The globalisation of scientific controversy

Published in Globalization, No. 7, No. 1, 2008 (online)

This article is on the journal website at

Brian Martin

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Controversies over scientific theories have occurred as long as science has existed. There have been debates about the role of earth in the cosmos, evolution versus creation, continental drift, the interpretation of quantum theory, and many other topics. Some debates are about large-scale issues, such as the origin of the universe, whereas others are about more restricted topics, such as how bees navigate.

How has globalisation affected the dynamics and outcomes of scientific controversies? In the large literature on controversies (Collins, 1985; Engelhardt and Caplan, 1987; Mazur, 1981; Nelkin, 1992), this question seems to have received little attention. In many studies, the focus is on controversy within a single country, most commonly the United States (e.g., Nelkin, 1992).

Scientific controversies are often intertwined with social controversy, so much so that separating the two is artificial. As a result, the outcome of debates may differ from place to place depending on the contingencies of scientific and social power. For example, in the debate over global warming, climate change sceptics - who challenge claims that the earth's temperature is increasing due to the impact of human activity on the climate - have received considerable attention in a number of countries, notably the United States, where the government has opposed strong measures to control greenhouse gas emissions. Many scientists would say that there is widespread scientific agreement about climate change, and that the sceptics have little credibility within the scientific community. Despite this, there has been a continuing public debate over climate change, with the sceptics receiving considerable attention in the media. The fairly high degree of consensus within the scientific community has not been enough to resolve the public debate in the US, whereas in some other countries the sceptics receive little public attention (Becker, 2005). This illustrates the potential for a scientific controversy to proceed differently in different countries.

A scientific controversy can be defined as a persistent disagreement over scientific knowledge. This can include the content of the knowledge, for example claims about facts and theories. It can also include scientific method, namely how research is carried out. My focus here is on natural science, such as physics, chemistry and biology.

Closely related to scientific controversy is technological controversy, a dispute over the introduction or consequences of technological systems or processes such as nuclear weapons, pesticides and genetically modified organisms. Contemporary technology is closely bound up with science; often the two are treated as inseparable or symbiotic, exemplified by the expression "technoscience." For example, the construction of nuclear weapons is built on knowledge of nuclear processes; nuclear explosions have opened new areas for scientific investigation.

Some technologies, such as spectroscopes, are used mostly by researchers. Others, such as the mobile phones, are consumer products. Disputes over products - for example, the health effects of mobile phones - commonly involve disputes over scientific claims. Hence, it makes sense to analyse scientific and technological controversies using the same sorts of social science tools.

Globalisation refers to a set of processes by which localities and regions are increasingly exposed to economic, political and cultural influences from the outside, with the sorts of influence being potentially worldwide (Beynon and Dunkerley, 2000; Klein, 1999; Steger, 2005; Waters, 2001; Worthington, 2000). The vectors of globalisation include trade, industrial processes, communication technology, ideas, policies and people, among other things. For example, globalised trade means that an increasing proportion of products comes from other parts of the world, beyond local, regional or national boundaries.

Science has long been globalised in several respects. For example, chemical tests are standard in laboratories around the world. Some large telescopes are constructed by consortia involving several governments, and scientists from around the world can expect to obtain viewing time. Training of scientists is similar in different countries. Students often move to other countries for training. Researchers often collaborate internationally and take jobs in other countries. Top-ranking scientific journals accept submissions from any part of the world and aim to apply universal criteria in judging them. English is the dominant language for scientific publications; mathematical formulae are much the same in all languages.

Similarly, technologies are increasingly globalised. Products such as telephones, cars, computers, drugs and clothing are exported or produced to standard designs. Underlying standardisation of products is a standardisation of specifications and production processes. In many cases, products must be modified for local conditions, such as vehicles for left-hand or right-hand driving or appliances for power supplies with different voltages.

So what does it mean to talk about the globalisation of scientific and technological controversy? There are many possibilities, of which nine will be examined here:

1. The existence of controversy

2. Prominence

3. Options

4. Arguments

5. Evidence

6. Participation

7. Methods of struggle

8. Decision-making methods

9. Outcomes.

It's worth explaining each of these.

* The existence of controversy. When an issue becomes controversial across the world, rather than being restricted to a few regions or countries, it can be said to be globalised. The controversy over genetically modified crops is highly globalised, with GM crops being promoted and opposed in many different countries. On the other hand, there are innumerable local controversies, for example over the environmental impacts of a factory or real estate development, that do not receive wider attention. Some of these local controversies could be considered to be variants of a generic type of controversy.

* Prominence. A prominent issue may receive extensive media coverage, be an agenda item in a variety of groups and the subject of discussion among casual acquaintances. A less prominent issue might be known only to a few partisans. Prominence typically varies with time and place. If a controversy has similar prominence throughout the world, at any give time, its prominence can be said to be globalised.

* Options. In any controversy, there are various options for dealing with the issue. At the micro level of an editor considering a submission on a controversial topic, routine options include rejection, acceptance, and acceptance with major revisions; an unusual option is publication along with an article with a contrasting viewpoint or accompanied by an editorial disclaimer. At a policy level in tobacco control, options include taxes on cigarettes, banning of cigarette advertising, banning sales to children, warnings on packages, anti-smoking advertisements and bans on smoking in particular areas (Chapman, 2007). If much the same options are salient wherever the controversy occurs, it can be said that options have been globalised.

* Arguments. In a controversy, there are typically various arguments deployed. For example, in debates over smoking, important arguments have included health impacts on smokers, health impacts on non-smokers, and freedom of choice to smoke. When arguments are globalised, the same sorts of arguments are the key ones wherever the issue is debated; when arguments are localised, different arguments will be emphasised in different places.

* Evidence. Is the same evidence used wherever the issue is debated? Is the evidence judged the same way? Typically, parties to a controversy deploy different bodies of evidence and/or judge evidence differently. In other words, their claims about what constitutes valid knowledge are different. For example, in disputes over parapsychology, proponents of the existence of psychic phenomena commonly refer to particular experiments, for example about remote viewing or prediction of random numbers, and sceptics commonly contest the relevance or validity of these experiments. When knowledge claims in a controversy are globalised, each party will deploy the same sorts of evidence in different parts of the world.

* Participation. The greater the mobility and global presence of individuals involved in a controversy, the more participation can be said to be globalised.   Sometimes this involves prominent advocates obtaining high visibility, as for example Vandana Shiva in opposition to genetic engineering. It can also involve activists travelling internationally to join protests, as in some actions against nuclear weapons.

Another aspect of participation is its pattern. If the same sorts of people - according to categories such as age, expertise, gender and occupation - participate in controversies in different parts of the world, in the same sorts of ways, then the pattern of participation can be said to be globalised.

