scientists & responsibility – new!

Now available, Critique of Anthropology 40 (4): 403–419, December 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]

Under review, Comparative Studies in Society and History:

Scientific ghostwriting in the Amazon? Political responsibility in the lawsuit against ChevronTexaco in Ecuador  

In February 2011, an aqueous geochemist was indicted in the U.S. District Court of Southern New York on charges of racketeering and corruption for allegedly ghostwriting the report of a court-appointed independent expert in Ecuador. The original case was concerned with the environmental impact of ChevronTexaco’s petroleum operations in Ecuador, the subject of a $9 billion judgment by the Ecuadorian courts against the company. This article examines legal transcripts and depositions of key actors as examples of life writing to consider the political responsibilities and scientific commitments of scientists who contribute to litigation on environmental matters. The article draws on recent scholarship about scientific authorship and compares different forms of scientific ghostwriting. [authorship, environment, ghostwriting, life writing,  responsibility, scientists]

exxon valdez spill

oil spill in ecuador

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