scientists & responsibility

Between the devil and the deep blue sea: Objectivity and political responsibility in the litigation of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Critique of Anthropology 40 (4): 403-419, 2020Objectivity is widely recognized as a fundamental value in the sciences. Yet objectivity may be deployed as a filter or screen that discourages scientists from reflecting on the political consequences of their work. This article examines the relationship between scientific commitment to objectivity and recent critiques of the influence of corporations on research. It does so by analysing legal documents and examples of ‘life writing’, including a prominent environmental sociologist’s candid reflections on his decision to consult for Exxon after 1989 Valdez oil spill in Alaska. The article considers how objectivity may facilitate participation in research intended to promote doubt and uncertainty about the harm caused by corporations. It asks whether such decisions are better understood as unavoidable blind spots or examples of wilful blindness. 

Scientific ghostwriting in the Amazon? The role of experts in the lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador. Comparative Studies in Society and History 64 (2): 335-362, 2022. In February 2011, lawyers for the Chevron Corporation filed a civil suit against an aqueous geochemist under federal racketeering and corruption laws. The legal action claimed that she had ghostwritten significant portions of a report attributed to a court-appointed expert in Ecuador, although these accusations were subsequently withdrawn. The original case addressed the environmental impact of the oil company’s operations in the lowland rainforest of Ecuador, the subject of a $9 billion judgment in the Ecuadorian courts. This article treats legal transcripts and depositions of key actors as examples of life writing to examine the contribution of experts to environmental litigation, including differences in how authorship and credit are assigned in academic publications and consulting. It adds to recent scholarship on the instability of scientific authorship by comparing different forms of ghostwriting. 

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