* Methods of struggle. A variety of methods can be used by partisans to press their viewpoints, including publishing articles in scientific journals, obtaining media coverage, obtaining endorsement from eminent scientists and professional organisations, and holding demonstrations. Different sides in a controversy sometimes use the same methods, but in many cases there are big differences due to the resources available. For example, in disputes over major road-building projects, proponents often use insider access in governments and large corporations, whereas opponents use lobbying, publicity and direct action. To say that the methods of struggle are globalised means that each contesting party uses much the same methods in different parts of the world; if the methods used on one side differ from those used by the other, this pattern will be replicated in different places.

* Decision-making methods. Controversies can be resolved, or closed, in a variety of ways, on a temporary or permanent basis (Engelhardt and Caplan, 1987). Closure within the scientific community can occur through scientific statements that are widely accepted or simply through exhaustion or death of key figures on one side. In debates with significant social dimensions, outcomes can be decided by government policy, court judgements, referendum outcomes or political paralysis, among other methods. The idea of closure within scientific controversies has come under criticism: rather than saying a controversy is closed, it might be better to say it is in abeyance or that one side has been so marginalised that there is no public debate. Hence, rather than talking about methods of closure, I refer to decision-making methods. Are the same methods used in different arenas where the controversy occurs? If so, decision-making methods have been globalised.

* Outcomes. Outcomes are the options that prevail. If submissions supportive of homoeopathy are rejected by scientific journals throughout the world, then this outcome in the debate over homoeopathy can be said to be globalised; on the other hand, if some scientific journals readily publish articles supportive of homoeopathy but others never do, then publication is localised (to particular journals) rather than globalised. If smoking is banned in passenger aircraft across the world, then this outcome is globalised; if smoking is banned in some airports, allowed in other airports only in restricted areas, and allowed in yet other airports without restriction, then the airport-smoking outcome is more localised than globalised.

I selected these nine facets on the basis of my study of controversies as representing features that are significant to participants, observers and controversy analysts. They can be related to the news journalist's standard questions of who, where, what, when, how and why:

Who: participants

Where and when: the existence of controversy; prominence

What: options; outcomes

How: methods of struggle; decision-making methods

Why: arguments; evidence

Specifying these nine facets of scientific controversy is an attempt to open the possibility that globalisation of a controversy is not a uniform, all-encompassing process. Looking at the description of the nine facets, it is apparent that, for each facet, what constitutes globalisation is not well defined. For example, there are no general quantitative measures of globalisation of options, though it is possible some could be developed for particular controversies.

There are two separate sorts of questions that can be asked about globalisation of scientific controversies. One is whether the controversies have been globalised in their different facets, for example with the same arguments or decision-making methods used in different parts of the world. The second question is whether the facets of the controversies have been affected by other processes of globalisation, for example whether outcomes are affected by political, economic or cultural globalisation. It is quite possible for these questions to be answered differently. The main options in a controversy might be the same worldwide but not obviously linked to other processes of globalisation or, on the other hand, the options might be different and be shaped by globalisation.

To assess the value of this classification, it is useful to examine actual controversies. I have chosen three for scrutiny: fluoridation, nuclear power and the origin of AIDS. Between them, they encompass medical, public health and environmental dimensions, which have been key areas for contestation across the world. Each of these has both local and global dimensions, so it may be possible to see whether the mix of the two has changed over time. Each of these controversies has strong social dimensions: non-scientists have played an important role in each one.

Another reason for selecting these controversies is that I have considerable familiarity with them. Given the difficulties of becoming familiar with the dynamics of a controversy in several different countries, this is no small matter. Much of my assessment of the controversies is based on:

I present these three controversies in parallel, first giving a brief introduction to each of them and then covering each of the nine facets of controversies, concluding with a summary assessment. In the conclusion, I make an overall assessment of the globalisation of controversy. It is also possible to read about each controversy separately by skipping to the relevant subsections.

The controversies

Fluoridation: the controversy

Fluoridation is the use of fluoride, the ion of the element fluorine, to help reduce tooth decay in children. In fluoridation of public water supplies, a fluoride compound is added to raise the concentration of fluoride in the water to about one part per million. When children drink the water, their teeth are expected to benefit. There are other ways to get fluoride to teeth, including using fluoridated toothpaste, taking fluoride tablets, or using salt or milk with added fluoride. Most of the debate has been over fluoridation of public water supplies, and indeed the word "fluoridation" is often taken to refer to this option.

Fluoridation was first introduced in the United States and Canada in the 1940s on a trial basis, with fluoride added to the water supplies of several cities, each matched with an unfluoridated city, with examinations of children's teeth to determine the effect on tooth decay. In 1950, before the ten-year trials were complete, the US Public Health Service endorsed fluoridation, with subsequent endorsements by the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association and other organisations. From this time on, the overwhelming majority of dental and medical experts has supported fluoridation. Opposition has come from a small number of dentists, doctors and researchers and a large citizens' movement. Fluoridation has been adopted in a minority of developed countries.

Since 1950, the US Public Health Service has been a vigorous advocate of fluoridation both in the US and internationally. Through the efforts of proponents, the World Health Organisation endorsed fluoridation. Local advocates promoted fluoridation in many countries, aided by evidence, endorsements and personal contact with leading US proponents (McNeil, 1957).

The debate over fluoridation has included claims and counter-claims about scientific matters and campaigning to support and oppose fluoridation, including lobbying, publicity, action groups and public referenda. The details of the controversy are analysed elsewhere (Martin, 1991).

Nuclear power: the controversy

Nuclear power is the production of electricity using the process of nuclear fission, in which the nucleus of a uranium or plutonium atom splits, releasing energy plus neutrons that can cause other nuclei to split, in a self-sustaining process called a chain reaction. Nuclear fission was first used the make nuclear weapons in the 1940s. Nuclear power plants were first constructed in the 1950s in a few countries including the US, Soviet Union and Britain. Significant programmes for building plants commenced in the 1960s in the US, Soviet Union, Britain, France, Japan, Germany and other countries.

Local citizen opposition to nuclear power began in the 1950s and burgeoned in the 1970s (Rüdig, 1990). Powerful pro-nuclear governments, industries and scientists were met by a coalition of environmentalists, local citizens and a few dissident scientists in one of the biggest technological controversies of the period.

The origin of AIDS: the controversy

AIDS was first recognised in 1981, and since then various explanations have been offered for the origin of this new disease. Most explanations attribute AIDS to a virus, HIV, although a few scientists, the most prominent of whom is Peter Duesberg, say HIV is not involved, and that people diagnosed with AIDS actually have some other disease. For those who attribute AIDS to HIV, there are various explanations for the emergence of HIV, including biological warfare experiments.

HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, is similar in genetic structure to SIVs, simian immunodeficiency viruses, found in monkeys and chimpanzees, where they cause no disease. If a virus enters a new species, it can be deadly. Therefore, many scientists presume HIV is simply an SIV that was transmitted to humans and became infectious.

Within this framework, two explanations have received the bulk of attention from scientists and are the focus of attention here. One is that an SIV entered humans via a bite from an African primate, eating undercooked primate meat or in the course of butchering a primate. This is called the bushmeat theory. The other theory is that experimental polio vaccines, developed by virologist and vaccine pioneer Hilary Koprowski, that were given to a million people in central Africa in the late 1950s were contaminated with SIVs. This is called the polio-vaccine theory or the OPV (oral polio vaccine) theory.

