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Impact of uncertainty in science on policymaking focus of CHEPA seminar

03 Nov 2011

The ways in which science responds to environmental problems and ultimately informs policymaking will be the subject of the CHEPA monthly seminar on Nov. 16.

Michael Egan, an associate professor in the Department of History at McMaster University, will draw on a current research project examining the regulating of mercury pollution since the Second World War, for this presentation entitled The Politics of Expertise (or, When Scientists Disagree): Uncertainty, Agnotology and Haste in Twentieth-Century Mercury Science.

Agnotology is the study of culturally-induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.

Egan’s talk will concentrate on the problem of the need for scientific knowledge after an environmental problem surfaces, and the difficulties associated with creating knowledge under such time constraints, especially when it will have immediate policy implications. He will discuss a series of case studies in which scientific expertise clashed, how consensus wasn’t achieved, and why. He will also outline how uncertainty manifests itself in science and how that ultimately undermines its authority in the political arena.

Egan’s research is predominantly focused on the science of environmental crises. His current research concentrates on the history of science and global environmental governance, particularly as they pertain to toxic legacies. He is director of the Sustainable Future History Project, which is predicated on the idea that in order to fully understand the social, political, economic and ecological extent of our contemporary environmental crisis, we need to be conscious of its historical context.

Egan, who has a PhD in environmental history from Washington State University, has written extensively on the intersections of science, environmentalism and social justice in the 20th century, and is the author of Barry Commoner and the Science of Survival: The Remaking of American Environmentalism.

The seminar will take place from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in Room B119 in the Communications Research Laboratory. For those who are unable to attend, remote access to the seminar is available through Elluminate. Click here for details on how to log on to hear the presentation.

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