Debates over the culling of wild badgers to manage bovine TB in cattle have been ongoing in the UK since the 1970s, when the two species were first linked and badgers became a highly protected wildlife species. In the hope of resolving the controversy, policymakers turned to science by commissioning the largest field experiment ever carried out in the UK: the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT). However, the findings of this ambitious research programme recreating the experimental laboratory across a large swathe of the English countryside proved to be unexpected, counterintuitive, complex and uncertain.

This paper offers an analysis of debates over badger culling and the science of bTB in the UK media from 1995 to 2010. It will discuss how badger/bTB has been framed as an agricultural or environmental issue by opposed groupings of media, scientific, industry, NGO, celebrity and political actors. Advocates on both sides have drawn upon a historical legacy of debate over human/badger conflict, to frame badgers as either innocent victims to be protected, or as disruptive pests. As the findings of the RBCT emerged, actors in the debate changed their rhetoric around science, expertise and evidence, rather than their positions on badger culling. Despite these oppositions, all those involved employ a shared rhetoric of “the public”, which is usefully imagined, rather than based in the complexity of what multiple publics’ opinions about badger culling might actually be. Finally, the developing involvement of mainstream political agendas in the badger/bTB debate will be discussed: this case illustrates how science, media, policy and politics are increasingly mutually shaped in today’s public sphere.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Science, farming, wildlife and media
Evidence, uncertainty and politics in the badger/bovine tb controversy

Angela Cassidy   Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Imperial College London

Debates over the culling of wild badgers to manage bovine TB in cattle have been ongoing in the UK since the 1970s, when the two species were first linked and badgers became a highly protected wildlife species. In the hope of resolving the controversy, policymakers turned to science by commissioning the largest field experiment ever carried out in the UK: the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT). However, the findings of this ambitious research programme recreating the experimental laboratory across a large swathe of the English countryside proved to be unexpected, counterintuitive, complex and uncertain.

This paper offers an analysis of debates over badger culling and the science of bTB in the UK media from 1995 to 2010. It will discuss how badger/bTB has been framed as an agricultural or environmental issue by opposed groupings of media, scientific, industry, NGO, celebrity and political actors. Advocates on both sides have drawn upon a historical legacy of debate over human/badger conflict, to frame badgers as either innocent victims to be protected, or as disruptive pests. As the findings of the RBCT emerged, actors in the debate changed their rhetoric around science, expertise and evidence, rather than their positions on badger culling. Despite these oppositions, all those involved employ a shared rhetoric of “the public”, which is usefully imagined, rather than based in the complexity of what multiple publics’ opinions about badger culling might actually be. Finally, the developing involvement of mainstream political agendas in the badger/bTB debate will be discussed: this case illustrates how science, media, policy and politics are increasingly mutually shaped in today’s public sphere.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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