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Science and Society in Historical Perspective: Implications for Social Theories of Risk


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Over the past decade risk society theory has become increasingly prominent within the field of environmental social theory. This perspective contends that conventional political divisions based on class are becoming less salient and are giving way to a politics predicated upon the distribution of risk. There is much in risk society theory, especially its central contention that public anxieties about high consequence-low probability events undermine the legitimacy of science, that has a distinctly German stamp. Through a comparative analysis of how national context has differently shaped science as a public epistemology this paper suggests we should tread carefully in moving to accept the general applicability of this theoretical approach.
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Environmental Values 8 (1999): 153–176
© 1999 The White Horse Press, Cambridge, UK.
Science and Society in Historical Perspective:
Implications for Social Theories of Risk
Department of Geography and Environmental Studies Program
Binghamton University
Binghamton, NY 13902, USA
Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics & Society
Mansfield College
Oxford OX1 3TF, UK
ABSTRACT: Over the past decade risk society theory has become increasingly
prominent within the field of environmental social theory. This perspective
contends that conventional political divisions based on class are becoming less
salient and are giving way to a politics predicated upon the distribution of risk.
There is much in risk society theory, especially its central contention that public
anxieties about high consequence-low probability events undermine the legiti-
macy of science, that has a distinctly German stamp. Through a comparative
analysis of how national context has differently shaped science as a public
epistemology this paper suggests we should tread carefully in moving to accept
the general applicability of this theoretical approach.
KEYWORDS: Environmental sociology, public understanding of science,
scientific mentality, Germany, Britain
Due to the increasing prominence of global environmental dilemmas, as well as
to specific salient events such as the Chernobyl nuclear accident, social theorists
have begun to renew their interest in the disenchanting effects of an ever-
widening technicised society. This new phase of attention on the dark side of
social change departs from past excursions in this direction because now
interleaved with the conventional array of issues is explicit consideration of
public diffidence concerning the risks embedded in advanced technological
systems. A handful of prominent authors has been largely responsible for
framing this new theoretical agenda, one that will invariably carry us into the
next millennium (see especially Giddens, 1990; Beck, 1992). Among a broad
international cross-section of academics and media popularisers there has been
an eagerness to embrace these new perspectives. For instance, some proponents
of these views, drawing particularly heavily on the work of the German theorist
Ulrich Beck, have come to characterise the contemporary era as a ‘risk society’.
Purported public preoccupation with the ill-effects of genetic engineering and
toxic chemicals are signal manifestations of this new phase of societal evolution.
The outbreak in Britain of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow
disease) is frequently held up as the pre-eminent illustration of the slide toward
this enigmatic new status. The extent to which this largely German-inspired
approach has relevance for Western societies more generally demands greater
scrutiny than has heretofore been applied.
In ascertaining the rise of risk in contemporary society these prevalent
treatments give pride of place to the pervasive influence of scientific expertise.
These theorists are correct in their recognition that the environment, along with
perhaps health and medicine, has been the leading domain in which science has
established itself in the advanced nations as an indispensable form of knowledge.
We have now reached a stage at which public discussion in these countries
concerning the environment – whether focused on, say, ozone depletion, global
warming, or declining biodiversity – is conducted largely in a rhetoric informed
by science. Since the emergence of a modern environmental consciousness is
typically dated to the 1960s, most social scientists have mistakenly been led to
reduce the relationship between science and society to an overly short timeframe,
one typically anchored at its starting point by publication of Rachel Carson’s
Silent Spring.
We often fail to remember that modernity has entailed a
collaborative relationship with science for some four hundred years.
This paper begins from the premise that there may be some value in reaching
back to the earliest manifestations of the ‘new science’ to gain insight into the
ways in which different societies culturally interact with this knowledge system.
It will be argued that some local predispositions, such as the propensity to engage
effectively with science, can be remarkably resilient, even when challenged by
sweeping political transformations. Proceeding in this manner may enable us to
identify some foundational elements of the science-society relationship in
individual countries that will shed light on the more general applicability of the
recent wave of German-influenced social theory.
This approach is motivated in part by the recent contributions of a small
group of scholars working in the area of political culture who have demonstrated
the indomitable quality of certain societal characteristics. For instance, Robert
Putnam (1993), has shown how the values underlying civil society in central
Italy have endured over several centuries, persisting through periods of extraor-
dinary turbulence. Though care obviously must be taken in embarking on such
a formidable endeavour, this work suggests there are benefits to be gained from
attempting to understand the contemporary capabilities of individual nations as
outcomes of long processes of cultural reproduction. This paper draws on the
historical record in an effort to identify some antecedents of current societal
orientations toward science.
It is important to note that by placing the cultural influences associated with
the social acceptance of science at centre stage we do not mean to suggest that
other factors have been unimportant in the assimilation of this knowledge.
Surely, numerous economic and political factors have played critical roles in
shaping public propensity for science. These influences have been extensively
documented elsewhere and the guiding spirit of the sections that follow is that
cultural legacies can be ineluctable and, despite developments in ancillary
spheres, can be difficult to overcome.
To first root this discussion in the current era, we begin by noting that recent years
have seen increased attention devoted to the public understanding of science and
the emergence of several fields of expertise to investigate both theoretical and
empirical questions regarding the uptake of scientific knowledge among lay
members of advanced countries (see, for example, Irwin, 1995; Irwin and
Wynne, 1996).
Numerous commentators have weighed in to explain why
interest in this field of inquiry is expanding at the present time. The most general
interpretations claim that public scepticism of science is on the rise and a variety
of alternative epistemologies grounded in mysticism, superstition, and native
and traditional religious doctrines now threaten to undermine the forward march
of human progress (Holton, 1993; Gross and Levitt, 1994). Advocates of the
current movement to upgrade public acceptance of science contend that to
counter the effects of these inauspicious developments advanced societies must
renew their commitment to the values of the Enlightenment – especially to the
efficacy of social advance predicated upon the accumulation of scientific
Michel Schwarz (1993) offers a supplementary explanation for this increas-
ing interest in the public understanding of science that is informed by recent
political events. He contends that tension between society and science took on
a new dimension during the second half of the 1980s as governments and social
elites attempted to recover from the damages they sustained during the heated
controversies over nuclear power. Schwarz describes these initiatives as consti-
tuting a ‘cultural offensive’ to proclaim the promises of modern science. Though
construed independently, several national programmes to enhance science in the
public mind have had a similar focus. The French launched initiatives to elevate
la culture scientifique et technique while in Britain the Royal Society called for
the devotion of greater attention to the ‘public understanding of science’. In the
Netherlands, Schwarz observes, the response was more muted, but government
policy was articulated in terms of enhancing lay receptivity to science and
In addition to new funding for science museums and other similar institu-
tions, social surveys to measure scientific literacy have become a common
feature of current efforts to promote science in the public sphere. A cross-
national assessment conducted under the auspices of the European Union as part
of its Eurobarometer survey series represents one such recent effort to examine
public outlooks toward science.
The research exercise posed a variety of
questions pertaining to lay knowledge, interests, and attitudes about scientific
themes. For instance, respondents’ knowledge of science was gauged by a
battery of true-false statements such as ‘The centre of the earth is very hot’ and
‘All radioactivity is man-made’. Scientific interest was evaluated by querying
survey participants as to their television viewing habits and the extent to which
they read news articles on scientific topics.
