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9-Misc: British scientists exclude 'maverick' colleagues, saysreport



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TITLE:  British scientists exclude 'maverick' colleagues, says report
SOURCE: Cardiff University, UK
        http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/newsevents/6402.html
DATE:   16 Aug 2004

------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------


British scientists exclude 'maverick' colleagues, says report

Scientists in Britain tend to exclude controversial "maverick" colleagues
from their community to ensure they do not gain scientific legitimacy,
new research has shown.

A Cardiff University study has found that British scientists' attitudes
differ considerably from those of their counterparts in Sweden, when
managing dissent.

The research, by Lena Eriksson, a Swedish researcher in the Cardiff
School of Social Sciences, has shown that British scientists operated
with firm boundaries between 'inside' and 'outside' and believed that
controversial scientists needed to be placed outside the community so as
to not gain scientific legitimacy.

Swedish scientists were more inclined to ensure that all members 'have
their say'. They were more likely to be inclusive, so as not to create
adversaries who would threaten the scientific community.

"A good example of this is with new technologies such as Genetically
Modified foods," said Dr Eriksson. "The media are often blamed for
presenting a misleading image of science, but to some extent, public
perception of such scientifically and politically charged issues turns on
the way scientists present themselves to the outside world.

"The image of a scientific establishment attacking and punishing
individual researchers with contentious results -- such as the MMR vaccine
controversy - has done little to inspire public trust in science."

Her research centred on a year-long qualitative study, interviewing some
30 scientists in Britain and Sweden, all working with issues regarding
genetic modification. It was funded by the Economic and Social Research
Council (ESRC), under the Science in Society Programme. The results of
the study can be summarised as follows:
- British scientists viewed controversies as events, caused by pre-
existing dissenters within the community. The Swedish scientists tended
to think of controversies as a process, and of fully-fledged 'mavericks'
as the dangerous result of a gradual positioning of disenchanted
scientists who ended up attacking a community to which they no longer
belonged.
- British scientists felt it was crucial to avoid giving scientific
legitimacy to scientists that they described as 'mavericks' and that
their distancing from the scientific community was therefore necessary.
Swedish scientists thought that ousting of dissenting scientists only
served to exacerbate problems.
- With the exception of university research, mechanisms for control of
outgoing material tended to be more elaborate and more strictly followed
in Britain, than in Sweden. British scientists also felt that a breach of
procedures would have graver consequences, than did their Swedish peers.
- British scientists viewed surveying of outgoing material and
communication of research as safety mechanisms in place for their own
protection, whereas Swedish interviewees to perceive such procedures as a
sign of increasing bureaucracy. British scientists felt a greater need
for claims to be 'watertight', imagining a potentially hostile response.




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