The existence of controversy

Fluoridation: the existence of controversy

In many of the countries in which fluoridation has been proposed, controversy has emerged, with proponents and opponents clashing over risks, benefits, ethics and decision-making. In parallel with these local and national disputes is an ongoing conflict among dental, medical and scientific researchers over the benefits and risks of fluoridation, carried out in books, specialist journals and popular media. This professional-level debate has been international from the beginning.

It seems reasonable to say that the fluoridation controversy was globalised from the 1950s onwards.

Nuclear power: the existence of controversy

Though significant citizen opposition did not develop until nearly two decades after the earliest nuclear power plants, since the 1970s the technology has been publicly debated in nearly every country in which it has been introduced or proposed, which includes most rich countries and many Third World countries such as India and the Philippines. The only exceptions have been countries with authoritarian governments that have been able to suppress popular debate, as in China and the former Soviet Union.

The rapid globalisation of the controversy in the 1970s depended on two main factors: the prior globalisation of nuclear power technology and the emergence of citizen opposition.

The origin of AIDS: the existence of controversy

The controversy emerged in 1992 with the publication of an article (Curtis, 1992) about the polio-vaccine theory in the popular rock magazine Rolling Stone, which led to commentary in scientific journals and the mass media. Since then, the OPV theory has been debated in the US, Europe and several other countries in Africa, Asia, South America and Australasia.


Fluoridation: prominence

In some countries the debate has been far more vigorous than others. In countries in which fluoridation decisions are made in towns, cities or regions, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, there has been continuing contention. In other countries, such as Sweden with no fluoridation or Singapore with 100% fluoridation, the level of debate seems to have been far less. This is compatible with the generalisation that the debate is fiercest when the prospect arises to change the fluoridation status quo.

Fluoridation tends to be publicly debated when there is a possibility of changing the status quo for a community, with the controversy largely restricted to partisans otherwise. If a local government is considering introducing fluoridation, typically as a result of campaigning by advocates, this can trigger a vociferous debate, with public statements, news reports, public meetings and letters to the editor. A referendum accentuates the process. When fluoridation is not on the agenda - in either fluoridated or non-fluoridated communities - it may be almost invisible as an issue for years or decades. The level of prominence thus seems more local and national than global.

Nuclear power: prominence

Debates about nuclear power are most heated when a new facility is planned. Local opposition, with individuals and groups distributing information, lobbying and perhaps taking direct action, helps to bring the issue to the fore, with resulting media attention.

In the 1970s, nuclear power moved from being mainly a local issue to being a national issue in many countries, perhaps the most prominent environmental issue of its time. Then, when nuclear programmes stalled in most countries, the debate became less prominent in following decades. It resurfaced, to a limited extent, in the 2000s when nuclear power was presented as a solution to the problem of global warming. The prominence of the debate varies locally and nationally within a general international pattern over time.

The origin of AIDS: prominence

The issue received considerable media attention in the months after publication of Curtis's 1992 article in Rolling Stone. A similar surge of attention followed publication of Edward Hooper's book The River in 1999 and the 2000 Royal Society of London meeting on the origins of HIV and AIDS. Aside from these periods, the controversy has mainly been visible through scientific articles, material on websites and occasional news stories.


Fluoridation: options

The most ferocious debate has occurred over fluoridation of public water supplies. Proponents see it as getting fluoride to those who need it most, namely children of lower-income families, whereas opponents see it as imposing risks through compulsory medication with an uncontrolled dose. There are a number of other options for getting fluoride to teeth. The most common is fluoride toothpaste. However, most proponents have seen this as a supplement to fluoridation, not a substitute. Fluoride treatments by dentists are seen similarly.

Then there are options such as fluoride tablets, fluoride mouthwashes and bottled water with added fluoride, which have the advantage that they can be taken by those who prefer them and avoided by those who don't. Other options are salt or milk with added fluoride. Each of these options avoids a central concern of opponents, compulsion, so it is surprising how seldom proponents have switched to them as a more promising avenue than water fluoridation. For example, only in a few countries, for example Switzerland, has fluoride in salt been an important option.

There are also many options not involving fluoride at all, including fostering good dental hygiene, discouraging consumption of sugary foods and encouraging a diet with a mix of minerals for growing teeth (for example via bone meal). Many dentists support these. Supporters of fluoridation typically see these options as desirable but support water fluoridation in addition.

Across the globe, the option most widely adopted has been fluoride toothpaste, about which there has been little debate, probably because it is voluntary. Water fluoridation is the principal option that has been debated, and where this occurs, proponents see other options as supplements rather than substitutes.

Nuclear power: options

Nuclear power plants are part of a wider infrastructure called the nuclear fuel cycle, which also includes uranium mining, uranium enrichment, reprocessing of spent fuel and disposal of radioactive waste. Each of these stages in the cycle is potentially controversial and, indeed, has been the subject of debate and action, with geographical variations. In Australia, for example, much of the nuclear debate has centred around uranium mining, because the country has large uranium reserves, whereas plans for nuclear power plants have never proceeded very far. Controversy over disposal of high-level waste has been most intense in countries where waste dumps have been proposed, but has played a role everywhere the issue is debated.

There are various ways to design nuclear power plants. In so-called light water reactors, the coolant is ordinary water and the uranium fuel must be enriched, which means the proportion of the fissionable isotope uranium-235 must be increased. In heavy-water reactors, the coolant is deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen, and the uranium need not be enriched. There are also other reactor types. As well, there are other options, such as fast breeder reactors that are designed to produce more plutonium fuel than they burn. Yet another option involves the size of a nuclear power plant. There are also options in citing and construction of plants.

The diversity of options in the early decades of nuclear power has been dramatically reduced: the technology has become standardised. Through US government influence, for example the provision of exceedingly cheap enriched uranium, the light-water reactor has become dominant in most of the world. Fast reactors have never become viable, partly because of technological difficulties and associated economic costs and partly due to opposition. Most plants have a capacity of around 1000 megawatts: small plants are not considered economic. Plants are normally cited near supplies of water, for cooling purposes, and not too far from major population centres, to reduce losses in electricity transmission. The option of building smaller plants remote from population centres, to reduce the risks from accidents, has not been taken up (Morone and Woodhouse, 1989). In recent years there has been much talk of fourth- generation reactors that are supposed to be intrinsically safe, but these options have not yet been implemented.

The standardisation of nuclear technology in most parts of the world has helped make the nuclear power controversy more uniform.

The origin of AIDS: options

Options, in the context of the origin-of-AIDS debate, refer to different versions of the competing theories. The bushmeat theory has never been very well defined, with no specification of exactly how, when or where SIVs entered humans. A common view is that the transmission occurred in a remote village, where evidence of HIV remained undetected by medicine until the 1950s.