For current purposes these assessments of the public’s scientific knowledge
and interests are of only passing interest. The intent for drawing attention to this
particular survey is not to determine whether people in various countries have
differing cognitive scientific skills or entertainment practices. Rather the point
is to ascertain lay dispositions toward science in a more general sense, to gain
some perspective on individual societies’ scientific mentalité. A strong scientific
mentalité does not necessarily entail being able to answer science-trivia ques-
tions with competence or to demonstrate diligence in watching, for example, the
most recent television footage on African elephants. In essence, the notion of
scientific mentalité is aimed at ascertaining the extent to which members of the
public are prepared to endorse science as a component of popular culture.
Accordingly, our focus is narrowed to a concern with those elements of the
Eurobarometer questionnaire that consider public attitudes toward science. This
portion of the instrument consisted of twelve statements. Respondents were
asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the contents of each survey item and
to report their answers using a five-point Likert scale (refer to Figure 1). There
are three statements from this battery that offer especially instructive insight into
differences in scientific mentalité across several European nations.
First, respondents were queried on whether they thought ‘Scientific research-
ers, because of their knowledge, have a power that makes them dangerous’. As
reported in Figure 2A, more than 72 percent of Germans agreed (either strongly
or to some extent) with this statement. In contrast, Italians were more likely to
perceive science as a benevolent endeavour, though even in this case less than
half of the population was unthreatened by scientific researchers.
Second, this matter of whether the public considers science to be a vehicle of
human betterment or a wellspring of perniciousness was further explored by a
statement that asked respondents to consider whether ‘Most scientists want to
work on things that make life better for the average person’ (refer to Figure 2B).
Britons were most inclined to associate scientific research with human and
societal improvement while Belgians, Danes, Germans, and the Dutch were less
convinced that science promotes the interests of humankind.
The final question we will focus on from this section of the survey bridges
from science and its practitioners to issues of technology. Respondents were
presented with the statement: ‘Technological progress will make possible higher
levels of consumption and, at the same time, an unpolluted environment’ (refer
1. Science and technology are making our lives healthier, easier, and
more comfortable
2. Thanks to scientific and technological advances the Earth’s natural
resources will be inexhaustible
3. We depend too much on science and not enough on faith
4. Scientific and technological research cannot play an important role in
protecting the environment and repairing it
5. Scientists should be allowed to do research that causes pain and injury
to animals like dogs and chimpanzees if it can produce new informa-
tion about serious human health problems
6. Technological progress will make possible higher levels of consump-
tion and, at the same time, an unpolluted environment
7. Because of their knowledge, scientific researchers have a power that
makes them dangerous
8. The application of science and new technology will make work more
9. For me, in my daily life, it is not important to know about science
10.Most scientists want to work on things that will make life better for
the average person
11.Science makes our way of life change too fast
12.Thanks to science and technology, there will be more opportunities
for the future generations
FIGURE 1. Eurobarometer questions assessing public attitudes to science.
Selected European nations, 1992
Source: Eurobarometer 38.1, Zentralarchiv für Empirische Sozialforschung an der
Universität zu Koln, September 1995
Source: Eurobarometer 38.1, September 1995
FIGURE 2A. Because of their knowledge, scientists have a power that makes
them dangerous
FIGURE 2B. Most scientists want to work on things that make life better for
the average person
FIGURE 2C. Technological progress will make possible higher levels of
consumption without damaging the environment
Germany (W)
Germany (W)
Agree to some
Strongly agree
Agree to some
Strongly agree
Germany (W)
Agree to some
Strongly agree
to Figure 2C). British and Dutch citizens appear to be the most technologically
optimistic Europeans, with nearly 42 percent of the public in each country
agreeing with this statement. Germans were the most pessimistic in this regard
with only 29 percent of the population demonstrating similar attitudes.
A separate strand of questions from the Eurobarometer survey provides a
slightly different angle from which to approach possible cross-national differ-
ences in scientific mentalité. This section asked respondents to select which of
nine professions they respected the most and second most.
The results are
presented in Figure 3A. Scientific researchers achieved the most favourable
score in France where 68 percent of the public reported high respect (first or
second position) for this profession. Science as a professional endeavour faired
much more poorly in the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. In each of these
Source: Eurobarometer 38.1, September 1995
FIGURE 3A. Percent of public ranking scientific researchers as the most
respected profession
FIGURE 3B. Percent of public ranking scientific researchers as the least
respected profession
Germany (W)
Respect second
Respect most
Germany (W)
countries scientific researchers were well respected by less than forty percent of
the public. Figure 3B displays the results derived when the question was reversed
and respondents were asked which profession they respected least.
the absolute values are small, these data reinforce an emerging pattern suggest-
ing that in comparative terms less respect is afforded scientific researchers in
Germany (and Belgium) than in the other European countries included in the
These general trends regarding national scientific mentalité are confirmed by
a recent report prepared for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD) (Miller, 1996; see also Normile, 1996). Of a sample of
fourteen OECD countries, public interest in science was highest in Britain,
Canada, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United States. Research-
ers classified, on the basis of survey responses, more than 50 percent of the public
in these countries as either very attentive or interested in science. Germany,
Japan, and Portugal evidenced the lowest interest in science within the OECD
We can use the responses to these questions on public attitudes about science
and scientific researchers to develop a provisional ranking of select European
countries in terms of their scientific mentalité. These data suggest that among our
sample of surveyed nations Germans are most circumspect about science and
technology. In contrast, for most of the British public there are few indications
that science, both in its pure and applied forms, is viewed in a disagreeable light.
The Dutch present a seemingly paradoxical case that requires a more subtle
interpretation. On one hand, we find the public in the Netherlands expressing
doubt about science, yet, on the other hand, evidencing strong technological
optimism. This apparent inconsistency seems to suggest that the Dutch make
careful distinctions between theory and practice. While there is some unease
about science and the goals and aspirations of scientific researchers in the
Netherlands, the lay public remains largely supportive of the outcomes that flow
from technological innovation.
A healthy understanding of science or, at the very least, a willingness to defer to
scientific authority in matters of consequence is typically taken to be a prereq-
uisite of civic responsibility. Despite calls over the past century of their pending
demise, numerous alternative knowledge systems continue to persist among
members of the lay public. Some of these competing epistemologies are
associated with earlier, less sophisticated epochs and others are more future-
oriented, comprising a heady mix of quantum physics and new-age spiritualism.
While perhaps suitable for amusement, such non-scientific forms of expertise
are conventionally regarded, at least by societal elites, as poorly suited for the
exacting, high-stakes demands of the public-policy arena. Individuals who fail
in serious discourse to acknowledge the hegemony of science risk subjecting
themselves to stern censure. Certain environmental activists have been espe-
cially prone to violations of this norm and they regularly expose themselves to
criticism alleging that their reactions are hysterical and fallacious. The custom
of branding as heretics individuals who threatened the social order was common
in the pre-scientific era. This practice has become anachronistic and contempo-
rary scientific societies instead use the charge of ‘irrationality’ as the preferred
mechanism for ostracism.
One reason for these charges is that science exists in two separate realms. On
one hand, science is a rigorous methodology for interrogating nature that takes
the control and predication of environmental uncertainty as its point of departure.
On the other hand, scientific knowledge fulfils a role in advanced societies as a
civic epistemology. In this second context, science is not about objectivity and
truth finding in the narrowly instrumental sense, but is rather an intellectual
device people use for securing social identity and for defining the self. Individu-
als who are disposed to a rational worldview and to a perpetuation of existing
social hierarchies intuitively find science to be a useful knowledge system for
underpinning their political commitments. In contrast, people with more human-
istic leanings and stronger egalitarian inclinations will demur from science as a
civic epistemology because of the conflicts it creates for their worldview.
