Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard

Harvard Kennedy School of Government | Harvard University

Unruly Democracy: Science Blogs and the Public Sphere

April 30, 2010, 9:30am–4:00pm
Bell Hall, Belfer Building, 79 JFK Street, Harvard Kennedy School


The blogosphere represents a new kind of deliberative space that is both enlarging and constraining public discourse in unprecedented ways. One key factor about this space, the issue this workshop seeks to explore, is its lack of norms. It is an unruly space in the sense that there are no well defined rules of entry, access, or conduct, except for extreme forms of behavior that are positively illegal. The consequences of this unruliness have been specially severe for scientific communication, which depends on high standards of truth-telling and civility for its progress. In turn, the erosion of scientific standards destabilizes the foundations of democratic deliberation. Can norms of discourse that would advance science and democracy be developed in the blogosphere? Can blogs induce deliberation or must they encourage fragmentation, extremism, and rage to the detriment of public reason? Is science helped or hurt by the new media? What particular distorting factors enter the picture as blogging becomes a business?


9:30am :: Introduction/Framing
Sheila Jasanoff (STS Program, Harvard Kennedy School)

10:00am-11:00am :: Panel 1: BLOGGING AS BUSINESS
Henry Donahue (CEO, Discover)
Gideon Gil (Science Editor, Boston Globe)
Joy Moore (Seed magazine; ScienceBlogs)

11:15am-12:15pm :: Panel 2: SCIENCE ON THE WEB
Francesca Grifo (Union of Concerned Scientists)
Chris Mooney (MIT and Discover)
Jessica Palmer (ScienceBlogs: Bioephemera)

1:15pm-2:30pm :: Panel 3: RULES AND RESPONSIBILITY
Amanda Gefter (New Scientist)
Kimberley Isbell (Citizens Media Law Project)
“Dr. Isis” (ScienceBlogs)
Thomas Levenson (MIT)

2:30pm-3:30pm :: Panel 4: NORMS AND LAW
Sam Bayard (Citizen Media Law Project)
Phil Hilts (Knight Program, MIT)
Joseph Romm (Center for American Progress)
Cristine Russell (Harvard Kennedy School)

3:30pm-4:00pm :: Open Discussion and Wrap-Up
With commentary from Ellen BalesSam Evans, and Ben Hurlbut (all of Harvard STS).


A number of photos were taken by Alex Wellerstein. See this Flickr set for all of them.

Chris Mooney Tom Levenson

Panel 2: Sam Evans (chair), Francesca Grifo, Chris Mooney, Jessica Palmer Panel 4: Ellen Bales (chair), Sam Bayard, Cristine Russell, Joseph Romm, Phil Hilts, and audience

Sheila Jasanoff Audience


The full eight hours of this workshop were recorded on video. They have been uploaded to YouTube in 5-10 minute snippets (due to YouTube’s video length constraints), with a total of 35 segments. To browse the segments, click here for the link to a playlist of all of them, or begin with the clip featured here. Note that at the beginnings of some clips, there is a black screen for a few moments; this is an artifact of the way the video was split into separate clips.