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Accounting for the Ozone Hole: Scientific Representations of an Anomaly and Prior Incorrect Claims in Public Settings

Stephen C. Zehr
The Sociological Quarterly
Vol. 35, No. 4 (Nov., 1994), pp. 603-619
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Midwest Sociological Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4121521
Page Count: 17
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Accounting for the Ozone Hole: Scientific Representations of an Anomaly and Prior Incorrect Claims in Public Settings
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Abstract

In the early 1980s, accounts of ozone depletion in the popular press, Congressional hearings and scientific literature reported reduced projections of loss. This environmental problem did not seem as severe as many had predicted in the 1970s. However, in 1985 an unexplained Antarctic ozone hole was reported in the scientific literature. This paper looks at how earlier "incorrect" conclusions and the ozone hole itself were accounted for in the popular and semi-popular/scientific press and in Congressional hearings. It demonstrates an asymmetry in accounts. Scientists tended to be removed from accounts of earlier incorrect claims and blame was placed upon available models and nature itself. A form of an "empiricist repertoire" was drawn upon. However, scientists were brought back into and emphasized in accounts of actions on the ozone hole. I argue that scientists' and science writers' accounts effectively helped maintain the cognitive authority of science over a potentially serious environmental problem, but that they missed an opportunity for educating or reminding readers about important aspects of science, especially its processional nature and expected instability over time.

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