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Making science common sense

How has vaccination, the scientific method of preventing poliomyelitis and a new way of looking at the disease, become a part of common sense? Indeed, concerns over the safety of vaccines have been the subject of intellectual discourse and research since 1709 when Edward Jenner, a country doctor living in Berkley, England conducted the first vaccination by taking pus from a cowpox lesion on a milkmaids hand and using it to inoculate an eight-year-old James Phillips.

In this seminal book, Living Science & Miracles, the author, Bankole Falade, PhD, a scientist, journalist and social psychologist with interest in science, religion and public life, media and communication studies and research methodology, provides a historical background of vaccination controversies from all over the world including Brazil, Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroun, United Kingdom and the United States. Specifically, it examines how the OPV controversy evolved and compares this with others in history.

It also studies the relationship between religious beliefs, knowledge, and attitudes to science. Divided into eight chapters and Appendixes, the 186-page book, published by Promisedland Communications Ltd, examines media coverage of the oral polio vaccine from 2001 – 2009 in Nigeria, to identify representation and how they were formed, discarded or sustained in the process of sense making. The author also contextualizes the vaccine coverage against the backdrop of the image of science in the media in the same decade.

Another part of the book, which is further divided into five sections – A, B, C, D and E – features the findings of a survey of knowledge, attitudes, interests and being informed which maps the culture of science and its relationship with religious beliefs. In chapter one, titled “God, god, democracy and science” In chapter one, titled “God, god, democracy and science”, the author contextualizes the emergence of religious, tribal, and democratic pluralism, as it also relates to the questions: What is the relationship between science and religion? How does the familiar affect the acceptance of the unfamiliar? “Patterns of vaccination resistance” is the focus of chapter two, in which he looks at ‘Vaccination resistance in Northern Nigeria: 2001 to 2009’, and other grounds for resistance to vaccines; ‘Vaccines as victims of scientific success’; as well as theoretical approach.

In chapter three, the book focuses on ‘Making science common sense’, as it examines such issues as “Science and religion: conflict or coexistence?” He also examines various approaches, namely: The engineering approach; The scientific establishment approach; Science policy and democratic gover-nance; The social representations approach, which looks at relationship between science and common sense, as well as science and the new common sense; Cognitive polyphasia or cognitive dissonance; Social representations and mass media; Social representations, risk perception and PUS. Chapter four examines the mass media coverage of the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPC) controversy – the Intensity of coverage and disease influence;

The themes and actors in the debate; Qualitative analysis of themes Relationship of actors, theme and valuation; and The media and the OPV controversy. Science in the Nigerian public sphere is the focus of chapter five. The author posits that “the media are pen spaces for symbolic social struggles for the meaning of objects in our globalized news world… The place of science is a measure of its acceptance as well as a society’s aspiration and fears.

While chapters six dwells on “The mediating effect of religion on attitudes to science”, chapter seven looks at “Living with God, gods, and science”. The author extrapolates that “experience and storytelling are the driving forces for common sense and to change certain practices, such as resistance to vaccination (or any scientific phenomenon), there needs to access to more positive experiences with science to fill the story mill.

The more positive experiences the people of Nigeria have with science, the more goodwill they may bestow on it and the more faith people will have in it for understanding and resolving some of the issues in their daily lives.”

The value we ascribe to science indeed depends on what the society thinks of it and this is anchored on perceptions of the source and message, context, culture, and communication practices, notes the author in chapter eight which focuses on ‘Science and the new common sense’.

He also examines the representations and the oral polio vaccine controversy; science in the media; survey of science in the Nigerian society; living with faith in science and religion; and policy implications of findings.


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