How does an advocate scientist, who is also the head of a governmental forensic service, urge the politicians and decision-makers of his country to expand the national DNA database, while respecting both the imperatives of scientific honesty and his political mission? This contribution argues that honesty in science and in politics, while conventionally construed as incompatible (science and knowledge versus politics, ideals, actions) are intertwined in practice. First, the paper briefly presents some elements of Bruno Latour’s incursion into anthropology of “modern” sciences. The aim here is come to terms with the crude distinction between facts and beliefs (or fetishes). In order to replace this dichotomy, we will use Latour’s notion of “factishes” (2009), according to which facticity share simultaneously the realist and constructivist epistemologies and therefore the realm of fact (truths) and construction (beliefs). The second part of the paper shows the results of our analysis of the speeches a prominent government scientist presented to the Senate to explain the science of genetics, the functioning of DNA fingerprinting in the criminal justice system and engaged the political representatives of Canada regarding the development of DNA collection and storage. Seen through the modern science imperatives, one can think the scientist has fallen from science into pure politics. On the other hand, we argue that the speeches under study are exemplar of an astute and unavoidable back and forth movement between the realm of fabrication and adoration, a transition that is imbedded in scientific communication. This case is particularly rich for it illustrates how communication takes place, and knowledge effectively transfers, at the border of two social spheres (How scientist succeed in making meaning for non-scientists with a policy agenda) and how a liminal character (the advocate scientist directing a forensic service) reconciles the imperatives of his plural allegiances.

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Honesty in communicating science to politics in the (PRE) modern era
How can an advocate scientist stay true to his two allegiances at once?

Dominique Robert   Ph.D. Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa

Martin Dufresne   Ph.D. Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa

How does an advocate scientist, who is also the head of a governmental forensic service, urge the politicians and decision-makers of his country to expand the national DNA database, while respecting both the imperatives of scientific honesty and his political mission? This contribution argues that honesty in science and in politics, while conventionally construed as incompatible (science and knowledge versus politics, ideals, actions) are intertwined in practice. First, the paper briefly presents some elements of Bruno Latour’s incursion into anthropology of “modern” sciences. The aim here is come to terms with the crude distinction between facts and beliefs (or fetishes). In order to replace this dichotomy, we will use Latour’s notion of “factishes” (2009), according to which facticity share simultaneously the realist and constructivist epistemologies and therefore the realm of fact (truths) and construction (beliefs). The second part of the paper shows the results of our analysis of the speeches a prominent government scientist presented to the Senate to explain the science of genetics, the functioning of DNA fingerprinting in the criminal justice system and engaged the political representatives of Canada regarding the development of DNA collection and storage. Seen through the modern science imperatives, one can think the scientist has fallen from science into pure politics. On the other hand, we argue that the speeches under study are exemplar of an astute and unavoidable back and forth movement between the realm of fabrication and adoration, a transition that is imbedded in scientific communication. This case is particularly rich for it illustrates how communication takes place, and knowledge effectively transfers, at the border of two social spheres (How scientist succeed in making meaning for non-scientists with a policy agenda) and how a liminal character (the advocate scientist directing a forensic service) reconciles the imperatives of his plural allegiances.

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

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