The OPV theory has come in several variants. Initially, one idea was that an unknown SIV similar to HIV-1 had contaminated Koprowski's polio vaccine. Later, Edward Hooper (1999) discovered that chimpanzee kidneys had been flown from Africa to Koprowski's lab in the US, possibly leading to contamination of vaccine seed samples by the chimp SIV most similar to HIV-1. Later again, Hooper (2003) found evidence that polio vaccine, imported to Africa from the US, had been amplified in chimp kidneys in a research facility in Africa, a process enabling contamination.

At the periphery of the debate are various other options, such as that polio vaccines used in the US were contaminated by SIVs, which are given little support by key players on either side of the bushmeat-versus-OPV dispute.

These theoretical options have been proposed by key players in the debate, usually in publications.


Fluoridation: arguments

Proponents, in just about every country, have argued that fluoridation significantly reduces tooth decay and that risks are very small or non-existent. Opponents have concentrated on claims about actual and potential risk and that fluoridation is unethical because it is compulsory medication at an uncontrolled dose. Confrontations along these lines of argument are so common that it could be said that the central fluoridation arguments were globalised from the beginning.   Mazur's (1973) analysis of the debate applies remarkably well several decades later.

The most contentious area is risk. Proponents say fluoridation at standard levels has no significant health impacts. Some children's teeth are discoloured as a result of dental fluorosis; proponents say this is a cosmetic matter only. Critics, on the other hand, say that dental fluorosis results from physiological damage and may indicate wider harmful effects. Critics claim that a minority of individuals suffer allergic or intolerance reactions to fluoride in water. They say that drinking fluoridated water may weaken bones; when fluoride is present at levels a bit higher than one part per million, some people in some countries develop a crippling condition known as skeletal fluorosis. Claims have been made about a number of other deleterious consequences, including cancer.

Concerning benefits, proponents claim that fluoridation leads to dramatic reductions in tooth decay, perhaps by half, citing numerous epidemiological studies. Critics have pointed to methodological flaws in these studies, claim that not a single randomised controlled trial shows significant benefits and hence that the benefits are small or perhaps even nonexistent. This criticism of the benefits came to the fore in the mid 1980s, most notably with a paper in Nature by Diesendorf (1986), and has remained a key argument since then.

Proponents say that fluoridation is ethical because it supplies a valuable nutrient to children's teeth. Putting fluoride in the water ensures that it gets to all children, including those whose dental care and diet may be inadequate. Critics say fluoridation, without any evidence that fluoride is a necessary nutrient, is unethical when added to drinking water because it is compulsory or semi-compulsory - special efforts are needed to avoid drinking fluoridated water or beverages with added fluoride - and because it supplies a potentially hazardous substance at an uncontrolled dose. Some individuals, for example athletes or workers in hot conditions, may drink many times the nominal average of one litre of water per day and thus receive an overdose of fluoride.

There are also many subsidiary arguments which may be deployed in some local debates but not others. For example, in France, technical difficulties of putting fluoride in water supplies were used as an argument. In the United States, claims that fluoridation was a communist plot were common in the 1950s, enabling proponents to label anti-fluoridationists as right-wing fanatics. However, this connection with political views had much less salience in most other countries. In summary, the central arguments about fluoridation have been much the same across the globe, with some local and national variations in subsidiary arguments.

Nuclear power: arguments

Proponents of nuclear power say it is a safe, reliable and efficient way of producing electricity. They say it is less polluting than alternatives - burning coal or oil - because only a small amount of uranium fuel is required, emissions from power plants are minimal and waste is small in volume. For decades, proponents argued that nuclear power was essential to cope with rising energy consumption and a looming shortage of fossil fuels (Beckmann, 1976; Cohen, 1983).

Opponents have raised a host of objections, of which from the 1970s the most prominent have been the risk of nuclear reactor accidents and the disposal of long-lived radioactive waste. They have also argued that nuclear power - especially the technologies of uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent fuel - contributes to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, by providing technology enabling production of plutonium or enriched uranium (the explosives in nuclear weapons) and by spreading knowledge and skills that can be turned to weapons production.

Other arguments against nuclear power are high cost, risk of terrorist use of nuclear materials, threats to civil liberties to deal with nuclear risks, and the impact of uranium mining on workers, the environment and indigenous communities. Opponents argue that energy needs can be met through energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, in a transition away from fossil fuels (Diesendorf, 2007).

Anti-nuclear arguments in the 1950s and 1960s were different, with concern raised about thermal pollution (heated cooling water entering waterways), low-level ionising radiation from power plants, and inappropriate siting of plants in areas of high population or natural beauty. These were especially salient in the US debate, before the controversy itself became globalised in the 1970s.

Since then, the main arguments have remained pretty much the same, with one important exception. In response to climate change becoming the foremost environmental issue in the 2000s, proponents now argue that because nuclear power's greenhouse gas emissions are minimal, it is a solution to the problem of global warming. Opponents point out that building nuclear power plants and mining and extracting uranium from ore require substantial amounts of energy, with significant greenhouse gas emissions before any nuclear electricity is produced. They also continue to argue that energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies offer a safer and cheaper road to a sustainable energy future (Diesendorf, 2007).

The same sorts of arguments, for and against nuclear power, have been used wherever the issue is debated, with some variations depending on local circumstances. For example, critics of a nuclear power plant in the Philippines said it was dangerous, being sited near an earthquake fault-line, and was inappropriate for the country because of its high capital cost. In areas near proposed nuclear power plants, issues of nuclear safety have been more prominent. In Australia, where immediate involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle was through mining and export of uranium, the issue of proliferation of nuclear weapons was especially important. But these local variations in emphasis have taken place within a fairly standard package of arguments.

In summary, the main arguments about nuclear power were globalised from the 1970s onwards, as the controversy itself was globalised. With the rise of global warming as the world's highest profile environmental issue, nuclear proponents have emphasised low greenhouse emissions as a key argument.

The origin of AIDS: arguments

Supporters of the polio-vaccine theory have raised several key arguments: polio vaccines are cultured on primate kidneys; primates infected with SIV do not show signs of disease and so could have been used for vaccine production; another primate virus, SV40, is known to have been transmitted to humans through polio vaccinations; the earliest known instances of HIV-positive blood and of AIDS are in the same region of Africa as the 1950s polio vaccination campaigns; no HIV-positive blood or confirmed cases of AIDS are known earlier than the late 1950s.

Supporters of the bushmeat theory have largely proceeded by attacking the polio-vaccine theory, saying for example that SIVs would not have survived the process of producing polio vaccine, that the primates used in preparing the vaccine do not harbour the particular strain of SIV thought to be the precursor of HIV-1M (the variant of HIV responsible for the AIDS pandemic), that 1950s vaccine samples tested in 2000 did not contain SIV, and that a calculation of the date of the entry to HIV into humans, based on genetic variations in the virus, gives a date some two decades before the 1950s (e.g., Korber et al., 2000; Plotkin, 2001). (Hooper has responded to each of these objections: see

These general arguments have remained much the same, though significant details used on the two sides have changed over the years. These arguments have been much the same wherever the origin of AIDS has been debated: there have been no significant variations in the debate by country or cultural group.


