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Is knowledge also power?

In his review of Knowledge Power (Alan Wilson, Routledge, 2010), Jon Nixon says that this book is ‘based on the questionable but unquestioned assumption that “we live at the centre of a knowledge explosion” and that “knowledge is now the key capital resource”: hence, the conjunction of “knowledge” and “power” in the book’s title.

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Rapport depends on understanding, music and words alike

As a dedicated enthusiast for music of all sorts, I have strong preferences for how it ‘should’ be presented. To my mind it’s fine for those on stage to talk a little when they are playing short, popular pieces, but patter’n’perform holds little attraction for me when attending a formal classical concert. Words have their place, but only as an accessible (inexpensive) written programme note.

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Expertise beyond the silo in areas of public interest

There’s some interesting discussion going on in the LinkedIn Dundee IHP-HELP UNESCO Centre Group just now.
The Dundee UNESCO Centre is concerned with professional fields such as water law, and some of us have been discussing the role of the ‘Expert’ in bringing this critical issue more into the public eye.

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Animal rights, badgers, cows and culls

case studyThis week has seen an announcement by H.M. Government that, in a part reversal of national policy, badgers (but not deer) may in some circumstances now be culled if farmers believe this will reduce the risk of their dairy herds developing TB.

The debate about bovine tuberculosis (TB in cows) has raged for years. It has cost UK taxpayers vast sums of money, as key stakeholders in the consultative process (many of them farmers), top scientists and government advisers have striven to resolve the matter. Likewise, many farmers see bTB as a real threat to the continuation of their way of life. But hundreds upon hundreds of hours of vexed high-level debate over the past 10 or 15 years still it seems leave the central questions unresolved.

Different issues
The issues are often presented this way: are badgers the reason that cows get TB? and if so should the badgers be culled (i.e. shot or gassed)? and by whom, at whose expense? (Or, conversely,do badgers in fact get TB from cows, not the other way around?)

This is of course, as with many other complex situations, a simplification of the inter-related underlying tensions.

Fundamental disagreements
Nonetheless, in some observers’ views this contest at base is about the ‘rights’ of farmers to do as they wish on their land, the ‘rights’ of badgers (and their human admirers – rarely farmers) to live unmolested wherever they reside, and the relevance and rights or wrongs of the hotly challenged scientific evidence: the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, for instance, has said it is opposed to culls ‘based on solid science, not sentiment.’

And underlying all this, but less frequently acknowledged in popular debate, are matters of business, profit, loss, politics and science.

Business or bucolic?
Whilst even attempting to summarise the various positions is to invite challenge, questions and considerations could be said to include: why the development of an effective bovine (and/or badger) TB vaccine has been so slow (humans regularly undergo TB vaccination); issues concerning the possible efficacy or additional damage risks which culling might have; the requirements in European farming policy in respect of vaccinated cows; the costs to taxpayers of compensation by the UK Government for farmers whose TB-positive cattle are destroyed; the business case for milk from certified uninfected herds; and the view of some people that indigenous UK wildlife should be left in peace.

To many urbanites the plight of cows, badgers and farmers (not to mention the credibility of veterinary scientists and government officials) seems trivial, but this is a very serious matter to most of those involved.

Entrenched and conflicting positions
The major stakeholders have conflicting and entrenched views. They will find it difficult for a long time yet to achieve any consensus, perhaps in part because they perceive this at some level to be a battle for rural life (the farmers) or hearts and minds (the badger lovers), with the politicians hovering nervously between the two.

* Can debates in which protagonists have such different fundamental bases actually be resolved?

* What role does or can science have in a matter which is in some minds more about business cases ans / or ways of living?

How much information is enough?

QuestionsDecision makers often insist that ideas and propositions be distilled on ‘one side of A4’ before they are considered.

When and how can justice be done to an idea using such a brief format? Does this format necessarily pre-suppose a significant amount of already shared understanding?

And does such brevity build shared confidence because it’s easy to access, or sometimes reduce confidence because it forcloses on wider debate?

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