Our History

 

The Concordia Science Journalism Project (CSJP) was initiated in 2008 to establish a science journalism research and teaching platform in the Department of Journalism at Concordia University. We see science journalism as a vital endeavour that helps us make better decisions about public matters concerning (for example) our health, our environment and our safety. As a function of this, we also see public discussion of science and technology in forums beyond journalism as vital to legitimate and trustworthy governance.

 

We launched the PEP site in November 2010 to help enable the public discussion of science and technology in the Montréal area and beyond. We do this through a wide variety of forums, such as scientific and world cafés, workshops, lectures, deliberative forums, and study circles.

 
 

 

The Need for Public Engagement on Science and Technology

Modern scientific inquiry is inevitably political. As science has grown increasingly important to national economies, and crossed boundaries in politics, law, and ethics, questions have naturally arisen over what scientific questions are the most important, what scientific goals are appropriate, how to implement scientific knowledge, and how to interface between science and policy. These questions are particularly pertinent in rapidly developing areas of science that are beginning to have an impact on healthcare and food production (e.g., safer, more effective uses of drugs; breeding directed by genomic knowledge). Embedded in these value-laden and difficult questions is the issue of how to legitimately govern various aspects of scientific inquiry.

Governance can be broadly defined as the intentional use of power to structure or direct social, economic, or cultural activities. This often takes the form of elected officials making decisions that are directed by the public. But in western societies, there has been increasing strength in the movement for citizens to have a say in decisions that affect their health, food, and environment.

This movement towards meaningful engagement requires a greatly expanded dialogue with people who are often underrepresented in the discussion of how science and technology should proceed and be governed. Agencies from around the world have come to recognize the importance of public engagement to difficult ethical and social debates, to promote education and awareness, to provide opportunities to exert influence, and to diversify perspectives and expertise.

 
 

 

It Started with Frozen Tissue and Salmon

Public engagement means different things to different people, including simply sharing information, consultation with people where there is the opportunity for feedback and participation or deliberation where people engage more actively in the process.

David Secko (CSJP Team Leader) first started to engage with these differences in 2006 as a post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for Applied Ethics, University of British Columbia. He worked with Michael Burgess, Kieran O'Doherty and others to begin to design ways to enable public deliberation on emerging biotechnologies. The group saw deliberation as the most dynamic form of public engagement, providing the potential for strong and reflective inclusion of public input. The group originally tested these ideas out on the topics of biobanking and sequencing the Atlantic salmon genome.

Upon arriving at Concordia University to join the Department of Journalism, David created the CSJP in part to continue such efforts in public engagement and to bridge this work with the world of science journalism. Since 2008, the CSJP has held or helped to hold over 10 engagement events on science and technology (some of which are listed in the past events section). This work could not have been done without the tremendous help of the students that work with the CSJP and colleagues at other Universities and organizations.  

There is no doubt that many challenges remain to transforming public engagement events into effective and meaningful processes that can impact the legitimate governance of various aspects of scientific inquiry. But these challenges are worthy targets of our efforts if the goal is genuine commitment to improved civic deliberation on the scientific issues that affect our health, food, and environment.


 
 

Concordia University