Fluoridation: evidence

Much of the scientific evidence used in fluoridation debates has been published in scientific journals. Proponents draw on published evidence showing large benefits and minimal risk; opponents cite published evidence of risks and methodological flaws in studies of benefits. Proponents and opponents typically cite different studies; when they address the same studies, they often draw opposite conclusions. Networking on each side ensures that helpful evidence is disseminated widely. The result is that evidence about fluoridation has always been globalised, though in a polarised fashion.

Nuclear power: evidence

A huge range of evidence has been raised in nuclear debates. For example, proponents for many years argued that no member of the public had been killed by the operation of nuclear power plants. Opponents countered by saying that routine radioactive emissions could be causing many cancers, but the number was unknown because these could not be distinguished from cancers caused by other factors. Associated with this difference in emphasis was a dispute about the dose-response curve for cancers caused by low-level ionising radiation.

After the 1986 nuclear reactor accident at Chernobyl in the Ukraine, proponents claimed that the number killed from immediate impacts - less than 50 - was far less than the death toll from fossil fuel plants. Opponents, in contrast, pointed to studies suggesting that there could be tens or hundreds of thousands of additional cancer deaths due to radioactivity released by the accident.

In arguments about waste disposal, economics, proliferation and other aspects of the nuclear power controversy, each side has selected and interpreted evidence in a way to support its case. The use of evidence has been at the service of the arguments used. Like the arguments, the evidence deployed in the controversy was globalised from the 1970s onwards. When new evidence becomes available, it is quickly circulated by partisans to wherever it can be usefully deployed.

The origin of AIDS: evidence

Both sides in the dispute have drawn on evidence published in scientific journals. Scientists supporting the bushmeat theory have examined the evolution of the genetic structure of HIV over time to calculate the date when SIV entered humans, coming up with 1931, well before polio vaccination campaigns in Africa. Critics have countered that the assumptions in the calculations are wrong.

Edward Hooper, a key figure supporting the OPV theory, interviewed scientists and assistants involved in the 1950s African polio vaccination campaigns, obtaining support for his claim that chimpanzee kidneys were used to produce polio vaccines, a crucial point given that a chimp SIV is closest known SIV to HIV-1M (Hooper, 2003). Critics of the OPV theory have collected statements by scientists saying that chimp kidneys were not used (Martin, 2007).

These and other pieces of evidence have been widely taken up by partisans on both sides: evidence deployed in the debate has been rapidly globalised.


Fluoridation: participation

Fluoridation debates mainly occur locally, regionally or nationally, and most participants engage at these levels. Only a few prominent figures have played a role internationally, travelling to give testimony or lectures or to join debates. For example, from the 1950s through the 1970s, George Waldbott, a US doctor and medical researcher, was the most prominent critic of fluoridation; he travelled widely in the US and beyond, speaking and testifying (Waldbott, 1965). Since the 1990s, Paul Connett, a US chemist, has been playing a similar role (Fluoride Action Network, 2007).

However, when fluoridation is debated in a town, state or country, most of the participants are local, for example parents or members of dental associations. The local advocates draw on work done elsewhere and may invite an expert or experienced campaigner to make a visit, but most of the comment and activity is carried out locally. This pattern does not seem to have changed much over the decades. There have been no prominent international scientific conferences or people's gatherings - such as a meeting of the Royal Society of London or the World Social Forum - to debate fluoridation as a scientific and social issue.

Nuclear power: participation

Key proponents of nuclear power have been drawn from the ranks of nuclear scientists and engineers, politicians and government bureaucrats, and the nuclear industry. As well, quite a number of citizens support nuclear power, though few become active partisans. As in most controversies, a few individuals take a high-profile role, whereas others operate behind the scenes. Opponents have included many environmental activists, some being paid staff of environmental or specifically anti-nuclear organisations but most being occasional participants, plus numerous citizens. A small number of scientists have been prominent opponents.

Most participation in the controversy has been within countries. Key figures have mostly argued about nuclear developments within their own country. Only a few are known internationally, usually through writings and to a lesser extent through visits and lectures, for example US critic Amory Lovins. Wolfgang Rüdig (2007) notes that most information and anti-nuclear expertise seems to flow from the US to other countries, with very little counter-flow. For example, there have been anti-nuclear German scientists known in Germany but little known elsewhere.

Much of the nuclear industry - for example reactor manufacturer Westinghouse - operates internationally, but industry figures usually operate by lobbying; they have not been prominent in public debates. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the main international body dealing with nuclear power, is nominally involved in regulation to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation but has acted as a de facto advocate of the nuclear industry. But its pronouncements have not played a strong role in national debates.

In many countries, citizens living near to nuclear facilities, proposed or built, have been active opponents. Falk (1982) argued that the pattern of opposition is related to political and social structure. For example, in France, where nuclear power has been imposed by the state, opposition has been linked to regional movements.

The stalling of nuclear power expansion after the 1970s has had effects on participation. Proponents are more integrated worldwide. The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, an agreement between governments concerning nuclear fuel and waste, is one sign of greater international coordination. On the other hand, most grassroots anti-nuclear groups have faded away, with the main burden of campaigning in many countries carried by large environmental NGOs such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. If a new wave of nuclear construction begins, it is possible that grassroots opposition groups will spring up, which would replicate earlier participation dynamics (Rüdig, 2007).

The origin of AIDS: participation

Key figures who researched and publicised the OPV theory have included Louis Pascal, an independent scholar in New York, Blaine Elswood, a US AIDS activist, Tom Curtis, a journalist based in Texas, and Edward Hooper, a British writer. Opponents of the OPV theory have included Hilary Koprowski, the US-based polio pioneer who developed the vaccine used in Africa in the 1950s, Stanley Plotkin, an associate of Koprowski, and US scientists Bette Korber and Beatrice Hahn. Others in the debate are based in Europe, South Africa and Australia.

Many key figures have travelled to meetings in other countries, published in international journals or made writings available on the web. The key players, mainly from the US, Britain and elsewhere in Europe, have had a considerable international presence.

Methods of struggle

Fluoridation: methods of struggle

The fluoridation debate can be likened to a clash between two social movements. The original push for fluoridation was initiated by partisans but soon involved local advocates including parents and dentists (McNeil, 1957). Opposition often developed locally, in response to proposals for fluoridation, involving a range of citizens. As a result, many of the methods used by social movements are found in the fluoridation debate, on both sides, including leaflets, articles, newsletters, public meetings, lobbying and referendum campaigning. On the other hand, there is little evidence of strikes, boycotts or blockades.

Dentists, doctors and scientists involved in the debate have published articles in scientific journals, written leaflets, written letters to newspapers, appeared on radio and television and testified in court cases. As well, there is considerable evidence that proponents have attempted to smear the reputation of critics. In some cases, dentists critical of fluoridation have suffered professionally, for example by being deregistered. Most of the documented instances of such tactics have occurred in the US, Australia and New Zealand, countries with high levels of fluoridation (Martin, 1991: 92-114).