Instead, such individuals will gravitate toward knowledge systems with organ-
ising principles more consistent with their particular proclivities.
To appreciate the socially-embedded role of science, it is useful to consider
the historical factors that have conditioned the use of this knowledge system in
the public sphere. Some societies have proven themselves to be well equipped
to accomplish the arduous task of assimilating science into popular culture. In
other countries, religious doctrine, moral prescripts, historical precedent, or
simple inertia have buffered science’s penetration into the public realm. These
antecedents, in some cases dating back to the early days of the Scientific
Revolution, are discernible and can be used to help explain the national
differences in scientific mentalité that we observe today.
To accomplish this task, the following sections draw heavily on certain
strands within the history of science. A new generation of scholars has over the
last couple of decades transcended the discipline’s conventional preoccupation
with scientific heroism and begun to devote timely attention to how social and
political context has influenced the intellectual development of science (for
example, Jacob, 1988; Toulmin, 1990; Shapin, 1994). By combining this
sociologically-informed perspective with evidence from the history of educa-
tion, social history, and the history of ideas we can begin to explore the
predisposing factors that have shaped the public face of science in different
nations. In particular, we will be interested in determining the country-specific
processes by which science, to paraphrase Robert Merton, established its
authority as a social institution in the public mind.
The pervasive linkages between science and industrial enterprise might
suggest that examination of the cultural absorption of science in different
societies is no more than an exercise in economic history. Adherents of this
approach contend that the Industrial Revolution first took hold in Lancashire and
Derbyshire because of an elevated English commitment to mechanism. Inevita-
bly, history is more complex and it would be imprudent to claim that industrial
prosperity can serve as a simple proxy for scientific mentalité. An ultimately
more satisfactory discussion of how science established its legitimacy in various
countries must go beyond the narrow economic realm.
Because each nation has had a distinct historical experience with science, it
is unrealistic to examine here more than a couple of specific cases. Accordingly,
the following sections are devoted to comparisons of the ways Britain and
Germany have managed to culturally assimilate science. Furthermore, space
constraints make it necessary to confine the timeframe covered by this review to
the period prior to 1900. With the dawn of the twentieth century, and particularly
due to the impetus provided by World War I, science gained considerable
momentum. Though societal manifestations of this knowledge system have
become infused into the structure of advanced societies over the course of the
past one hundred years, this essay contends that pre-existing public dispositions
have not been entirely subverted.
Science in Britain
Though a coterie of seminal figures such as Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, and
Samuel Hartlib played key roles nurturing early scientific enterprise in England,
the emergence of the ‘new science’ in the country during the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries was more generally an outcome of the religious ferment
of the Civil War years. Beginning with Robert Merton’s Puritanism thesis dating
from the 1930s, scholars have carefully explored the connections between the
various sects active during the Interregnum period – ranging from Millennialism
to revival Hermeticism – in an effort to identify the precise way in which religion
gave rise to science (Merton, 1970 [1938]; Webster, 1974; Cohen, 1990).
Though emphasis varies, historians are quite consistent in their view that these
Protestant sects imparted new values on large segments of society and encour-
aged people to cast aside a scholastic worldview in favour of the vita activa.
During this period of profound intellectual turmoil, Latitudinarian Anglicans
acquired central authority, eventually managing to quell the theological passions
that divided Anglo-Catholics, Calvinists, and numerous radical sectarians (Henry,
1992). The Latitudinarians’ strategy for reconciliation was based on an escha-
tology that promoted doctrinal minimalism as a means of easing conflict and
discouraging speculative theorising. The emphasis this influential group of
theologians placed on scepticism and empiricism reinforced developments
taking place among natural philosophers who found this methodology amenable
to their purposes of trying to free inquiry from ideological commitments. These
developments ultimately led to the founding of the Royal Society of London in
1660 and defined English science as a decidedly pragmatic pursuit.
Despite these extraordinary accomplishments, science in England through-
out the seventeenth century remained confined to an extremely narrow segment
of elite society. With reference to this period, one historian has remarked, ‘The
impact of any question of abstract science upon a human brain was exceptionally
infrequent – it could only happen to say, one individual in a hundred thousand’
(A. R. Hall as quoted in Mathias, 1972: 77). While this era was of tremendous
importance in establishing the intellectual foundations of science, the knowl-
edge emanating from such circles remained remote from everyday life. More-
over, science in the seventeenth century had not yet developed a popular means
of expression and we need not devote much attention to this period here.
Wider public diffusion of scientific knowledge in England did not begin to
take place until the first half of the eighteenth century, a process facilitated in
large part by a corps of itinerant lecturers. These men of early modern science
travelled the country making presentations to fraternal organisations, business
societies, and a growing number of amateur science associations.
Also influen-
tial in promoting scientific learning were the so-called Boyle and Newton
lectures that gave theologians opportunities to deliver sermons informed by the
emerging body of natural philosophy. Though members of the nascent middle
class and some upper-class dilettantes evidenced interest in these lectures, the
new knowledge still failed to touch society more generally. Both the ‘lower
orders’ and the upper reaches of the country’s aristocracy continued to remain
beyond the range of the radiating eddies of scientific thinking. Additionally, the
ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge during this period maintained a
fierce intellectual hostility to science and the entrenched conservatism of these
institutions easily frustrated the attempts of the odd maverick to modernise the
curriculum. Due to the close affinities between the ancient universities and the
nation’s patrician public schools, steadfast resistance to science was also
common among the headmasters responsible for training the children of the
country’s elite.
The integration of science into wider English society did not begin until about
1750 when the first definable accomplishments of applied science were intro-
duced into manufacturing and agriculture. The absence of public funding for
research (as existed, for example, in France), perpetuated a pragmatic bent in
science as purveyors of this knowledge were, by necessity, forced to adopt an
applied, entrepreneurial posture. Developments along these lines were quite
pronounced in Lancashire, Derbyshire, and Yorkshire, areas that would play
decisive roles in the impending Industrial Revolution. The country’s rapidly
expanding middle class demonstrated an especially keen regard for science,
apparently because of the opportunities it created for social and economic
advancement. According to one historian, ‘[I]nterest in the [scientific] subjects
themselves was secondary to interest in the social mobility they could afford.
Whatever their intellectual value, their social function probably lay in providing
easier access to ruling class circles’ (Morris Berman as cited in Inkster and
Morrell, 1983).
Though scientific thinking proved attractive to certain elements of English
society, the stultifying effects of rationalisation and industrialisation inspired by
this knowledge system encouraged a strong backlash at the turn of the century.
English Romantic writers, most notably William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge,
and Thomas Carlyle, railed against the inhumanity of the entire endeavour and
a new understanding of ‘culture’ was born as a means of defending society
against these allegedly corrupting forces (Williams, 1958; see also Bate, 1991).
