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The use or otherwise of nuclear energy is not a decision that is up to the experts only. Science in general, and environmental science in particular, is not unconnected to society, but is contextualised within it. Mara Laura Lzaro, lecturer at the University of Uruguay, presented her PhD thesis at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), a thesis that reflects on the relationship between science and society, concretely on that referring to public participation and the stimulating of a scientific culture. She also provides some practical examples of public involvement carried out in this field, highlighting the one on nuclear energy undertaken in Uruguay. Her thesis is entitled, Cultura cientfica y participacin ciudadana en poltica socio-ambiental.
This work is based on a Science, Technology and Society (STS) approach, seeking an understanding of science from the point of view of society. With this proposal in mind, social studies of science have been encouraged over the past thirty years. Ms Lzaro undertook a historical-bibliographical analysis of the development of these studies. The changes that have taken place as regards terminology are significant of these trends. As explained in the PhD thesis, in the 80s terms such as scientific literacy and later popularisation of science became fashionable and today the expression social appropriation of science has begun to gain ground. According to Ms Lzaro, this latter term illustrates that a more bidirectional relationship between science and society has arisen.
The researcher has focused more concretely on environmental science, this being a branch of science in which society is more explicitly involved. This research has produced a primary overview of an analysis of the social studies of science. The researcher highlighted that, from the 1960s on, opinions in favour of greater public participation in the environmental sciences began to gain force and come together, this due to motives and with arguments that differed from those put forward in the critical studies of science. It thus became clear that this focus had to be addressed in its context, and that this would require greater interdisciplinary approach and participation.
Despite this trend of the social studies of science coming together and that in favour of greater public participation in the environmental sciences, the thesis points to the fact that, at times, the word participation has been made meaningless. The researcher says that participation is talked about, for example, when a plebiscite is undertaken but which is not legally binding. She underpins that the key is to develop methods that foment a genuine involvement of citizens, in such a way, for example, when there is an environmental problem in a local community, this community takes on the cause.
Uruguay and nuclear energy
The final chapter of the thesis is devoted to the example of the genuine public participation taking place in Uruguay, and in which the author of this PhD is involved. This is a public judgement jury style about the use of nuclear energy in the country. After carrying out a jury selection process, 15 persons make up the panel, and these listen to the arguments in favour and against the installation of a nuclear energy plant. At the same time, a political study is to undertaken on the degree of acceptation of the process. The intention is that, through media and political monitoring, public involvement in the process is not just limited to the 15 members of the jury.
As explained in the thesis, this exercise in public participation has a model to follow: Denmark. According to Ms Lzaro, the Scandinavian country has been involving the public in scientific and environmental issues for two decades now. There the citizens' juries are convened each time the Danish Parliament deals with a controversial scientific-technological issue. These are organised by a body independent of Parliament, and in such as manner that their decisions can be binding.
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