Nuclear power: methods of struggle

Proponents of nuclear power have preferred to win support within the state apparatus, so that governments build nuclear facilities themselves or create a favourable economic and regulatory environment for nuclear investment. Opponents have used a wide range of methods, including lobbying, letters, public meetings, leaflets, petitions, rallies, marches and blockades (Rüdig, 1990). Probably the bulk of activity has involved information and communication, but the direct action end of the spectrum has been highly visible and influential. Using techniques learned from the US civil rights movement, anti-nuclear activists have occupied nuclear sites in carefully planned nonviolent civil disobedience actions, using consensus decision-making techniques. The Clamshell Alliance organised occupations of the power plant site at Seabrook, New Hampshire beginning in August 1976, providing a model for other actions in the US and elsewhere (Epstein, 1991). US activists at Seabrook were inspired by a citizens occupation of a nuclear plant site in Wyhl, West Germany (Joppke, 1993).

The anti-nuclear movement was important in the internationalisation of nonviolent action training methods in the 1970s; publications were important in this, but so were activists who travelled to other countries, spreading ideas and techniques, which were then adapted to local conditions. At the direct-action end of the spectrum of methods of struggle, there was definitely a process of globalisation. The anti-nuclear movement, in the process of being globalised itself, was a key vehicle for this globalisation of direct action.

The origin of AIDS: methods of struggle

The debate has been waged in both scientific and popular media. Bushmeat-theory supporters have had a near monopoly over publications in scientific journals; numerous submissions supporting the OPV theory have been rejected by the leading scientific journal Nature. The eminent evolutionary biologist W. D. Hamilton of Oxford University, who was sympathetic to the OPV theory, had his submissions to Nature and Science rejected.

OPV-theory supporters have received wide coverage in the mass media, most notably Curtis' 1992 article in Rolling Stone and Hooper's 1999 book The River, which generated massive attention in the media. From 1996, extensive materials on the OPV theory have been available on the web ("Polio Vaccines and the Origin of AIDS: Some Key Writings", and more recently on Hooper's website (

Methods to make decisions

Fluoridation: decision-making methods

Decisions about fluoridation of public water supplies are ultimately made by governments, because this is a matter of public health. Which governments? In some countries decisions have been made by local or regional governments, in others by national governments. There has been no move to make fluoridation decisions at an international level. Nor has there been much change, across the decades, in the government levels at which decisions are made.

How do governments go about making decisions? Two major options are executive decision relying on expert advice and taking the matter to the people through a referendum. The experts normally consulted - leading dental and medical figures - nearly always support fluoridation, so pro-fluoridationists commonly recommend relying on expert advice. But governments may come under pressure from anti-fluoridationists, who can be highly vocal. Introducing fluoridation in the face of such pressure can be politically risky. By calling a referendum, a government can avoid electoral backlash from pro- or anti-fluoridationists, depending on the decision made: the two groups must compete for popular support. There have been hundreds of fluoridation referenda, especially in the US. Anti-fluoridationists often win and hence are likely to support referenda (Crain, Katz and Rosenthal, 1969).

The methods of decision-making about fluoridation do not seem to have changed very much since the 1950s: there has been no big shift towards either executive decision or referenda. Anti-fluoridationists have sometimes challenged fluoridation in the courts, but never succeeded.   In summary, there is little sign that decision-making methods are being globalised.

Nuclear power: decision-making methods

In most countries, decisions about nuclear power have been made by governments. The market has played a relatively small role in countries such as Britain, France, Japan, India and Russia. In Britain, when the electricity industry was privatised, the nuclear component was quarantined from the full effect of market forces. Only in the US have commercial considerations played a fairly direct role, though the federal government has shaped the market through huge subsidies via research and development, military nuclear facilities, uranium enrichment and limits on liability from accidents. In the US, as a result of increasing costs - in part due to safety requirements in response to citizen opposition - electricity utilities have not built any nuclear plants since the 1970s.

Governments have made decisions about nuclear power, but in a context in which there is significant citizen opposition. Some governments have tried to steamroll over resistance, as in France; many others have backed away from nuclear power. A few governments have held referenda (Jasper, 1990).

The processes of decision-making seem not to have changed significantly over the decades of the nuclear debate. There are no credible moves to internationalise decision-making. Decisions continue to be made by national governments in a political process in which economics, foreign policy, environmental and other factors are considered, with influence from supporters and opponents.

The origin of AIDS: decision-making methods

One decision-making method is the judgement of scientific peers, for example via refereed journal publications and conference papers. This is the method favoured by bushmeat-theory proponents. OPV-theory supporters also believe ultimately in this method, but believe there has been significant bias against the OPV theory.

An alternative method is mobilisation of both popular and general scientific opinion. This occurred especially with Curtis' article in Rolling Stone and through Hooper's book The River. OPV-theory supporters argued that full assessment of the issue involved epidemiology, phylogenetics, archival and interview research, and that most of the leading proponents are narrow specialists without a full grasp of all the domains involved.

These two methods of decision-making came together in a meeting of the Royal Society of London in 2000 involving leading figures on both sides of the debate. Bushmeat-theory proponents tried, more successfully than OPV-theory proponents, to use the meeting as a scientific endorsement for their viewpoint, using a media conference to mobilise popular opinion (Martin, 2001).

Another method used in the controversy has been legal action: Koprowski sued Curtis and Rolling Stone for defamation, an action that effectively muzzled Curtis thereafter and discouraged media coverage of the OPV theory. Hooper has also received legal threats, but has resisted them.

The use of decision-making methods seems to have reflected the evolution of the controversy rather than processes of globalisation.


Fluoridation: outcomes

Fluoridation has been most widely taken up in English-speaking countries, with a third to two-thirds of the population drinking fluoridated water in Australia, Ireland, the US, New Zealand and Canada, with a lower proportion in Britain. In the late 1980s, Singapore was 100% fluoridated and there was 10 to 20% fluoridation in Israel, Brazil, Chile and some countries in Eastern Europe. Elsewhere, there was little or no fluoridation. Few poor countries have considered it, for economic and logistic reasons: public water supplies do not serve rural communities and may not be reliable in Third World cities: clean water is a higher priority. In the richer non-English-speaking countries - Western Europe and Japan - there is almost no fluoridation. The Netherlands was 50% fluoridated in the 1970s but a government decision was taken to stop it (Martin, 1991: 193-217).

There continue to be incremental changes in fluoridation levels in some countries, but no dramatic switches in fluoridation status. Introduction of fluoridation has not been globalised, but nor has rejection.

It is curious that pro-fluoridationists have had greatest success in English-speaking countries, given that these are countries where, traditionally, the dental and medical professions have had greater autonomy from the state and where medicine is more driven by commercial pressures. This is most extreme in the US, where there is no universal health insurance. Yet fluoridation, which could be considered to be a form of socialised medicine, has been heavily endorsed by professions that otherwise resist government impositions. In contrast, in Western Europe, where it is more common for governments to control provision of medical and dental services, and where decisions about fluoridation are usually made at the national level, fluoridation has been largely rejected. No researcher has yet explained this peculiar discrepancy.

