Mapping scientific controversies: a cartography for citizens of the knowledge society’s citizens?


Is climate changing due to human activities? Do GMOs effectively address food challenges at the global level? Are nanotechnology developments potential sources of risk? What are the most efficient and safe systems to process waste? Every day the public is routinely exposed to such dilemmas. How can citizens make up their minds on such complex issues and express their vote or their advices? Are traditional tools available to public opinion – public debates, information via the mass media – suitable to deal with new challenges faced by knowledge societies?

MACOSPOL (MApping COntroversies on Science for POLitics) is an European project, coordinated by the French University Science-Po and by the sociologist and philosopher Bruno Latour, and joined by sociologists, philosophers, architects, designers and web experts.

The project aims at coordinating the efforts of institutions active in science in society field, trying to experiment new technological and conceptual tools that can provide maps of technoscientific controversies and thereby help the public find its way through such complex issues. These ‘democratic tecnologies’ will be identified by analysing and combining current researches in both the field of Social Studies on Science and Technology and those developed in the area of web interactive tools.

Currently, MACOSPOL experts are working on the web cartography produced by the Dutch Foundation Govcom’s Issuecrawler and the database Risikokartierung that allows users to explore the variety of aspects defining a technoscientific controversy, such as protagonists’s argumentations or characteristics of objects and technologies involved.

The final result could be a cartography – a sort of “Google map” – that assist contemporary knowledge society’s citizens in framing their opinions and attitudes, contributing to redefine the relationship between expertise and democratic governance.

MACOSPOL is an ambitious techno-democratic project. How is it going to work? This question will be answered at the end of 2009, when Observa science in society (the Italian project partner) will help supervise and test the MACOSPOL practical features and benefits. During a workshop organised in Venice, a panel of citizens will use the MACOSPOL tool, in order to gain an idea on a scientific controversy, while a control group will work using traditional informative tools (press, web, documents). More information on the official webpage