University of Twente Student Theses


Scientific Authority in Decline? : The discussion about the HPV-vaccination viewed through the eyes of the stakeholders

Vrijer, Ivo de (2012) Scientific Authority in Decline? : The discussion about the HPV-vaccination viewed through the eyes of the stakeholders.

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Abstract:Over the last couple of years there were, nationally, as well as internationally, several controversial cases in which science or scientists were under fire. Characteristic for these cases is that the discussion had repercussions on science as a whole. Some public experts even claim that the authority of science is waning. However, the question is what really is at stake in these cases and whether it is scientific authority in decline or if something else is going on. This study deals with this question from the perspective of stakeholders and investigates what they construct as being at stake in a case where scientific authority seems to be in decline. These stakeholder views, and the differences between stakeholders, will be used to explain the origin of the discussion and give insight in what role scientific authority played according to the stakeholders. The case used for this study is the discussion about the introduction of the HPV-vaccination, a vaccination for twelve-year old girls against a group of viruses that cause cervical cancer. The discussion about the vaccination has been fierce and it is often used as an example of scientific authority in decline. The method used to explore the views of the stakeholders in the discussion about the HPV-vaccination is that of semi-structured interviews. Literature on the role of science in society shows that there are many aspects that play a role in the troubled relation between scientific experts and the public. The theoretical framework gives an overview of what might be at stake in a discussion where scientific authority seems to be in disrepute, along with the solutions that are mentioned to improve the relation between public experts and the public. The interview results show that there are several causes defined for the discussion. The opinions of anti-vaccination movements are dismissed as non-scientific, while they want to join the scientific discussion. One-sided government communication has lead to irritation among antivaccination movements. Public communication of the vaccine producers has lead to suspicion among the public. Furthermore the decline of scientific authority seems to be a way for public experts to describe the diminishing of the self-evident authority that used to flow from their status as expert. The results reveal the need for a discussion on what is expected from scientific authority in cases such as the HPV-vaccination and what role scientific experts should play in the decision-making process. Furthermore public experts should work on building trustworthiness instead of merely pointing to deficits of the public. A final important implication is that vaccine producers should reflect on their own role in causing the discussion, something that has been lacking so far.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:81 education, teaching
Programme:Science Education and Communication MSc (60708)
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