A failed platform: The Citizen Consensus Conference travels to Chile

Sebastián Ureta

This article starts by reviewing the setbacks that the recent Science and Technology Studies literature has identified in the functioning of technologies of democracy, the different arrangements that look to enact deliberation on technoscientific issues. Putting a focus on the Citizen Consensus Conference, it then proposes that several of these setbacks are related to the kind of “work” that these technologies are expected to do, identifying two kinds of it: performing a laboratory-based experiment and constituting a platform for the dissemination of facts. It then applies this framework to study a Citizen Consensus Conference carried out in Chile in 2003. After a detailed genealogy of the planning, implementation and afterlife of this exercise, the article concludes that several of the limitations experienced are derived from a “successful outcome” conceived as solely running a neat lab-based experiment, arguing for the need to incorporate its functioning as a platform with all the associated transformations and messiness.


The Planeterrella: A planetary auroral simulator

Jean Lilensten, Laurent Lamy, Carine Briand, Mathieu Barthélémy, Baptiste Cecconi

This article presents a plasma physics experiment which makes it possible to produce polar lights. The experiment, named Planeterrella, involves shooting electrons onto a magnetised sphere placed in a vacuum chamber. Inspired by Kristian Birkeland’s Terrella, but with several different configurations and technical improvements, the experiment allows the user to simulate and visualise simple geophysical and astrophysical situations. Several Planeterrellas are now used across Europe and the USA. The design of the original experiment and the expertise of its first authors are shared freely with any public institute and are outlined in this article.


Special relativity aces time trial

Alexandra Witze

‘Time dilation’ predicted by Einstein confirmed by lithium ion experiment.


Public Engagement with Biotechnologies Offers Lessons for the Governance of Geoengineering Research and Beyond

Jack Stilgoe, Matthew Watso and Kirsty Kuo

In this paper, we reflect on our involvement in one of the first major research projects in the emerging area of geoengineering (the deliberate intervention in the planetary climate). The project, Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE), proposed an outdoor experiment that attracted substantial public scrutiny despite a strong consensus that the experiment posed no direct environmental risk. A programme of stakeholder engagement took place that sought a deep understanding of the views about the proposed experiment. The lessons from this experiment build on insights from public engagement with the biosciences and biotechnology. In particular, we see the importance of questions of context and purpose for scientific research. This has important implications for the governance of geoengineering research. Efforts to detach areas of research from public scrutiny by using thresholds, whether these are drawn at a particular level of environmental effect or at the doors of a laboratory, will encounter problems of public credibility. Geoengineering is unavoidably entangled in a political discussion that scientists should seek to understand and engage with.