But while the levels of fluoridation vary considerably from country to country, the debate itself does not: there is no resolution to the scientific, ethical and political disagreements that emerged in the 1950s. Among leading partisans, no major concessions have been made: the dispute remains unresolved, and this does not seem to vary from country to country. There is no closure in the debate, and this has not changed for decades.

Nuclear power: outcomes

The countries with the largest numbers of nuclear power plants are the United States, Russia, France, Japan, Britain and Germany. This largely reflects the industry's level of penetration into large economies in the 1970s. Since then, the nuclear industry has been stagnant worldwide, with significant new investment in relatively few countries. Quite a number of governments have taken plants out of commission, usually at the end of their working life, and not replaced them.

It could be said that the nuclear industry was largely stymied by the rise of opposition, though it is attempting to make a comeback as a solution to the problem of global warming. The fate of the nuclear industry continues to depend significantly on country-specific factors, in much the way it did decades ago. In this regard, the level of globalisation seems not to have changed much since the 1970s.

And what about the nuclear debate itself? None of the arguments about reactor accidents, waste disposal, economics or proliferation could be said to have been resolved. Proponents and opponents raise the same points as three decades ago, with global warming being the only significant addition. The debate, once it was developed in the 1970s, was highly polarised, with the two sides contesting arguments and evidence in a range of domains. This polarisation has not changed since then.

The origin of AIDS: outcomes

The bushmeat theory has been accepted by most scientists in the AIDS field despite never being fleshed out or subject to much critical attention. In contrast, the OPV theory has been subject to intense scrutiny, indeed fierce attack. The result is that, going by the bulk of refereed journal articles - with Hooper's papers at scientific conferences being the principal exception - the bushmeat theory has always prevailed, with the OPV theory being pronounced refuted on several occasions. But much of the debate has occurred in the popular media, including the news pages of scientific journals, where the OPV theory has received periodic attention and occasional support.

The controversy has been waged on an international stage from the beginning. It has not received the same attention in all parts of the world, but there do not seem to have been significant geographical differences in judgements about the origin of AIDS.

Summary assessment

Fluoridation: summary

The fluoridation debate seems to have been large unaffected by processes of globalisation that have influenced so many other aspects of society. Of the nine facets of the controversy, some were globalised at the very beginning whereas others - notably decision-making and outcomes - have been dominated by local and national factors. The fluoridation debate seems to have been in a cocoon for over half a century, hardly affected by globalisation processes elsewhere.

Nuclear power: summary

The nuclear power debate has been fairly stable, by most criteria, since it flowered in the 1970s. At that time, the debate spread to most countries where some aspect of the nuclear fuel cycle was an option. Participation has varied from country to country, but the overall pattern has remained of, on one side, government and industry promoters with a few vocal proponents and, on the other side, citizen opposition supported by a minority of scientists.

Methods of struggle were globalised in the 1970s. Decision-making methods have remained much the same, as has the pattern of introduction of nuclear power.

The nuclear debate was globalised in the 1970s, reflecting a prior standardisation of nuclear technology and international networking by proponents and opponents. Though the debate itself was globalised, outcomes have reflected national circumstances. In all of this, there is little evidence of any great influence from other processes of globalisation. For example, increased trade, global trade regimes, easier travel and the rise of the internet do not seem to have had much impact on the dynamics of the nuclear controversy.

The most important changes in the nuclear debate have been in the arguments. Prior to the 1970s, the main concerns were local environmental effects; thereafter, the terms of the debate became fairly standard, with nuclear accidents and waste disposal being prominent issues, and the same sorts of evidence being quoted. Then, in the 2000s, when climate change became the major environmental issue, nuclear proponents reframed the technology as a solution to global warming.

The origin of AIDS: summary

The debate between the two leading theories of the origin of AIDS, the bushmeat and the polio-vaccine theory, was globalised from the beginning. The controversy itself, variations in the theories, key evidence, methods of struggle, decision-making methods and outcomes have all been fairly standard. The controversy has been waged through scientific and popular publications, with greater access to documents through websites after the mid 1990s. Most of the key participants and activity have been in the US and Western Europe; this has not changed through the course of the controversy.

The most significant local variations or contingencies in the debate have been the roles and actions of key players. Without Louis Pascal, Blaine Elswood and Tom Curtis, the OPV theory might never have gained much attention. Since 1999, Edward Hooper has almost single-handedly maintained momentum and credibility for the OPV theory. Hilary Koprowski and Stanley Plotkin have been implacable opponents of the OPV theory; several other scientists have played significant opposition roles. The efforts of these individuals, sometimes quite idiosyncratic, have had wide impacts through publications and media coverage.


Throughout the history of science, many scientific controversies have been waged within the scientific community, with quite a few involving wider audiences and participation. It seems reasonable to expect that accelerating globalisation in the past half century - in economics, politics and culture - would affect the dynamics of scientific controversy, especially those with strong political, economic or social dimensions. Yet, remarkably, a broad-brush look at three controversies shows little change in how they operate.

One explanation for this is that science has been globalised from its earliest times. Scientific knowledge is seen as universal. For example, atoms are assumed to have the same properties in all parts of the universe and to remain the same in the past, present and future. So if scientists come up with one result in China and another in Chile, this is seen as a sure indication that one or both are incorrect, and scientists will check and redo experiments until agreement is reached. This is quite unlike films or employment policies, which can be seen as legitimate even though specific to local conditions. Sometimes governments or other authorities try to enforce particular views on scientists; two famous incidents are the Catholic Church's intimidation of Galileo and the Soviet government's endorsement of Lysenko's views about inheritance. Such incidents are widely seen as gross violations of the spirit of scientific inquiry.

Therefore, it is to be expected that so far as knowledge claims are concerned, most scientific disputes are likely to be played out on a world stage, with differences reflecting differing intellectual commitments, perhaps rooted in differing social and political commitments (Barnes, 1977). As science has been globalised through adoption of standard methods of science teaching, research apprenticeship, ways of seeing the world, equipment, peer review and publication, it is to be expected that controversies will be globalised, namely spread throughout the world scientific community. This is exactly what is seen in the three controversies examined here.

Yet mere diffusion of debate is only one facet of the globalisation of scientific controversy. Other facets examined here are prominence, options, arguments, evidence, participants, methods of struggle, decision-making methods and outcomes. Given the crucial role of social dimensions in the controversies examined here, it would be reasonable to expect important differences in the controversies according to region, culture or polity. In some of these facets, there are significant differences. The important point is that these differences seem to arise from the dynamics of the specific controversy. They do not seem to be correlated with economic, political or cultural globalisation.

