Is there a Problem with Public Understanding of Genetics?
Past event 14.09.2006
Professor Paul Griffiths
Boardroom, ESRC Genomics Forum, 3rd Floor of St John's Land1530-1700
Over the last 25 years public understanding of science researchers have rejected a 'deficit model' in which the aim of science communication is to bring the views of the public into line with those of scientific experts. Instead, it is widely held that the aim should be to empower a disparate range of publics to construct representations of science that effectively serve their own needs. In the history and philosophy of biology, however, the shortcomings of public understandings of genetics and genomics remain the focus of considerable concern. I argue that these concerns should not be tarred with the same brush as the deficit model. They do not result from 'privileging' the representations of scientific experts, but rather from questioning the adequacy of current representations of genes, genomes and gene action by all groups, expert and non-expert alike. Pigliucci and Kaplan have recently characterized much work in the history and philosophy of biology as 'science criticism' - I explore this interesting but problematic formulation. I suggest that, ultimately, these two literatures complement one another, and that the aims of science communication can legitimately include amelioration as well as empowerment.
Professor Paul Griffiths is a visiting professor at the Egenis, University of Exeter