PEST or Panacea?

Although some may say blogging is dead, the editors at Nature think it’s good to blog. The Nature editors discuss the place of blogging in scientific discourse, focusing on the reporting of results from papers in press (i.e. accepted by a journal for publication but not actually in print yet). They suggest that if the results of an article in press are reported at a conference then they are fair game for discussion and blogging. And they argue that “[m]ore researchers should engage with the blogosphere, including authors of papers in press”.

I wish I had more papers in the in press pile. Unfortunately I’ve got more in the under review pile (see my previous post), but at least I’m adding to it. Earlier this week David Demeritt, Sarah Dyer and I submitted a manuscript to Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. The paper discusses public engagement in science and technology and examines some of the practical challenges such a collaboration entails. One of the examples we use is the work I did during my PhD examining the communication of my model results with local stakeholders. It’s only just submitted so I’ll just post the abstract for now. As we get further along the review process toward the in press stage (with this and other papers) I’ll return to see if we can spark some debate.

David Demeritt, Sarah Dyer and James Millington
PEST or Panacea? Science, Democracy, and the Promise of Public Participation
Submitted Abstract
This paper explores what is entailed by the emerging UK consensus on the need for increased public engagement in science and technology, or PEST as we call it. Common to otherwise incompatible instrumental and de-ontological arguments for PEST is an associated claim that increased public engagement will also somehow make for ‘better’ science and science-based policy. We distinguish two different ways in which PEST might make such a substantive contribution, which we term ‘normative steering’ and ‘epistemic checking’. Achieving those different aims involves engaging with different publics in different ways to different ends. Accordingly, we review a number of recent experiments in PEST to assess the practical challenges in delivering on its various substantive promises. The paper concludes with some wider reflections on whether public engagement in science is actually the best way of resolving the democratic dilemmas to which PEST is addressed.

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