist and subtle observer of nano related activities (cf. his blog), announced the “Fearing the fear of nanotechnology” in midst of the scientific community, in naturenews:

“Nanoscientists have always had a degree of nervousness about the way that public opinion of their science might unfold. ”

In view of these developments, one might strike on the idea that the fear of a fearful public does not only constitute a recurrent theme of the governance of nanotechnology, but of current science policy altogether. Such an assumption would cast a critical light on all the different means of participation, deliberation or upstream engagement, with which an allegedly worried public is aked to join the development of emerging technologies.  In this sense, participation does not so much target a sustainable, reasonable or ethically prudent development, but rather the taming of a dangerous public supposed to threaten the acceptance of a novel technology.

In fact, captions like “Terrified scientists? Angst? The decline of public trust?” seem to give evidence to a fundamental fear of the public in science and science policy.

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Entry filed under: Public understanding of science, Science policy. Tags: .

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