Controversies online

Speaker: Prof Sally Wyatt # Maastricht University

27th Jan 2014

15:30 - 17:00

Conference Room, David Hume Tower


Scientific controversy is increasingly being played out via the internet, a technology that is simultaneously content, medium and research infrastructure. In this presentation, I will discuss controversial online spaces concerning schizophrenia genetics, itself a highly contested area of science. Web material from three different internet platforms (Wikipedia, websites and blogs of genetic testing companies) is analyzed, focusing on the representation of scientific resources. Rather than celebrating what many regard as the emancipatory, democratic potential of this participatory engagement with genetic science, I critically examine how the internet affects how controversies unfold, and how scientific resources are being used in different platforms in different ways. One would not expect to find controversy on Wikipedia, given its policies and systems for developing neutral, evidence-based articles. Nor would one expect controversy on commercial websites aiming to sell related products. Yet traces of the controversies about schizophrenia genetics can be found across these platforms. The controversial nature of the science lends itself to multiple ways of curating resources, and the infrastructure of online spaces enables the practices behind this work to become visible in new ways, both to researchers and to social actors. Not only do these online spaces make scientific controversy more visible to a wider range of people, they also play a role in the production of knowledge. This presentation is based on a two-year project conducted jointly with Anna Harris (Maastricht) and Susan Kelly (Exeter), funded by the ESRC and NWO.


Speaker Biography

Sally Wyatt is Professor of Digital Cultures in Development at Maastricht University, and programme leader of the eHumanities group of the KNAW. She is also Director of the Netherlands Graduate Research School for Science, Technology and Modern Culture. She originally studied economics (BA McGill, 1976; MA Sussex, 1979), but later did a PhD in science and technology studies (Maastricht, 1998). Her current research focuses on the online selling of direct-to-consumer genetic tests, and on the ways in which humanities and social science scholars use digital technologies in their own work. Her most recent book is called Virtual Knowledge. Experimenting in the Humanities and the Social Sciences (2013, MIT Press), co-edited with Paul Wouters, Anne Beaulieu & Andrea Scharnhorst