Chernobyl Case Study Analysis: Science and Technology Studies
Wynne (1992) provides valuable insights into how the public synthesizes and acts upon scientific information. The case follows the scientific developments amongst Cumbrian sheep farmers in the aftermath of the Chernobyl radioactive disaster. When Chernobyl occurred, the area was a disaster, with everything being infected with radioactive material, including the sheep. The sheep were the major source of economic livelihood amongst the farmers, and this would affect their economy massively from the onset. Scientists were sent to inform the people about the restrictions that would be put on their sheep given their radioactivity and that these measures would only be short-lived.
The farmers were required to keep their sheep within the region and detest from trading them for a few weeks, as they were unsafe for consumption. These regulations were widely followed by the farmers before the restrictions were further tightened, worsening their economic situation. The scientists decried additional knowledge of the radioactivity and its effects that was unavailable initially. This led to huge losses on the part of the farmers in the end.
Social Perceptions of Science
The initial information the scientist disbursed to the sheep farmers was based on a scientific analysis conducted in a different area initially. The soil at the test area and the site of concern were varying and absorbed radioactive material differently. The deductions that the radioactive material would fade in a few weeks were misleading as the two types of soil have different levels of radioactive material clearance. The farmers had to sell their sheep at a loss in other unaffected areas, leading to massive economic hits. There was a widespread embarrassment and mistrust for scientists for the false hope they had given the people based on inconclusive studies.
Sismondo (2010) helps demystify the public perceptions on science and offers reasons as to why scientific information received varying receptions. Perception of scientific knowledge is not purely based on people’s intelligence, but also on certain social phenomena that influence group reactions. Scientific information is generally overwhelmingly researched and convincingly accurate in most instances. This is because it is based on sound principles that have been proven repeatedly.
Reputation of Scientists
Scientific knowledge is perceived based on a social package that consists of material social relations, connections, and interests. Society analyzes the risk associated with scientific knowledge and the basis of the scientific knowledge itself on their lives before judging how to react. Sismondo (2010) notes that previous encounters with those dispatching scientific knowledge are crucial in determining the reception of such knowledge. Sellafield was a nuclear power plant in Cumbria, England notorious for minor radioactive accidents that affected the people. It was also a large employer, and when one large fire had occurred in the area, scientists had downplayed its impacts. The people had their reservations about it and suspected foul play such that when Chernobyl happened, they did not believe the reports.
The government claimed Chernobyl dumped radioactive material in the area and would disappear in a short while. The case illustrates the importance of conclusive scientific research and faultless dissemination of this knowledge. The case raises questions about the government’s credibility and the preference of profits over people’s lives. The government had allowed Sellafield to thrive despite its evils and impacts. It raises the question of whether science should integrate morality or disregard it for advancement.
Sismondo, S. (2010). The Public Understanding of Science. In An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies, 2nd Edition | Wiley (pp. 168–179). Wiley-Blackwell.
Wynne, B. (1992). Misunderstood misunderstanding: social identities and public uptake of science. Public Understanding of Science, 1(3), 281–304. Web.