“Dioxins are the easiest topic to mention”: Resident activists’ construction of knowledge about low-level exposure to toxic chemicals

Nina Blom Andersen

This article discusses how residents in a local area contributed to the construction of knowledge in regard to scientific assessments in relation to a fire in a storage dump of burnable waste. Building on analytical concepts primarily from Social Worlds theory as well as some concepts from Actor–Network Theory, the analysis shows how dissent and a number of scientific controversies were initiated by some residents living nearby the waste dump who proved to be excellent network builders and who built a number of alliances with media and independent scientists, thus questioning the authorities’ and their experts’ legitimacy. Furthermore, the situated analysis identifies how a few persons—not very organized—were able to create a debate about scientific matters using their combined resources and strong alliance-building abilities, thus proving that in some cases there is no need for a higher level of organization.



Public understanding of cyclone warning in India: Can wind be predicted?

Biswanath Dash

In spite of meteorological warning, many human lives are lost every year to cyclone mainly because vulnerable populations were not evacuated on time to a safe shelter as per recommendation. It raises several questions, most prominently what explains people’s behaviour in the face of such danger from a cyclonic storm? How do people view meteorological advisories issued for cyclone and what role they play in defining the threat? What shapes public response during such situation? This article based on an ethnographic study carried out in coastal state of Odisha, India, argues that local public recognising inherent limitations of meteorological warning, fall back on their own system of observation and forecasting. Not only are the contents of cyclone warning understood, its limitations are accommodated and explained.


Can media monitoring be a proxy for public opinion about technoscientific controversies? The case of the Italian public debate on nuclear power

Federico Neresini, Andrea Lorenzet

Is it possible to infer information about public opinion by looking at how the media discuss controversial technoscientific public issues? We conduct content analysis on media coverage of nuclear power in Italy in the years 1992–2012 and compare it with longitudinal public opinion surveys. By treating a large amount of textual data and applying an innovative methodology based on indicators of the presence of ‘risky terms’, that is, keywords referring to the issue of risk and danger, very high correlation has been found between media discourse on risk and opposition within public opinion. The analysis is conducted testing as a preliminary step Mazur’s hypothesis on quantity of coverage and opposition towards controversial technoscience. Then, risk content measures are used in order to gain stronger correlations between media and public attitudes towards nuclear power.


“Dye in the Water” – A Visual Approach to Communicating the Rip Current Hazard

Robert W. Brander, Danielle Drozdzewski, Dale Dominey-Howes (SC)

Many beaches are characterized by rip currents—strong, narrow flows that can quickly carry bathers offshore, often against their will. However, despite long-standing efforts at community education and awareness strategies, people continue to drown in rip currents at high rates. Here we describe a simple, but powerful visual-based risk communication approach involving imagery associated with releases of colored dye into rip currents that has been used as an outreach tool with success in Australia. This approach has the potential to transcend limitations of traditional education approaches and bring the rip current hazard to life for a largely unaware public.