scientists & responsibility – new!

forthcoming, Critique of Anthropology (2020):

Between the devil and the deep blue sea: objectivity and political responsibility in the litigation of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Objectivity is widely recognized as a fundamental value in the sciences. Yet objectivity may be deployed as a filter or screen that discourages scientists from reflecting on the political consequences of their work. This article examines the relationship between scientific commitment to objectivity and recent critiques of the influence of corporations on research. It does so by analysing legal documents and examples of ‘life writing’, including a prominent environmental sociologist’s candid reflections on his decision to consult for Exxon after 1989 Valdez oil spill in Alaska. The article considers how objectivity may facilitate participation in research intended to promote doubt and uncertainty about the harm caused by corporations. It asks whether such decisions are better understood as unavoidable blind spots or examples of wilful blindness. [corporation, Exxon Valdez, law, objectivity, science, strategic ignorance, wilful blindness]

in progress: 

Ghostwriting in the Amazon: science and political responsibility in the litigation against ChevronTexaco in Ecuador. 

How do scientists involved in environmental court cases evaluate their responsibilities? This article examines the contributions of a scientific consultant working with the plaintiffs’ attorney in litigation concerning the environmental impact of ChevronTexaco’s petroleum operations in Ecuador. She was indicted on charges of racketeering and corruption for purportedly ghostwriting a report submitted by an independent expert appointed by the court. The article compares different practices of ghostwriting, including scientific ghostwriting. It argues that the scientists working with the lawyer for the plaintiffs were motivated by the desire to present a robust counterargument to claims made by the scientists employed by ChevronTexaco. By treating court transcripts, depositions, and other legal documents as forms of “life writing,” this article advances our understanding of how scientists make decisions about their political responsibilities. It also suggests an alternative method of conducting ethnographic research during the current pandemic, when face-to-face methods are not possible. [authorship, environment, ghostwriting, life writing, litigation, responsibility, scientists]

exxon valdez spill

oil spill in ecuador


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