Winner of the 2015 Rachel Carson Prize presented by the Society for Social Studies of ScienceResidentsof a small Louisiana town were sure that the oil refinery next door wasmaking them sick. As part of a campaign demanding relocation away from therefinery, they collected scientific data to prove it. Their campaign ended witha settlement agreement that addressed many of their grievances-but not concernsabout their health. Yet, instead of continuing to collect data, residents beganto let refinery scientists' assertions that their operations did notharm them stand without challenge. What makes a community moveso suddenly from actively challenging to apparently accepting experts'authority?RefiningExpertise arguesthat the answer lies in the way that refinery scientists and engineers definedthemselves as experts. Rather than claiming to be infallible, they beganto portray themselves as responsible-committed to operating safelyand to contributing to the well-being of the community. The volume showsthat by grounding their claims to responsibility in influential ideas fromthe larger culture about what makes good citizens, nice communities, and moralcompanies, refinery scientists made it much harder for residents to challengetheir expertise and thus re-established their authority over scientificquestions related to the refinery's health and environmental effects. GwenOttinger here shows how industrial facilities' current approaches todealing with concerned communities-approaches which leave much room fornegotiation while shielding industry's environmental and health claims fromcritique-effectively undermine not only individual grassroots campaigns butalso environmental justice activism and far-reaching effortsto democratize science. This work drives home the need for both activistsand politically engaged scholars to reconfigure their own activities inresponse, in order to advance community health and robust scientific knowledgeabout it.
How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges