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EXPERT: The radiation safety expert in a post-trust era

Theme 2020-2021

The role of and challenges of expertise is acknowledged in science, and the current era has been characterized by complexity, risk, uncertainty, and urgency. This leads to a situation characterized by a plurality of rationalities and knowledge where the scientific expert is challenged.

The radiation safety expert role is of special interest given that the topic involves numerous and highly committed stakeholders in the society and has been highly politicized due to for instance the use of nuclear energy, and will likely remain so in the near future as ambitious climate goals set up by the international community will make the topic re-enter the political agenda and public debate.

About the Theme

This Theme will put challenges for the academic radiation safety experts into context. The development of new organizations, new interests, and new roles for scientists and experts—and, accordingly, new and different kinds of science is explored and problematized. The complex relations and interactions between different specialized experts, from technical experts to influencers or artists are also taken into consideration.We will explore the role of scientific experts in a political and social context, specifically in regards to radiation safety experts. Focus will be on diversified use and perceptions of radiation in society and on an exploration of the relations and intersections between different experts on a complex communication arena. 

In addressing the challenges of this issue, it is crucial to work with, rather than against, the inherent complexity of radiation safety. Actors (stakeholders), including organizations, experts and decision makers are often conflicted as there are trade-offs between different values and goals with the use of radiation, as well as conflicting views on what responsibility that entails. In response to constantly changing knowledge, technology, and values, the actors and stakeholders find themselves having to modify and expand their roles. It is thus under these conditions the “impartial scientific expert” is expected to perform.

We will use both a holistic perspective and a so-called inside perspective as some of the researchers in the current proposal also serve as formally appointed radiation safety experts.

Emphasis will be on identifying future knowledge that is urgent for the understanding of how the public understands radiation safety, and of the radiation safety expert role in a complex communication arena with blurring lines between interests, evidence, facts and opinions.

The Theme is structured around three sub-themes:

1.    Perception of radiation and radiation risk: The current state of understanding radiation risk is explored, and we will sketch how the current use of radiation is perceived among the public and by authorities. The purpose is to understand the context in which a radiation expert, as well as other risk experts, are or should be acting.
2.    Communicating radiation safety in a multivocal arena:  Here we will focus on the communicative challenges that experts, and in particular radiation safety experts, are confronted with in an arena where a plethora of information sources exists.
3.    The role of the academic expert in a post-trust society: The existing knowledge and knowledge gaps on the role of the individual expert and the underpinning processes that build up and maintain the authority of formally appointed radiation safety experts are explored.