About asking the right questions
The argument that we have no 'solid' proof about environmental chemicals or GMOs being harmful is a curious one, because we do not monitor and collect the necessary information to assess the situation - not at local or national levels.
My doctoral research indicated that, indeed, current environmental monitoring practices are inadequate to identify or assess most potential environmental threats to our health - not out of any meanspirited conspiracy, but simply because we tend to keep asking the wrong questions or not asking any questions at all.
STS is the academic venue for me where I can ask these and many other good questions that hopefully will help us become better at compiling the knowledge needed for effective decision-making and policy development.
What is wrong & ways to do it better...
Information about issues relevant to child health and environmental factors is sparcely collected and much of the knowledge is spread sporadically across institutions and among people. Statistics about learning disabilities and autism are collected by different instances than paediatric cancer incidences; water quality monitoring of chemicals is relatively limited and the data is extremely seldom analysed together with child health data - just to mention a few examples.
However, there is lot of knowledge available in local communities - some of it is scientific and some of it consists of local observations that people make in their daily lives. Instead of having 'expert knowledge' (i.e. scientific data) explicitly separated from the 'lay knowledge' (people's observations), clusters of local stories could be used as an information source to identify 'hotspots' requiring further scientific investigation.
My research explores non-governmental bridging organisations as potential facilitators for bringing stakeholders together to assess local situation around specific issues.
More discussion about this topic can be found, for instance, in my doctoral research.
Science, Technology & Society (STS)
a.k.a. Science & Technology Studies
Described by Wikipedia as "Science, technology and society (STS), also referred to as science and technology studies is a branch or offspring of science studies. It considers how social, political, and cultural values affect scientific research and technological innovation, and how these, in turn, affect society, politics and culture."
The findings (an example in the image above) have been presented, i.e. in a paper "What are we monitoring?: Environmental bridging organisations and local knowledge for children’s environmental health (CEH)", presented in the panel Materializing, Practicing and Contesting Environmental Data. Joint 4S/ESOCITE Meeting (Conference), August 20-23, 2014. Buenos Aires, Argentina.
©Paivi Abernethy 2014