Center for Interdisziplinary Research

Science and the Public

Date: May 30 - June 1, 2012

Convenors: Martin Carrier (Bielefeld), Peter Weingart (Bielefeld)

The traditional picture of academic scientific research places the community of specialists at center stage. It is the scientific community that is responsible for selecting problems, for conceiving answers and for judging pertinent proposals according to their own disciplinary standards.
A second focus has been on the relationship between science and politics or governments respectively in terms of a principal-agent relation. The political direction of research for the public good vs. autonomous self-direction with long-term but uncertain benefit for society as the fundamental problem of science policy is at the center of this discourse. But neither in the first nor in the second discourse was government or politics or civil society in general regarded analytically as a 'public' or audience. In both cases the notion of the 'public' as a referent for scientific knowledge production, for the choice of research topics or for the priority setting by universities, research institutes or research councils had no analytical place.
That has changed. Attempts by policy makers at gaining acceptance for science under the impression of growing public resentment of certain research programs (e.g. green biotechnology) and technologies (e.g. nuclear power) has brought the albeit very undifferentiated 'public' on stage. The discourse on risks bestowed by science and the technology community respectively and the attempts at mobilizing support/acceptance direct focus to a different framing of the problem: What is the proper place of science in democracies? In the more specialized debate 'public' becomes the crucial analytical category. Issue is: which are the relevant publics that should be addressed, how should they be addressed? Conversely it is being asked how expectations raised by the public (civil society, policy-makers, the media) toward science affect knowledge production, the criteria of epistemic quality, the quality of expertise?
The conference addressed both questions from various angles. M. Bucchi gave an overview of the changing relationship between science and the public in terms of the strategies that have been developed, i.e. from paternalistic 'Public Understanding of Science' to 'dialogue'. M. Brown probed the meaning and function of scientific literacy in theory of democracy. A. Bora and D. Kaldewey traced the notions of the public as patron supporting science on its promises and the public as client supporting science on the basis of demanded results. D. Brossard and H. Wormer looked at the role of the 'new media' in the communication with science, do they really broaden the relevant publics and intensify their participation? A. Friedrichsmeier, S. Rödder, M. Franzen, N. Taubert and H.-P. Peters reported their respective research findings on the extent and impact of 'media orientation' of universities and different disciplines on their communication and epistemic practices. H. Radder contributed philosophical reflections on the notion of 'science in the public interest'. S. Nikolow's historical account of health exhibitions provided an insight into the development of the public's interest in and communication with science. The 'science critic' revisited by S. Azzouni may be seen as the representative of the public raising its voice to science, and, finally C. Reinhardt's and T. Steinhauser's report on the negotiations over threshold values reveals yet another perspective on the interaction between the public as represented by industry and (regulatory) politics, and science.
All in all, the contributions confirmed the assumption that taking the 'public' as an analytical reference opens a host of relevant research questions regarding the place of science in modern democratic societies.


Safia Azzouni | Berlin | DEU, Sophia Bylinovich | Bielefeld | DEU, Alfons Bora | Bielefeld | DEU, Dominique Brossard| Madison, WI | USA, Mark B. Brown | Sacramento, CA | USA, Massimiano Bucchi | Trient | ITA, Martina Franzen | Bielefeld | DEU, Andreas Franzmann | Tübingen | DEU, Andreas Friedrichsmeier | Münster | DEU, Tessa Gjødesen | Odense | DNK, Luz Maria Hernandez | Bielefeld | DEU, Axel Jansen | Tübingen | DEU, David Kaldewey |Erlangen | DEU, Peter Münte | Bielefeld | DEU, Sybilla Nikolow | Bielefeld | DEU, Petra Pansegrau | Bielefeld | DEU, Hans Peter Peters | Jülich | DEU, Hans Radder | Amsterdam | NLD, Simone Rödder | Bielefeld | DEU, Patricia Schulz | Bielefeld | DEU, Thomas Steinhauser | Bielefeld | DEU, Michael Stöltzner | Columbia, SC | USA, Niels C. Taubert | Bielefeld | DEU, Andreas Wenninger | Bielefeld | DEU, Holger Wormer | Dortmund | DEU

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