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Tainted blood, tainted knowledge : contesting scientific evidence at the Krever Inquiry Paterson, Timothy Murray

Abstract

In this dissertation I provide an ethnographic account of the testimony of four expert witnesses who appeared before the Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada (the Krever Inquiry) as they described the production of scientific knowledge and the role that knowledge played in the struggle to protect the blood supply from being contaminated by AIDS during the early 1980's. In doing so, I bring together the experts' testimony with contemporary documents gathered by the Commission and interviews I conducted with participants in the proceedings. Using insights drawn from the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, and history, I explore what the witnesses' accounts reveal about their understandings of their professional world and its relationships with other worlds, especially that of public health policy making. The Krever Inquiry offered a valuable opportunity for carrying out such an investigation. It provided a site where science was not only used, it was talked about. The Inquiry invited those involved in the blood system in the early 1980's to reflect upon and explain the beliefs and actions which surrounded one of the worst public health disasters in Canadian history and it asked the witnesses how similar catastrophes could be avoided in the future. As a result, many of the issues addressed at the hearings reflect matters of current concern in public health and medicine. The Inquiry addressed difficult issues surrounding the nature of scientific knowledge and its application in health decision-making and policy formulation. This study, therefore, may be of interest to those dealing with the problems surrounding uncertainty and the management of public health crises. It may also be of interest to those dealing with conflicts rising out of the intersection of different worlds of experience and practice, as well as to those involved in the current initiatives to both make medical and public health institutions more proactive, and inclusive, and public health decision-making more transparent.

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