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Environmental Pollution and Professional Responsibility: Ibsen's A Public Enemy as a Seminar on Science Communication and Ethics

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Dr Stockmann, the principal character in Henrik Ibsen's A Public Enemy, is a classic example of a whistle-blower who, upon detecting and disclosing a serious case of environmental pollution, quickly finds himself transformed from a public benefactor into a political outcast by those in power. If we submit the play to a 'second reading', however, it becomes clear that the ethical intricacies of whistle-blowing are interwoven with epistemological issues. Basically, the play is about the complex task of communicating scientific (notably microbiological) data to lay audiences. This becomes even more apparent when we realise that Stockmann was a contemporary of real 'microbe hunters' such as Pasteur and Koch. The play's basic message is that epoch-making scientists (such as Pasteur and Koch) not only produced convincing and reliable data from a scientific point of view, but also acquired the skills and insights needed to enter into a dialogue with their cultural and societal environment.
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Keywords: environmental ethics; research ethics; science communication; whistle-blowing

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-08-01

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  • Environmental Values is an international peer-reviewed journal that brings together contributions from philosophy, economics, politics, sociology, geography, anthropology, ecology and other disciplines, which relate to the present and future environment of human beings and other species. In doing so we aim to clarify the relationship between practical policy issues and more fundamental underlying principles or assumptions.

    Environmental Values has a Journal Impact Factor (2016) of 1.279.
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