Network of ELSA and RRI researchers in Norway

Unravelling scientific controversy around endocrine disrupters in Europe

By on March 9, 2018 in News

PhD researcher Dafne Lemus, at the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (SVT), is looking at the role of scientific uncertainty and dissent in controversies around endocrine disrupters. The SVT has a history of research on such controversies, including the work of Dafne’s principal supervisor Prof. Jeroen van der Sluijs on the effect of neonicotides (pesticides) on bees.

Endocrine disrupters are chemicals, both naturally occurring and synthetic, which can be found in many everyday products, from clothing to face creams. They are accused of interfering with the normal functioning of our hormonal systems, with for instance women reaching puberty early, or reduced sperm quality in men. Yet despite mounting studies it is difficult to reach a scientific consensus concerning the precise significance of endocrine disrupters’ exposure to disease causation, progression and susceptibility. This poses the question: how can we pass policy on the acceptability of these chemicals in the face of scientific controversy?

Dafne started this research in her master’s thesis where she tried to find out why Denmark and Norway, essentially using the same corpus of scientific studies, could arrive at such different policies on endocrine disrupters. She found that different policies emerge from different interpretations of the science, with some institutions taking a precautionary approach while others think in terms of risk assessment. It also relates to the decision-making level; in Denmark the decision was up to central government politicians, while in Norway it was devolved to the bureaucrats in the ministries and agencies.

In her PhD research Dafne has started to look deeper into this controversy, from three perspectives. First the scientific dimension, employing knowledge quality assessment tools to explore the relative quality of the different scientific studies into endocrine disrupters. Second the institutional dimension, looking at how decision-making institutions shape and are shaped by this controversy. And third the wider societal discourse in Europe on the controversy.

For more information on Dafne’s work please email her at: Dafne.Lemus@uib.no

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