These were not the musings of a few irritable grousers caught under the wheels
of progress. Several developments – the most prominent of which were the
increase in literacy rates, the launch of popular newspapers and magazines, and
the establishment of public libraries – were instrumental in generating an avid
audience for these authors’ work. Also important in popularising these circum-
spect sentiments was the emergence of the novel as a new literary genre and this
gave rise to a wave of books subjecting the dark side of technological and
scientific advance to careful scrutiny (e.g., Mary Barton, Hard Times). Though
other romantic reformers such as John Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, and William
Morris would later turn their attention to similar concerns, it was largely the
earlier generation of scholars that established the tradition of subjecting science
and industrial activity to incisive social critique.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the so-called Golden Age of British
Capitalism, the country’s period of unchallenged economic dominion was
already in eclipse as new international competitors came into view. This period
was characterised by a slowing of economic growth and a hardening of class
boundaries. With fewer opportunities for upward advance, science began to lose
its instrumental function as a means of social mobility. Further, this knowledge
system never managed to resolve its problems of incompatibility with English
aristocratic values. As the middle-class sons and grandsons of the early indus-
trialists grew increasingly comfortable with their gentry lifestyles, science came
to be dismissed among the members of this influential social strata as nothing
more than a hobby (see, in particular, Weiner, 1981: 16-24). Science could have
been employed at this time, as Inkster and Morrell (1983: 43) argues, as a
mechanism to uphold the prerogatives of industrial elites, but other cultural,
educational, and political institutions proved to be more readily suited for this
purpose. He explains, ‘Perhaps it was because of such reasons that between the
1840s and 1870s British science appears not to have produced a popular
movement or image or to have been purposely cultivated by any characteristic
social grouping to a degree even comparable with that of the earlier period’.
This disregard of science was particularly pronounced within British educa-
tion during the nineteenth century. Even at Rugby, which by many accounts was
the public school most receptive to science, conditions were austere and
pedagogy was limited to the classics and mathematics. Martin Weiner (1981: 17-
18) relates the experience of J. M. Wilson, an astronomer teaching at the school
who was permitted to offer four hours of natural philosophy instruction per week
‘as long as it did not interfere with the fourteen hours he put in on algebra,
geometry, and trigonometry’. Even under such circumstances ‘no room could be
found on the premises at Rugby, and the experiments were performed out of
sight, in the cloakroom of the Town Hall a hundred yards down the road from the
school, with the apparatus locked up in two cases so that the townspeople could
use the space for other purposes at night’. As grim a situation as this description
suggests, the circumstances at other reputable public schools, as well as at the
disordered assortment of endowed and proprietary schools that existed at the
time, were even less supportive of science.
Though some prescient observers such as Charles Babbage had begun to
warn as early as the 1830s that this neglect held the seeds of decline, official
recognition of the problem remained muted until the middle of the century.
Galvanised into action by the Great Exposition of 1851, the government
launched a series of inquiries, most of which advised on the need to overhaul the
country’s antediluvian educational system and to upgrade the effort devoted to
science and technology. Despite this attention, the establishment of an integrated
and comprehensive secondary school system would have to wait until the
Education Act of 1902. In the mean time, the Clarendon Commission formed in
1864 found that even within the most selective public schools ‘classical teaching
was frequently unsatisfactory and that modern subjects were considered inferior
and not worthy of attention’ (quoted in Roderick and Stephens, 1972: 31).
authors of the Commission’s final report recommended that the curriculum be
remodelled along the lines of the German gymnasia, a reorganisation that would
require the full acceptance of mathematics, modern languages, and science.
Initiatives to improve science instruction in the public schools met stiff
resistance. According to one historical account, ‘Opinion among the [public
school] headmasters was that classics was the best training for first-class minds.
Modern studies was for ‘boobies’ and did not have high educational value’.
However, another headmaster was not entirely dismissive of an updated curricu-
lum, indicating that science offered an area in which ‘the most backward in
classical knowledge can take refuge. There they can find something to interest
them’ (Roderick and Stephens, 1972). It is from such attitudes that science
became stigmatised among educators and the public at large as a wholly
vocational pursuit, suitable only for students with inferior abilities.
On the basis of such assessments, there is a tendency to attribute the slow pace
of English educational reform to strident and uncompromising resistance to
innovation. However, this interpretation misses the mark because in some public
schools there was an openness to new ideas. A comment made by the Rugby
headmaster in testimony before the Clarendon Commission provides instructive
insight into why science studies faced such stiff resistance. ‘The real defect of
mathematics and physical science is that they do not have any tendency to
humanise. Such studies do not make a man more human but simply more
intelligent’ (Roderick and Stephens, 1972).
The situation for science in other parts of the educational landscape was not
quite as dire. Several new institutions of higher education were created during
the first half of the nineteenth century – University College London in 1826,
King’s College (London) in 1828, and Owen’s College (Manchester) in 1851 –
as alternatives to the ancient universities. Then, in the 1850s, the government
took its first tentative steps to upgrade vocational and technical education.
However, fears that public intervention would lead to state control created
circumstances in which the implementation of these programmes remained a
largely local responsibility. The government noted in 1859, ‘It is hoped that a
system of science instruction will grow up among the industrial classes which
will entail the least possible cost and interference on the part of the state’
(Roderick and Stephens, 1972: 13).
To address the chronic need for technical education, wealthy residents in
most of the industrial cities banded together to endow a vast array of new
institutions to teach science. The largesse of these benefactors in cities such as
Leeds, Liverpool, and Bristol was responsible for the creation of a crazy-quilt of
civic universities, polytechnics, Mechanics’ Institutes, technical high schools,
evening education programmes, and technical centres. Public support for these
schools first became available after 1853 when the government established the
Department of Science and Art, but funds were meagre and did little to curtail
the chronic shortage of supplies and experimental apparatus. As schools grew
from pressing demand, administrators were forced to provide new laboratories
in scattered locations around the rapidly expanding cities. More detrimental than
the dearth of centralised facilities, however, was the lack of any coordination
among the various educational offerings and the struggle students faced trying
to attend evening classes after working a twelve or fourteen hour day. Invariably,
attendance was irregular and the rate of attrition was high. Most serious students
who had the financial means to do so travelled to Germany for training. For
anyone desiring advanced study, especially in chemistry, a German institution
was the only viable option.
In select areas of public life, principally within the ranks of the British
military, the potential for modern science to confer certain benefits, particularly
in the areas of ballistics and navigation, was quickly recognised and develop-
ments in these specialised spheres departed from the prevailing trends. Within
government ministries more generally during the nineteenth century, attention
turned to science and the first steps were taken to introduce scientific knowledge,
albeit very tentatively, into the Civil Service. This commitment took the form of
the establishment of several government laboratories and astronomical observa-
tories, along with the appointment of a handful of personnel to staff these
facilities. Despite progress in these areas of seemingly high influence, science
continued to carry a heavy stigma. Employment prospects remained poor and
capable students were regularly advised to pursue more conventional and
remunerative lines of work. This view was confirmed by the Royal Commission
on Scientific Instruction in the 1870s: ‘It is acknowledged that Science is neither
recognised, nor paid nor rewarded, by the State as it ought to be, that mainly
owing to this, there is no career for Science and that parents and masters are
justified in avoiding it’ (Roderick and Stephens, 1972: 40).
The official recognition that science managed to achieve in England during
these years was the result largely of a small cadre of reformers – many either
German-educated or self-trained and thus outside the ranks of the Oxford and
Cambridge educational elite – who set themselves the arduous task of institution-
alising British science. Motivated to a large extent by a drive to preserve the
country’s economic competitiveness, this activist group approached this chal-
lenge from several different angles: the reorganisation of the Royal Society as
an association of professional scientists, the enhancement of scientific recruit-
ment through the establishment of formal education programmes, and the
encouragement of coordinated government sponsorship of research. These
Victorian-era reformers embarked on their task with characteristic aplomb, but
still found it difficult to stimulate pervasive and self-sustaining public interest in
science. The dearth of educational and employment opportunities at home
encouraged many budding young British scientists to strike out for more
promising locales, principally Germany and the United States (McLeod, 1972).
