2001-01: Science & the Public

Science Pure and Impure: Doing Science in an Age of Public Scrutiny

April 9, 2001

Over the past two decades, science studies have demonstrated how scientific research is influenced by government funding decisions, relations among scientists, laboratory structures, and the like.  The notion of "pure" science must be tempered by these analyses, which suggest that in many ways the margin of maneuver for scientists engaged in basic research is more restricted than might be suggested by scientists' description of their own activities.  Increasingly, moreover, the public in advanced democratic societies is demanding accountability from scientists.  If science is the motor of progress it sometimes claims to be, why should scientists not turn all of their attention to solving daunting everyday problems that have a direct impact on people's lives:  disease, ecological menaces, weather prediction, for example?  The Center for French and Francophone Studies of Duke University and The Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Science and Cultural Theory, and the Center for European Studies will bring together scientists and scholars of science from France and the United States to discuss how the relation between scientists and an increasingly demanding public is having an impact on scientific research and to explore how public demand forces scientists to communicate with public constituencies in new and different ways.

"La Science pure et impure:  faire de la science à l'ère du soupçon"

Depuis plus de vingt ans maintenant, les études sur la sociologie de la science ont montré comment la recherche scientifique est influencée et dirigée par les décisions de politique nationale, par les rapports entre les chercheurs, par la structure des laboratoires, et par bien d'autres forces.  La notion d'une science "pure" doit certainement été repensée à la suite de ces analyses.  En particulier, la marge de manoeuvre des chercheurs scientifiques qui sont engagés dans des activités de recherche fondamentale est plus restreinte que l'on ne le croit généralement.  D'autant plus que le public des sociétés démocratiques avancées commence à faire pression sur les chercheurs scientifiques.  Si la science est le moteur du progrès, comme certains voudraient le faire croire, alors pourquoi est-ce que les chercheurs scientifiques ne consacreraient pas toute leur attention et toutes leurs ressources aux problèmes quotidiens très graves qui ont un rapport direct avec la vie des citoyens:  la maladie, les menaces écologiques, la prévision métérologique, par exemple?  Le "Center for French and Francophone Studies" de l'Université de Duke, avec le "Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Science and Cultural Theory" et le "Center for European Studies" réuniront des chercheurs scientifiques et des historiens de la science venus de la France et des Etats-Unis pour une table ronde dont le sujet sera le rapport entre les chercheurs et un public de plus en plus exigeant.  Comment est-ce que le public influence la recherche scientifique et comment est-ce que les chercheurs scientifiques répondent à cette pression en communicant avec ce public?  Y a-t-il des formes nouvelles de communication entre les groupes concernés?


  • Steven Epstein (Professor of Sociology at the University of California at San Diego): Professor Epstein is the author of Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge (University of California Press, 1996), a study of the politicized production of knowledge in the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. His current research examines the politics of identity and difference in biomedical research in the United States. He is investigating the origins and consequences of recent U.S. policy changes designed to improve the health care of women, members of racial and ethnic minority groups, children, the elderly, and others by incorporating them in greater numbers within medical research populations. He is studying a range of new federal requirements for the inclusion of diverse groups in NIH-funded clinical studies and in trials of new drugs submitted to the FDA for approval. He is interested in how the biomedical research establishment responds to external challenges from identity-based social movements and their representatives, seeking to understand how biomedicine becomes an arena in which ideas about bodies and differences are defined and contested.
  • Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond (Professor of Physics at the University of Nice; Director of science collections at Éditions du Seuil, Paris): Professor Lévy-Leblond is the co-editor (with Enrico E. Beltrametti) of Advances in Quantum Phenomena: Proceedings of an International Course Held in Erice, Sicily, February 16-18, 1994, Vol. 347. This work incorporates papers from the 1994 meeting, representing a broad review of contemporary experimental work on quantum phenomena, emphasizing state-of-the-art experimental science. He is also co-editor (with Marcello Cini) of Quantum Theory without Reduction. He is founder and editor of Alliage (culture-science-technique). While publishing on theoretical physics, he has also published on the sociology of science: L'Esprit de sel: science, culture, politique (Paris: Seuil,1984) and La Pierre de touche: la science à l'épreuve (Paris: Gallimard, 1996), as well as on the notion of scientific thought: Aux contraires: l'exercice de la pensée et la pratique de la science (Paris: Gallimard, 1996).
  • Dominique Pestre (Director of Studies at L'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and Director of the Centre Koyré): Professor Pestre is co-editor of Science in the Twentieth Century (with John Krige), in which 50 international scholars address the key issues of images of science; science and the social fabric; science, scientists, and 
the military; visual representations; research dynamics; science and its practices; and regional and national institutions. He is co-editor of History of CERN : Launching the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Vol. 1 (with Armin Hermann, John Krige, and Ulrike Mersits). He has also published Physique et physiciens en France, 1918-1940 (Paris: Editions des archives contemporaines, 1984), an essay on French physics between the two world wars.


  • David Bell (Romance Studies, Duke)
  • Barbara Herrnstein Smith (Comparative Literature and English, Duke)