Sunday, May 23, 2010

Waves of Science

Probably the most memorable thing I got out of last week's readings was the idea of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd waves of science as put forthe by Collins and Evans.

I thought of an interesting correlation which I'm not sure carries weight, but in my "intro to PR" class, we discussed certain theories of persuasion which may have worked the same way on the public as the first and second waves of science did. The first correlation, being between how scientists in the 60's were deemed to be somewhat of an "end all, be all" when it came to credibility of arguement. In any commercial message aired back then, it was always possible to make the arguement that "since the scientist says it's true, it must be true." --this pairs well with the Silver Bullet Theory of persuasion--or appeals to authority--"since authority X says it's true, it must be" --- but nowadays, we're a bit more savvy--"2nd wavy"-- and we take more stock in what others say about a subject or controversy. We understand that we can't necessarily take what others deem to be truth at face value--we have a new need for critical inquiry--which is good. We now take advertising with a grain of salt.

But since we construct knowledge socially, we require the validation of other's in order to establish our values and truths. --This is where I was able to make a connection of 2nd wave science thinking to N-Type theory, and other persuasion theories where Opinion Leaders have the most sway, and where Third Party Contributors and Commentators, whether they be credible or not, hold power of persuasion over their closely held publics.

I also found the connundrum of decision making timetables between scientists and politicians to be pretty intersting. (Because science moves slower than political descisions) -- How ARE they to make good decisions before the "scientific dust has settled". --But how this issue is solved, to me, is still a bit of a mystery. One which may be revealed upon a second or third reading of the material.

What I also liked about this article was where the authors compared artistic expertise, with scientific expertise with regard to being a critical consumer of either.
I tend to agree that those who are better versed in the creation of either, would be the best to critique--however, one place of departure (or not) is that art appreciation is often subjective--where science tries hard to maintain as much objectivity as possible. I think that's really where the only difference I can think of comes in to play.

I certainly don't think that lay-people, or those whom have not done extensive research into an issue should be considered experts, or to be put in a position to make decisions or legislate. That's just ass-backwards (but welcome to democracy).

I'm still trying to wrap my head around what the suggested fix is.

This i

Monday, May 17, 2010

Science communication reconsidered

I found it interesting that in this article, near the end, while reccommendations are being made for how Scientists can better communicate with lay audiences, that they pointed out that while encouraging public forms of discourse; the drive for doing so needs to come from "an honest effort in relationship and trust building rather than persuasion", and that active participation should also be fostered.

This was interesting to me, because they talk a lot about framing, which is a form of persuasion, whether intended or not, it allows for a set of actions to be viewed through a lens, or perspective, which has been derived by someone other than the observer/participant.

Regarding the need for the lay public to become involved in science in the making, I think it is difficult to really measure whether we need to be doing more or not. The bloggosphere, while some of it may not be as credible as peer reviewed, cited sources, does provide for quite a bit of discussion on a wide range of topics. I have even observed many of these which stemmed from major news outlets who posed the original story in their science sections.

I'm not quite sure what to make of the fact that these authors seem to be asking for PR help. I think that in some of the examples where they talked about stakeholders disseminating information (those who are highly invested in the product, or those who are vehemently opposed) either side would lobby just as hard for change, and would employ any sort of PR firm or shadow organization to do their bidding/framing.

Then, we all get to sort it out and decide for ourselves who is right or wrong. Hence the importance of critical inquiry, which seems to be taught only through higher education these days.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mulling over Marres

Here is what I took from the article by Noortje Marres.

I think that the idea that stuck with me the most was the idea (similar to Latour's upstream/downstream science in the making argument) that Marres' argument can be shaped similarly, in that:

(being upstream) STS is about research (about values AND information), which then needs to be framed and mobilized to a public (whom generally will not act on information unless an issue affects them directly, per Marres--which is why values targeting is important)--the public will then frame and mobilize the issues toward the institution, whom then frames and mobilizes it to legislators... where we end up "downstream" with policy.

Through this process, a certain cohesiveness between particular groups can occur, and assemblages can be identified.

She also goes on to talk about the process of framing, and its important role in consensus building in a public. We have to look carefully about how we "select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating context" (Entman, 1993: 53)

She says that institutions can't do things on their own, or unilatterally, just as democratic governments cannot work without the votes of their constituents. She argues that the public needs to mobilize the issues to the institutions because their resources are better allocated. This idea reverberates through a few different parts of the assemblage.

She sees value in public discourse, and indicates that this is where the most/best action is. (Which is similar to Latour's arguement of being a part of science in the making)--She also thinks that we aren't doing enough to involve the public in sciences and technology research, and that steps must be taken to involve them, but exactly how, is debatable. (See also the Lippman/Dewey debate on "advocate of expertocracy vs. Proponent of participatory democracy")

I personally think that a balance has to be stuck between the two ideologies, and that experts can do a better job of involving the public. Presenting their work is a part of what they do... they should be good at it--and it should be relevant.

I can see the parallels between what Marres is saying, and what some of the other authors we've read are saying.

Monday, May 3, 2010


The idea of an assemblage as put forth by Jane Bennet seems to echo some of the notions we have explored previously in the class, specifically that certain "actants" in a scenario seem to "hang together" or that they are cohesive--but do not necessarily reinforce or cancel each other (to put it in physical terms).

It seems to me that this notion simply identifies the fact that any given system is prone to a certain amount of uncertainty--or to put forth another theory for further explanation, "Chaos Theory" might come in to the discussion. We can not predict an outcome within certain systems, and as a political result of such inabilities, we see corporations or "actants" either human or inhuman, blamed or praised because of the effects.

In Jane's Power Grid scenario, it was the unpredictability of the power grid itself that was blamed as an unforseen consequence of a deregulated system within which accountability was sought.

Also of note; Bennett goes on to talk about the Chinese tradition of "shi", which basically eludes to the notion that systems have a certain way of operating, and that one can either "go with the flow" or fight against it. This is congruent with other ideas I have interpreted in the past as "chi" or "shwei". Bennett defines it as "style, energy, propensity, trajectory, or elan inherent to a specific arrangement of things."

It is becoming more difficult to connect the dots for these readings, however I do see parallels with the work of Latour in that these things from different areas (alliances, representations, disciplines, and mobilization) are "hanging together" to form a larger "assemblage", and that by breaking it down into it's parts, we may be able to control, or massage information in order to pursue our own ends.

I think.