By the middle third of the nineteenth century, the neglect of science began
to have unavoidable impacts on British industrial competitiveness. This was
especially the case as economic advance became more dependent on scientific
input in growing fields such as chemistry, metallurgy, and steel. David Landes
(1969), the dean of economic historians, observes in his magisterial account of
European industrialisation that ‘[t]he really important research in theoretical and
applied chemistry was being done abroad where the education of chemists was
already more systematic and thorough than in Britain’. The country’s advantages
in scale and resource availability provided some cushion from the crushing
blows of increasing international competition, but the waning influence of these
assets would eventually have serious ramifications. The unavoidable symptoms
of decline prompted the government to convene another round of commissions
to investigate and this attention encouraged the ancient universities to take their
first halting strides toward modernisation.
These gains were largely limited,
however, to the establishment of a few supplementary university fellowships,
the creation of a handful of teaching posts, and the provision of a small pool of
funds to support scientific research. Not without irony, these minor improve-
ments were ambivalently endorsed by the small, struggling community of
British researchers, a reaction that reflected a larger debate concerning the
appropriate role of the state in scientific affairs and the extent to which public
participation would compromise professional autonomy (Alter, 1987).
Even if the government and major educational institutions had been inclined
to take more aggressive action to promote science during the nineteenth century,
public attitudes toward the purveyors of this form of knowledge were not
especially conducive. Throughout the 1880s the country experienced forceful
resistance to science amid accusations of ‘arrogance’ by its proponents and
concerns about the emergence of a ‘priesthood of science’. A fresh wave of
romanticism swept the country and some of the social critics associated with this
movement gave new life to the contention that science promoted atheism and
As the nineteenth century came to a close, many scientists in Britain felt the
darkest days were in the past. The government took several steps to institution-
alise science and place research on a more dependable financial footing. These
years witnessed establishment of the London School of Tropical Medicine, the
Imperial Cancer Research Fund, and a host of private endowments for scientific
work. The number of university posts in science and technology increased from
sixty in 1850 to 400 in 1900 (Mcleod, 1972). Though far short of the German
government’s appropriations for science, the first decade of the twentieth
century in Britain brought increased public support to research and education.
The country passed an important milestone in 1905 when financial assistance
from the public sector for the first time exceeded endowments and donations.
Nonetheless, the number of scientists and technologists produced by German
universities and technical schools remained during this period five times as great
as the number produced by British institutions of higher education (Roderick and
Stephens, 1972).
Science in Germany
Historians have typically attributed the initial growth and expansion of science
in the German states to eighteenth-century Pietism, an ascetic religious move-
ment dating back to the 1650s that attempted to reform the Lutheran Church
(Weber, 1958; Merton, 1968). Pietism emphasised the importance of education
on human development and several Pietists such as Johann Julius Hecker and
August Hermann Francke played important roles in German educational reform
during the eighteenth century. More recent scholarship, however, has drawn
attention to the incompatibility of several Pietist religious strictures with the new
science and this reinterpretation has cast doubt on the actual influence of this
sectarian group in promoting the emergence and diffusion of this mode of
thought in Germany (Becker, 1984, 1986, 1991, 1992; cf Merton, 1984).
While certain Pietist beliefs such as the systematic reordering of life in terms
of empiricism and utilitarianism were supportive of science, other elements of
their religious thought forced inquiry to proceed within a doctrinaire Christian
frame. Particularly antagonistic to the rationality and objectivity required for
science was the Pietist concept of Herzensreligion (heartfelt religiosity) and a
series of practices based on spiritual enthusiasm. Under these constraints, natural
philosophy was not discouraged outright. Instead, German Pietists subordinated
scientific findings to theological knowledge and favoured a form of inquiry
based on phenomenology that ran counter to the sceptical methodologies
undergirding the new science elsewhere. These particularistic qualities of Pietist
science would eventually require members of this religious cluster to confront
the epistemological contradictions inherent in their belief system, though this
challenge would not occur until the more conventional natural philosophy
practised in Western Europe had gathered sufficient momentum.
Unlike in Britain, the formal educational system played a key role in the early
dissemination of scientific knowledge in the German states. Several scholars,
including Merton, have pointed to Pietist educational reforms, namely Franke’s
Pädagogium and the creation of the Realschulen, both alternatives to the
classical Gymnasium, as progressive forces for science.
However, non-Pietist
educators such as Johann Julius Hecter and Johann Joachim Becher also seem
to have played important roles in promoting the benefits of incorporating science
into school pedagogy. Taking issue with the conventional Mertonian interpreta-
tion, Becker (1984) extends this view concerning the role of non-Pietists in the
promotion of science, contending that ‘[O]ther elements of German society,
particularly the nobility and those associated with eighteenth-century rational-
ism and Enlightenment thinking fostered scientific education activity and more
enthusiastically [than the Pietists]’. The emphasis on science among this elite
group appears to have been due to the benefits imparted by this knowledge in
pursuing the techniques of war and fortification. Under these circumstances, the
incorporation of some scientific content into the curricula of the reformist Pietist
schools, Becker argues, was motivated more by the need to compete with the
pragmatic Ritterakademien to which the nobility typically assigned their sons
than by any deeper-seated pedagogical commitment. Despite these demands,
scientific inquiry in Pietist secondary schools during much of the eighteenth
century was subordinated to theological considerations.
At the university level, the institutions at Halle and Königsberg offered
students during the first half of the eighteenth century early exposure to the
emerging natural sciences.
The dominance of Pietist influences at these
universities has been used to support allegations of a link between Pietism and
German science. Though Pietist influences were widespread at both of these
institutions, Becker argues that it was rather the forcefulness of the non-Pietist
rational philosopher Christian Wolff at the University of Halle that was respon-
sible for encouraging an emphasis on science. Wolff, however, pressed his case
too strongly and the Halle Pietists were able to engineer his expulsion from
Prussia in 1723. During his eighteen-year exile, Wolff was appointed to the Paris
Academy of Science and was embraced throughout the non-Prussian academic
world for his scientific and mathematical accomplishments. Catherine the Great
even bestowed upon Wolff the distinction of Honorary Professor and granted
him an annual honorarium (Becker, 1991: 149-150). Many scholars point to this
episode as the turning point in the advance of rationalism and reason in the
German states. By the time Wolff returned to Halle in 1740, the Pietists were in
retreat and most institutions of higher education, in keeping with the spirit of the
Enlightenment, began to implement broad scientific instruction as had already
been achieved at the Universities of Göttingen and Altdorf.
During the second half of the eighteenth century most currents of Pietism,
with the exception of the Herrnhut faction associated with Nicolaus Ludwig
Zinzendorf, were absorbed by mainstream Lutheranism. This development
enabled science to advance in the German states without serious challenges to
its intellectual content and paved the way for initial advances in industrial
development. However, by the later portion of the century, Pietism began to
experience a ‘reawakening’, a response that was partly a reaction to the
expanding cultural authority of science and mechanism more generally. Fo-
mented by the Herrnhuts, this new Pietistic variant represented a reactionary
movement against secular Enlightenment influences and contained a distinct
anti-rationalism (Becker, 1984: 1083). Shorn of its progressive tendencies,
nineteenth-century Pietism entailed enhanced emotionalism and a greater em-
phasis on spiritualism. Foremost perhaps was the privileged position given over
to intuition at the expense of experimentation.