Take for example options within a controversy. Most debates about fluoridation are about putting fluoride into public water supplies. New options along the way, such as the introduction of fluoride toothpaste, have not affected the centrality of water fluoridation as the focus of ongoing debate. In the nuclear power debate, the options of different reactor types or methods of storing waste have not altered the central issue of whether to have nuclear power at all, because they do not provide a full solution to the central concerns about potentially catastrophic accidents, long-term waste management and proliferation of nuclear weapons. In the origin-of-AIDS debate, the different options for how SIVs might have contaminated polio vaccines have not affected the central issue of whether polio vaccines were involved at all. In these three debates, options have arisen along the way, but one or both sides have remained focused on particular ways of framing the issues.

A key point concerning options is that options within the controversies seem to have arisen and been accepted or rejected without much connection to wider processes of globalisation. This is most obvious in the case of fluoridation, in which the key option, for both proponents and opponents, remains water fluoridation.

An apparently contrasting facet of the debates is outcomes. Fluoridation is widespread in some countries but non-existent in many others. Nuclear power provides a significant proportion of electricity in only some countries. The polio-vaccine theory is rejected by most scientists but supported by quite a few non-scientists, including ones with considerable relevant knowledge. Thus outcomes, unlike options, vary dramatically across countries or occupational roles.

A key point about outcomes, though, is that the pattern of outcomes has remained much the same throughout the duration of the controversies. Fluoridation was taken up in only some countries in the 1950s and 1960s; this pattern has not changed much since. The same stability is apparent in adoption of nuclear power and support for the polio-vaccine theory. That the pattern of outcomes has not changed significantly over the decades suggests that ongoing globalisation has not played much of a role in changing the outcomes.

These three controversies seem to be remarkably stable in most of the nine facets examined here. When features of the controversies do change - for example with the stagnation of nuclear power programmes in most countries - these do not seem related, in any obvious way, to globalisation more broadly.

This conclusion has to remain tentative in a number of ways. It is very difficult to obtain information about the dynamics of a controversy in many different countries, due to language barriers and the lack of in-depth studies with compatible frameworks. I do not know of studies of the fluoridation debate in Russia or coverage of the origin-of-AIDS debate in Japan, though these may exist. It is possible that more differences exist than are apparent from the standard literature.

The seeming independence of so many facets of the three controversies from globalisation can be related to their relative independence from three main arenas of globalisation (Waters, 2001): economics, politics and culture. None of the three controversies is driven primarily by capitalism or the commodity form: economic factors are secondary in the fluoridation controversy; nuclear power is promoted more by states than corporations or, perhaps more accurately, it is promoted by states on behalf of corporations; and the origin-of-AIDS debate has little connection to trade. Therefore, it is not surprising that processes of economic globalisation have had relatively little impact on the controversies.

Changes in political structure, for example the collapse of state socialism, European unification or convergence of bureaucratic systems, do not seem to have had much of an impact on the controversies. One exception to this generalisation is that most East European countries discontinued fluoridation after 1989. The key power groups in the fluoridation controversy are the dental profession proponents and citizen opponents; neither is sponsored by the state. The rise of international non-governmental organisations, a feature of globalisation, has left the fluoridation debate virtually untouched. Nuclear power, as a state-sponsored technology, might seem a more obvious candidate for being affected by political globalisation. However, states have not faded away and therefore neither has state-driven energy policy. Nuclear-power debates are more open in post-socialist societies, but the terms of the debate have not changed much. The origin-of-AIDS debate has no obvious link to political structure.

Cultural globalisation seems to hold the greatest potential for affecting scientific controversies, because the debates themselves are symbolic exchanges. But here again, the wider processes of cultural globalisation seem not to have had much impact on the controversies. The best explanation is that the terms of these controversies were globalised at an early stage. New events, such as the Chernobyl nuclear accident or new scientific results relating to fluoridation or the origin of AIDS, are rapidly circulated by partisans to their constituencies.

Hess (2007a) offers a big-picture approach to technoscience issues that can be used to understand the dynamics of controversy. He introduces the idea of "pathways" - trajectories for the selective development of scientific fields and technological innovation - which are strongly influenced by corporate and government priorities. Social movements can challenge elite-preferred pathways in various ways, including through what Hess calls industrial opposition movements or IOMs, of which the anti-nuclear-power movement is an exemplar, or by pursuing otherwise neglected paths through technology- and product-oriented movements or TPMs, of which the promotion of decentralised renewable energy is a prime example. Elites can respond to IOMs by partial moratoriums, such as the slow-down of nuclear power since the 1970s, and coopt TPMs by partially adopting alternatives, making them compatible with dominant social and political structures, as in the case of renewable energy. In an era of globalisation, Hess sees an ongoing shaping of technoscience trajectories by elite interests challenged by social movements that in turn are countered, placated or absorbed by dominant interests, which are themselves partially transformed by the process.

Hess introduces the concept of "epistemic modernisation" to refer to opening up of research agendas to a range of groups outside the scientific community, including users and social movements. Globalisation, through mass education, communication and the spread of participatory movements, has fostered epistemic modernisation, offering a supportive environment for IOMs and TPMs. This perspective helps to explain the rise and transformations of scientific controversies, for example the evolution of the nuclear-power controversy, but it has less to say about the specific features of controversies, which have been the focus on my analysis here.

Hess (2007b) proposed to me a somewhat different approach to examining the impact of globalisation on controversies: comparing controversies during the 1950s, during an earlier period of globalisation, and more recently (1997-2007), when globalisation is more pervasive. The origin-of-AIDS controversy is too new for such an analysis, but it can be applied to fluoridation and nuclear power. The features of the fluoridation controversy are not dramatically different in the two periods, but the nuclear power debate is certainly different, especially in the key new argument that nuclear power is a solution to global warming. The recognition of global warming as a key issue can be linked to the globalisation of industry, including the energy industry; responses to global warming, such as the Kyoto protocol, are part of a global agenda that was not apparent in the 1950s. In this way, it can be argued that economic globalisation has changed the key arguments in the nuclear power controversy.

This is a plausible line of argument. It is reasonable to expect to find that globalisation has some impact on controversies, and the introduction of a key new argument for nuclear power is an excellent example. However, I think it is still striking how much of the controversy is, apparently, relatively unaffected by globalisation, including the other arguments for and against nuclear power, participation, methods of struggle and so forth.

Does the conclusion reached here, that controversy dynamics are relatively unaffected by globalisation, apply to other scientific and technological controversies? The fluoridation, nuclear power and origin-of-AIDS controversies are highly polarised and fairly balanced, in that neither side has been able to reach a definitive victory. Each is linked to powerful interest groups, namely the dental and medical professions, the nuclear industry, and the medical research community. It is possible that other controversies, with less polarisation and smaller stakes, may be more affected by globalisation.

There is another angle on this: the uniformity of controversy may be connected with the standardisation of technology, including the process of fluoridation, the technology of the nuclear fuel cycle and the process of vaccination. That these technologies, in the widest sense, have been globalised means that the same issues are likely to arise wherever the technology becomes controversial.


I thank Mark Diesendorf, David Hess, Edward Hooper, Kerryn Hopkins, Allan Mazur and Wolfgang Rüdig for many valuable comments on drafts.


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