Celebrities and scientists

I attended the recent Leverhulme lecture series presented by Professor Shiela Jasanoff for the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge.

I was very interested in the discussion about the place of the citizen and the expert in deliberative and policy processes. My own research confirms Professor Jasanoff’s thesis that scientists and governments often perceive the public as being ignorant and lacking the capacity to engage with science in environmental issues, and believe, somewhat arrogantly, that it is their role to inform and educate the masses, rather than deliberate and listen. In Australia, we are seeing this played out now with the nuclear debate. The Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources recently announced that the Australian Government will fund an advertising program to dispel the widespread public myths and fears about nuclear energy. In all likelihood the campaign, which smells a lot like electioneering, will not alter the views of Australians. This is because scientists and governments underestimate the knowledge possessed by citizens and do not appreciate the level of public distrust of government and, increasingly, experts.

Professor Simon Schaffer described society as being one that no longer (if ever) trusts, rather it demands facts and proof. He also said that society is fascinated by celebrity more than science. Anecdotally he might be right. Society seems to trust and listen to celebrities more than scientists. Bono and Chris Martin appear to be our moral leaders in relation to the minority world’s relations with the majority world. Geoffrey Rush and Barry Humphries are leading the fight to protect heritage in Australia, while the British Wind Energy Association is attempting to persuade the public of the merits of wind energy through the encouragement of celebrity ‘champions’. Certainly, there is a noticeable trend towards celebrity environmentalism that is rich for research. I’ll add it to my list.

One Response

  1. I will link to the seminar papers when they are published.

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