Though the direct impact of this re-emergent Pietism on the larger society
was quite modest, it inspired a romantic backlash that criticised science for its
latent irrationality. The principal proponents of this view were Hamann, Goethe,
Schelling, and the larger group of radical intellectuals associated with
Naturphilosophie (Becker, 1984: 1084; see also Pinson, 1934). This counter-
movement had a powerful impact, transforming broad sections of the German
cultural map, though its effects were most profound in the areas of music, art, and
literature. The sentiments of the German romantics would remain volatile,
gaining particular resonance during periods of economic and political distress.
Supported by favourable developments in the universities, the German states
embarked upon aggressive modernisation programmes during the 1830s. At
least until the middle of the nineteenth century, the bureaucrats of each political
jurisdiction retained authority to appoint senior university personnel and this
enabled the government to craft an educational system specifically suited to its
utilitarian interests. In particular, this administrative procedure facilitated the
creation of a system of higher education oriented toward professional education
(McClelland, 1989). A complimentary network of institutes was created for
purposes of research. It was through these institutional mechanisms that German
universities were able to channel during the mid-nineteenth century large
numbers of scientists to the country’s growing chemical industries. The avail-
ability of an ample supply of expertly trained scientific personnel at this
auspicious period in the evolution of industrialisation created beneficial feedbacks.
As McClelland (1989: 294) explains,
From the late 1860s onward, the entire university system experienced unprecedented
growth in enrolment, and even when these slowed down, growth in the expanding
technical colleges often accelerated. Mounting prosperity and industrialisation
provided unprecedented funds for governments to invest in the higher educational
system, not only to accommodate the swelling student population but also to
encourage the scientific and scholarly results that had already begun to enhance the
prestige of the German states.
Though concerns emanating from some sectors of society about the irreli-
gious tendencies of science, especially during the revolutionary years of the late
1840s, forced educators to increase temporarily the attention devoted to classical
subjects, the overarching trend was for science to gain in influence. The
penetration of this knowledge system into society ever more deeply contributed
to a number of developments. First, institutional expansion triggered a process
of reductionism and German science would be the first to experience the effects
of increasing specialisation. Second, the narrowing of scientific disciplines
brought increasing professionalisation. Third, the inchoate German nation
recognised before its neighbours the economic and political benefits that could
flow from harnessing science to both higher education and the objectives of the
state. Finally, the spread of technical knowledge enhanced public respect for
science in the German states. These factors in combination gave rise by mid-
century to a ‘a national myth of Wissenschaft’ (Turner, 1989).
With unification in 1871, the speed of German industrialisation was further
intensified and the vestiges of feudal society began to recede before a rapidly
advancing modernity. Urbanisation accelerated, transforming the newly-con-
solidated country and further infusing science into the core of German culture.
So wide-ranging were these transformations that Germany began to threaten
British economic pre-eminence on both the European and international stages,
especially in chemicals and other science-intensive manufacturing processes.
This extraordinary phase of modernisation provoked another sharp backlash
against technological and scientific progress, drawing its inspiration from the
romantic influences that had coalesced more than fifty years earlier. Though the
sentiments would not come into full flower until the Weimer period following
World War I, a brooding sense began to build across the country that scientific
rationality was sapping the nation’s cultural spirit and sense of purpose,
motivating an existential crisis that was felt most profoundly among German
youth. In some intellectual circles these concerns were expressed as a refutation
of reductionist science in favour of approaches such as Gestalt psychology and
vitalist biology that promised to reinfuse holism and enchantment back into
nature. Mechanism came to be viewed in many circles as a peculiar form of
‘English sickness’, an attitude that would later crystallise in historian Oswald
Spengler’s mind as the ‘dead Nature of Newton’ (Harrington, 1996; see also Ash,
1995). Scholars have advanced several explanations to account for this phenom-
enon, the most prominent of which pay attribution either to the speed and
arduousness of Germany’s modernisation during the second half of the nine-
teenth century (e.g., the so-called Sonderweg thesis) or cultural despair and
devastation after World War I. These various holistic movements to overcome
scientific fragmentation would eventually be put to nefarious purposes by the
promoters of the racial hygiene policies of the Nazi era (Bramwell, 1989;
Harrington, 1996).
The preceding discussion highlights in broad form some of the influences that
have conditioned the cultural absorption of science in Britain and Germany.
Though this account has obviously simplified a great deal of complicated history
and side-stepped any number of scholarly controversies, it suggests that the
public face of science found today in each country has been uniquely shaped over
a long period of time. As systemic, rational knowledge has come to occupy an
increasingly important role as a civic epistemology in advanced nations over the
course of the preceding century, these differences have invariably narrowed.
Nonetheless, even casual familiarity with the two countries scrutinised here
confirms that these legacies have not been entirely overwhelmed by more recent
events and that certain enduring qualities pertaining to each nation’s disposition
toward science remain relevant for the present era. To appreciate properly each
country’s national scientific mentalité it is useful to interpret this capability
within an historically-informed context.
In particular, there are three elements that give distinctiveness to the profile
of science as a civic epistemology in Britain and Germany. First, the historical
record prior to 1900 attests to striking differences in the relationship between
science and the lay public. In Britain, convergence between science and the state
did not begin to take place until the twentieth century and many of the suspicions
inculcated during the era of scientific laissez faire continue to linger today in
mutated form. Importantly, most British government officials have had less
exposure to science than their peers in other advanced countries, a factor that
contributes to indifference when competing issues vie for attention at the highest
levels of public administration. In contrast, Germany has demonstrated a far
greater willingness to use public resources to assist science, in terms of research
and education. This affinity conferred upon scientific knowledge a degree of
legitimacy that it did not enjoy in Britain and promoted a consistency between
national and scientific aims.
Second, British educators, both at the secondary and university levels, have
displayed an obdurate reticence over the years to embrace science. The country’s
class-bound public schools and ancient universities have erected high barriers to
curricular reforms that have attempted to elevate the status of science. Further-
more, by labelling scientific learning as an inferior form of education, one
incapable of challenging students in the same way as the classics and other
components of a ‘liberal education’, these prestigious institutions have stigma-
tised science. In other educational spheres, this form of knowledge has been
embraced episodically as a vehicle for social mobility, but interest in science has
typically waned once its instrumental utility was exhausted. This situation stands
in stark contrast to the German system for science education that was put into
place early in the nineteenth century. Alternatives to traditional education were
widely available and protected from becoming discredited as vocational and
only appropriate for students of lesser ability.
Finally, Britons and Germans have developed separate means for giving
voice to their misgivings about science’s tendency to rationalise and disenchant
the world. In Britain, this antipathy has been expressed primarily by social
reformers, literati, and humanists. Foremost contributors to this cultural reposi-
tory have been the likes of Wordsworth, Carlyle, Ruskin, and Morris. While the
German resistance to science has comprised similar romantic figures, as we have
seen, it has also contained a unique auxiliary feature. Goethe’s scientific
ambivalence has inspired a diverse range of scientists – psychologists, neurolo-
gists, and biologists – who have channelled their dissatisfaction with reductionism
toward efforts to formulate more humanising and holistic epistemologies. In
some cases, these dissenting approaches have been buttressed by an explicit
ideological agenda as in, for instance, the ‘research’ of Joachim Mrugowsky and
Viktor von Weizsäcker (see Harrington, 1996). As a result, the German critique
of rational knowledge, because it has been generated from within the body of
science itself, has been more dynamic and confrontational. The closest British
approximation to this sort of criticism of science has come from lone iconoclasts
such as J. D. Bernal and has been projected in the form of polemical pronounce-
ments rather than organised programmes seeking alternative knowledge predi-
cated on experimental insights.
