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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Science and values in a wastewater treatment controversy Vázquez Pérez, Marco Antonio


Different scholars hold that values embedded in science are a central reason why more research does not solve scientific controversies related to complex environmental issues. In the Capital Regional District, British Columbia, Canada, different scientists have positioned themselves for and against the construction of a wastewater treatment plant in a debate framed as purely technical. This study investigates how scientists with opposing positions view nature and consider uncertainties, as well as what are their assumptions. I analyzed peer-reviewed publications of scientists who have positioned themselves publicly on either side of the controversy. Then, I conducted four semi-structured interviews with two scientists from each side. I found that scientists against treatment framed nature as tolerant to disturbances up to a limit and believed that scientific research can eliminate uncertainties. They assumed that sewage is not a risk because it is composed mainly of nutrients and traditional wastewater quality measurements have not shown evidence of harm. In contrast, scientists in favor of treatment portrayed nature as fragile and judged uncertainty as worrisome based on potentially harmful consequences. They also considered the sewage a risk because of the chemical substances it contains which are not included in traditional measurements. This study suggests that value-laden perspectives impact scientists’ positions and recommendations even in a seemingly technical controversy.

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