Giving Public Engagement a Bad Name

One has to be amazed at the chutzpah of the collection of dimwits and dullards who put this document together. Not only did it take three years and hundreds of thousands of Euros of our money to put together, it’s also complete rubbish! I’m at a loss to figure out what sort of cretins spend their days spinning out a sentence into to chapter with no logic, structure, or any indeed indication that the writer had the barest grasp of the English language. It’s not just bad English, it’s the kind of stuff that nincompoops in fluorescent jackets grind out, hiding behind big words and tripping over complex structures to hide their ignorance. In fact it reads as though 95% of it was written by a monkey with an electronic dictionary. I defy anyone to read through this kind of drivel and retain their sanity.  One can only assume they get paid by the word.

So, the DEEPEN Project apparently spent three years gauging public attitudes to nanotechnologies without making any effort to understand what nanotechnology actually is, as they freely admit

In sum, the DEEPEN project has found that current efforts in ‘responsible development’ – whether in ethical analysis, public engagement, or new forms of governance – while impressive, are still dominated by limited and limiting modes of thought. They will require reconfiguration in order to fulfil the promise of socially responsible nanotechnology.

otherwise how on earth could they have come up with this bizarre representation of nanotechnologies.

The research found that public responses to nanotechnology can be understood as being structured by five key cultural narratives, each of which represent archetypal stories deeply embedded in European culture. These are: ‘Be careful what you wish for’; ‘Opening Pandora’s box’; ‘Messing with nature’; ‘Kept in the dark’; and ‘The rich get richer and the poor get poorer’.

As I was involved in a part of the project, I can report that these were the responses of the people who were running the project.  The ‘public’ quite liked ‘nano’ and became less concerned about it as they spent more time with nanoscientists and less time with hand wringing social scientists, much to their increasing chagrin.

So, after three years and all that effort, what’s the conclusion?

What the DEEPEN project has achieved and the research that needs to be done became visible only through a deliberate combination of approaches. On the one hand, DEEPEN conducted a kind of opinion research with advanced methods of public engagement and discourse analysis – such as are suitable to the EC-funded ‘coordinating and support actions’ which are concerned with the quality of communication between research, policy, and European publics. On the other hand, for purposes of analysis and understanding, this research was related to theoretical traditions and perspectives from philosophy, social science, and political theory. The preceding analysis demonstrates that it is one thing to elicit the ethical intuitions or standard repertoires of stakeholders, publics, or policy makers and quite another to identify the challenges posed by emerging nanotechnologies. As it turns out, the intuitions that are brought to the table by most stakeholders and concerned publics reflect assumptions about emerging technologies that are being challenged by the nanotechnological programs and visions. Where our intuitions begin to fail us as a guide in ethical and political matters, what is required first of all is improved understanding. We would be heading down the wrong path, therefore, if DEEPEN were to have been the last EC-funded research project in this are

In other words we found out nothing except that it would have been more useful if we’d had some idea what nanotechnology was before we started, so can Brussels send us some more money to do it again?

Now don’t get me wrong, I think public engagement is a fantastic thing, it makes us as scientists question our motivation, and of course its good for the general public too. However it’s this kind of sloppy and pointless work that gives all public engagement a bad name.

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