Taken in total, these points of contrast speak to the continued existence of
important distinctions in the public face of science in Britain and Germany. One
does not have to adopt a stridently externalist posture to infer that German social
theorists have been influenced by the country’s particular formulation of science
as a civic epistemology. It is therefore advisable to tread carefully when trying
to generalise about the relationship between science and society from what are
largely German-inspired theoretical insights. Perhaps most pointedly, we have
seen that the process by which science has been culturally assimilated in Britain
stands in sharp contrast to the German archetype and presumably this diversity
would expand if we were to subject other countries to similar scrutiny.
While this evidence favours circumspection in the realm of social theory, the
striking difference in the public profiles of science in Britain and Germany still
begs consideration. In particular, the concept of an historically decontextualised
public understanding of science emerges as a dangerous fallacy. It appears that
German culture is characterised by a certain Janus temperament with respect to
science. Whether the repudiation of rationalisation by sizeable segments of a
society profoundly dependent on scientific knowledge is a transient expression
of fin de siècle angst or a more profound upwelling of deeply-rooted anxiety
remains a provocative and puzzling question. In any event, no other country in
Europe seems to evidence a similar degree of discomfort with the social upheaval
being caused by the current wave of modernisation and globalisation. Though
some observers have treated German trepidation about science as a bellwether
of more general human resistance to the advanced stages of modernity, there is
little reason to believe prima facie that these sentiments have the same resonance
in other national contexts.
This statement is obviously less true for historians of science and many sociologists of
science. This characterisation does, however, capture the prevailing thinking of most
social scientists with an interest in the environment.
See, in particular, the journal Public Understanding of Science, though the origins of this
research can actually be traced to the 1930s.
This exercise consisted of face-to-face interviews with approximately 13,000 people
over the age of eighteen in twelve European Union-member countries during November
The results for Luxembourg, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Greece, Spain, and Portugal are
not reported here. Data for Germany refer only to the pre-1989 Federal German Republic.
The list of professions comprised the following: judges, medical doctors, lawyers,
scientific researchers, businessmen, journalists, bankers, engineers, and architects.
In broad terms, businessmen, bankers, and journalists ranked as the least respected
professions in most of the sampled countries.
The most prominent of these groups was the Lunar Society of Birmingham which
historians claim played an especially important role in disseminating and popularising
scientific knowledge during this early phase. Accounts of the Lunar Society are wide-
spread in the literature pertaining to English science during the late seventeenth century.
Refer, in particular, to Schofield (1963).
Though creeping awareness of various institutional difficulties concerning science in
Britain had already begun building during the 1830s, this consciousness did not become
widespread until the second half of the nineteenth century. This period is given extensive
treatment in Roderick and Stephens (1972) and Mcleod (1972).
This is not the place to enter into a discussion concerning the claims and counterclaims
regarding the role of Pietism in the emergence of German science during the eighteenth
century. This dispute ultimately centres on matters of interpretation regarding certain
historical figures such as Franke, as well as the imprint they imposed on the institutions
with which they were affiliated. Amid the flying feathers of the various controversies
regarding the relationship between Pietism and science in Germany there appears to be
a glimmer of light. Both Merton and Becker concede that Pietism may have led to a
preference for practical expertise rather than an orientation focused more specifically on
scientific theory. For further details refer to Pinson (1934), Merton (1984), and Becker
It is necessary to note that the content of instruction offered by the early Realschulen,
particularly in terms of the attention devoted to the natural sciences, is not without
controversy. Becker observes that the largely pre-industrial structure of the eighteenth
century German economy ‘limited the demand for individuals with scientific and
technological skills…[These schools] provided instruction in religion, German, French,
Latin, writing, as well as an unspecified content area aimed at specific practical
applications’ (Becker, 1986).
The universities at Göttingen and Altdorf have also been regularly identified as playing
important roles encouraging the advance of science. Though Merton asserts that these
institutions were subject to heavy Pietist influence, Becker (1984: 1077-1078) provides
plausible evidence to refute this claim.
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... Other countries may enter into inertia by being influenced by a religious doctrine, regional and national moral values, historical ties. Society's indifference to scientific studies prevents science from entering the public sphere and positively affecting it (Cohen, 1999). However, global communication channels also make scientific mentality visible in terms of its openness to innovations or their opposition. ...
... The measurement of risk perception is mainly expressed by the product of risk uncertainty and risk loss outcomes (Pidgeon, 1998). In the specific operation process, questionnaires or direct inquiry are used to investigate the subjects' feelings about the uncertainty and the possible losses caused by a certain risk (Cohen, 1999). This paper follows the above method to measure the risk perception of subjects on geological disasters. ...
Geological disasters will bring about great harm, often causing serious personal and property losses to the public. The existing researches point out that the behavior characteristics of individuals in the face of geological disasters can exert a significant influence on the implementation effect of disaster reduction policies. Under this background, this paper establishes a binary model of “risk perception type—behavior decision characteristic” by using geological disaster risk perception measurement scale and Electroencephalogram (EEG) testing technology, and studies the behavior characteristics of different groups in the face of geological disasters through this model. The research results show that compared to others, women and subjects going through geological disasters have a higher level of risk perception in the face of geological disasters, and they also show a greater degree of concern for disaster information, indicating that women and those experiencing geological disasters can respond more effectively to geological disasters. From the perspective of policy suggestion, policy makers should take groups with low risk perception as the focus of publicity of disaster prevention and reduction policies so as to enhance the effectiveness of policies.
... Esta perspectiva gerou vários questionamentos. Para Cohen (1999), Beck descreve uma situação própria da Alemanha. Enquanto alguns consideram a sua crítica exagerada, outros a consideram incompleta. ...
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Já se argumentou que o entendimento da sociedade moderna deveria ser buscado na cultura romana ao invés de no clássico saber grego. Não se trata apenas dos fundamentos de importantes mecanismos de regulação social, como o saber jurídico, mas da prática de uma forma de pensar, entender e agir que cada vez mais se configura como inquestionável, graças aos resultados imediatos que se alcança. O drama toma lugar da tragédia e o acaso é tratado como expressão de ignorância. O pragmatismo, que na antigüidade caracterizou os romanos, hoje encontra a sua continuidade na prática quase unissonante da fórmula capitalista norte-americana. Para tanto, não faltam os subsídios intelectuais necessários, que vão desde o embasamento filosófico geral, como em R. Rorty, até os aspectos mais específicos ligados à linguagem e à comunicação, como em U. Habermas. A expressão do paralelo entre Janus da antiga Roma e risco, da moderna sociedade contemporânea, dita " pós-moderna " , não é, portanto, casual. Janus, ausente na mitologia grega, foi o deus do começo, deus do portal ou deus da dupla face, capaz de olhar simultaneamente para a entrada e para a saída, para o interior e para o exterior, para o passado e para o futuro. Seu templo, fechado em tempos de paz e aberto em tempos de guerra, não se prestava como oráculo, mas como garantia da continuidade do tempo, das coisas e das mudanças. Também o " risco " guarda uma dupla face e mantém o seu templo aberto nestes tempos de transformação. Hoje, quase todo entendimento passa pelas " razões de risco ". Possibilidade dos acontecimentos ou eventos futuros é definida a partir das probabilidades de ocorrência, calculada com base nos eventos do passado. Fortuna ou azar, decorrem de escolhas racionais, pois a modernidade detém " legiões vitoriosas " , os cientistas, para combate sem trégua, e sem vitória, ao obscurantismo e à ignorância. Conceituar " risco " é, portanto, uma tarefa " arriscada " , pois é um embate contra o mito, contra a onipotência da racionalidade científica e contra o poder, mas também o é contra a miséria e contra a iniquidade. Além disso, como lembrou Kadvany (1997), "risco" pressupõe um conceito inerentemente dúbio. A pretensão nestas páginas, portanto, não é estabelecer algum consenso, mas é mostrar a antilogia reinante e tratá-la como um fértil campo de possibilidades para que a dúvida não se perca. As relações do homem com o meio ambiente e com os outros homens são por demais complexas para se desprezar as contradições. Assume-se, com isso, que o homem é um ser inacabado, ou 1 2
... The following decades, though, brought forth the end of the Cold War, the dawn of the Internet age, the advent of increasingly ubiquitous computing, and, most recently, the onset of a challenging economy. These circumstances have given the applied science and engineering uni-1 I summarize some of this history in Cohen (1999 versities new-and in some cases spectacularappeal. ...
