1 The Department of Communication, Business and Information Technologies, Roskilde University2 Magt, Medier og Kommunikation, Administration Department of Roskilde University, Roskilde University3 Communication, Journalism and Social Change, Department of Communication and Arts, Roskilde University
threats, risk or protection
The pandemic influenza in 2009 gave the opportunity to study some specific issues on science communication within the field of health and medicine. This particular study focuses on the Danish health authorities’ communication in the nine months long period of endeavors, though stressing that the pandemic was dealt with very different around the world. With a situated analysis inspired by Bruno Latour (2005) and Michel Callon (1986; 1999), and based on analysis of documents, media texts and interviews, the paper shows how the Danish health authorities communicated in an open and continuous way on the question about the influenza and the threats related to the disease. Their efforts were acknowledged from all different spheres and there was never any severe criticism of the health authorities. With regard to the threats of the virus and the influenza, a common, though tacit, understanding was reached between authorities, politicians, media and citizens. On the contrary, no broad commitment about the offer of a new pandemic vaccine to individuals from e.g. at-risk groups was reached. The vaccine was characterized by considerable uncertainty with regard to effects and side effects and many people considered the vaccine as risky and a threat more severe than the influenza. The health authorities’ communication was more unclear on this question, confusion increased in the Danish population and more critical voices were raised. This uncertain communication about the vaccines’ effects and side effects and the critical voices in the population are widespread in communication about vaccines in general and an increasing number of people are expressing skepticism and deselect this product. The communication processes are seen as a typical example of the difficulties of communicating science and risk and show how different types of knowledge clash since the health authorities’ knowledge based in medical science is in opposition to laypeople’s knowledge based on a variety of experiences (Callon 1999). This paper shows how the experience from the pandemic influenza and the vaccine developed to prevent the spread of the virus can indicate the importance of equalizing the knowledge of lay people, experts and materiality respectively. Furthermore, the case shows how important it is to understand risk communication not only as a strategic approach but likewise to see risk communication as constituent for the ways risk are approached and understood in society in general. Callon, M. (1999): The Role of Lay People in the Production and Dissemination of Scientific Knowledge. In ‘Science, Technology & Society’ 4:81. Sage Publications. Callon, M. (1986): Some elements of a sociology of translation: domestication of the scallops and the fishermen of St Brieuc Bay. In ‘Power, action, and belief: a new sociology of knowledge’ /ed. By Law, J. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, London. Latour, B. (2005): Reassembling the Social. An introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford University Press, New York.