... The following decades, though, brought forth the end of the Cold War, the dawn of the Internet age, the advent of increasingly ubiquitous computing, and, most recently, the onset of a challenging economy. These circumstances have given the applied science and engineering uni-1 I summarize some of this history in Cohen (1999 versities new-and in some cases spectacularappeal. ...
Introduzione La mobilitazione, o comunque l’ostilita, nei confronti delle innovazioni tecnologiche non e certamente un fenomeno recente: basti pensare alle manifestazioni contro le centrali nucleari o gli impianti industriali a forte impatto ambientale succedutesi nelle societa occidentali a partire dagli anni Sessanta (Pellizzoni e Osti, 2003, 43-56). Cio che pare caratterizzare la nuova fase di conflitti sociali legati all’applicazione dei risultati della genetica e tuttavia il venir meno, ...
Risk is a part of life. How we handle uncertainty and deal with potential threats influence decision making throughout our lives. In The Risk Society Revisited, Eugene A. Rosa, Ortwin Renn, and Aaron M. McCright offer the first book to present an integrated theory of risk and governance. The authors examine our sociological understanding of risk and how we reconcile modern human conditions with our handling of risk in our quest for improved quality of life. They build a new framework for understanding risk—one that provides an innovative connection between social theory and the governance of technological and environmental risks and the sociopolitical challenges they pose for a sustainable future. Showing how our consciousness affects risk in the decisions we make—as individuals and as members of a democratic society—The Risk Society Revisited makes an important contribution to the literature of risk research.
"With clarity and grace, Stephen Bocking tackles the complicated question of the role of scientific expertise in environmental policy making. Nature's Experts is a timely and important book."-David H. Guston, author of Between Politics and Science: Assuring the Integrity and Productivity of Research "This book by Stephen Bocking is as much about deliberative democracy as it is about science and the environment. Stephen Bocking's treatment is deep, perceptive, and profoundly wise. He has caught the heart of present and future environmental science, politics, and democratic governance."-C. S. Holling, The Resilience Alliance and emeritus professor, Arthur R. Marshall Jr. Chair in Ecological Sciences at the University of Florida "If knowledge is power, how should expert advice be deployed by a would-be democratic society? This perennial question is newly illuminated by this timely and wide-ranging review of the role played by science in the making of environmental policy."-William C. Clark, Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy, and Human Development, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government It seems self-evident that science plays a central role in environmental affairs. Regulatory agencies, businesses, and public interest groups all draw on scientific research to support their claims. Some critics, however, describe science not as the solution to environmental problems, but as their source. Moreover, the science itself is often controversial, as debates over global warming and environmental health risks have shown. Nature's Experts explores the contributions and challenges presented when scientific authority enters the realm of environmental affairs. Stephen Bocking focuses on four major areas of environmental politics: the formation of environmental values and attitudes, management of natural resources such as forests and fish, efforts to address international environmental issues such as climate change, and decisions relating to environmental and health risks. In each area, practical examples and case studies illustrate that science must fulfill two functions if it is to contribute to resolving environmental controversies. First, science must be relevant and credible, and second, it must be democratic, where everyone has access to the information they need to present and defend their views.
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Attentive observers in recent years have begun to ascertain a policy shift in advanced nations as the concept of sustainable development has gained credence across a range of the political-economic spectrum. Even interests typically regarded as staunch antagonists to reform — for instance major chemical and resource extraction corporations — have begun to endorse a version of environmental sustainability. While sustainable development was once the rallying call of a few lonely environmentalists, its merit has become an accepted, and indeed almost fashionable, point of faith for many people and organisations.
'Risk Governance is a tour de force. Every risk manager, every risk analyst, every risk researcher must read this book - it is the demarcation point for all further advances in risk policy and risk research. Renn provides authoritative guidance on how to manage risks based on a definitive synthesis of the research literature. The skill with which he builds practical recommendations from solid science is unprecedented.' Thomas Dietz, Director, Environmental Science and Policy Program, Michigan State University, USA "A masterpiece of new knowledge and wisdom with illustrative examples of tested applications to realworld cases. The book is recommendable also to interested students in different disciplines as a timely textbook on 'risk beyond risk'." Norio Okada, Full Professor and Director at the Disaster Prevention Research Institute (DPRI), Kyoto University, Japan 'There are classic environmental works such as The Tragedy of the Commons by Hardin, Risk Society by Beck, The Theory of Communicative Action by Habermas, and the seminal volumes by Ostrom on governing the commons. Renn's book fits right into this series of important milestones of environmental studies.' Jochen Jaeger, Professor at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada 'Risk Governance provides a valuable survey of the whole field of risk and demonstrates how scientific, economic, political and civil society actors can participate in inclusive risk governance.' Jobst Conrad, Senior Scientist, Social Science Research Center Berlin, Germany 'Renn offers a remarkably fair-minded and systematic approach to bringing together the diverse fields that have something to say about 'risk'. Risk Governance moves us along the path from the noisy, formative stage of thinking about risk to one with a stronger empirical, theoretical, and analytical foundation.' Baruch Fischhoff, PhD, Howard Heinz University Professor, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA 'I cannot describe how impressed I am at the breadth and coherence of Renn's career's work! Written with remarkable clarity and minimal technical jargon… [this] should be required reading in risk courses!' John Graham, former director of the Harvard Risk Center and former deputy director of the Office of Budget and Management of the Unites States Administration This book, for the first time, brings together and updates the groundbreaking work of renowned risk theorist and researcher Ortwin Renn, integrating the major disciplinary concepts of risk in the social, engineering and natural sciences. The book opens with the context of risk handling before flowing through the core topics of assessment, evaluation, perception, management and communication, culminating in a look at the transition from risk management to risk governance and a glimpse at a new understanding of risk in (post)modern societies.
Based on his examination of 17th-century English Puritanism and 18th-century German Pietism, Merton concluded in his Protestantism-science thesis that ascetic Protestantism provided great impetus to the development of science. His evaluation of German Pietism as also supportive of science, however, largely rests on a static comparison of its religious ethos with that of English Puritanism. This study, based on original sources, challenges Merton's Pietism-science hypothesis via a historical examination that explores the changes in the European perception of science during the 17th and 18th centuries and, more broadly, the different institutional challenges that confronted the Puritan and Pietist movements. The study reveals that, despite their similarity of values, these movements responded in strikingly different fashion to the challenge of science due to variations in time, place, and attendant sociocultural realities. Considering the importance of the Pietism-science hypothesis to Merton's more inclusive ascetic Protestantism-science thesis, the discounting of the former may well call into question the validity of the latter.