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Assessment 4 – Policy Brief

Assessment 4 – Policy Brief

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Assessment 4 – Policy Brief

Assessment 4 2023 – policy or research brief options

For each of the 4 options below, you can either do an “Assessment 4 – Policy Brief” research brief or a policy brief (see ‘Assessment 4 format’ for more information); you can also either do a brief which advocates for a particular position/action or one that outlines possible actions for your target audience to take.

Options 1 and 2 are quite specific; I recommend you choose one. However, if they do not inspire you, options 3 and 4 are much broader, and you can pick a case study that you are particularly interested in [ check with me first, though, regarding how you interpret the question]. For the first two, the core of the research has been done for you, so you need to really focus on your analytical skills. For the last two, you will have to do your own research and identify sources that enable you to demonstrate your understanding of SOC251 concepts.

Remember that your target audience is NOT someone who has just done SOC251 and therefore knows what PUS, 3rd order thinking, reflexivity, rhetoric or retrospecting prospects mean. In your briefs, you need to convey your understanding of some of these key terms without just throwing in a lot of jargon. This is tricky. Perhaps imagine your audience to be you and your peers at the beginning of the session: try to convey concepts in a way that makes sense to your old self, and then use referencing to show that you now have a deeper understanding.

Option 1 Gene drive in Australia and public engagement/RRI

You work as a social scientist for the CSIRO [Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the Australian government science agency]. One of your bosses approaches you, explaining there is a bit of a buzz around ‘gene drive’ technology. They share the result of a survey they have already commissioned, indicating some public support for using gene drive technology to get rid of feral cats (see here). They ask you to provide more advice and information about whether and how the CSIRO should move forward with gene drive technology in Australia and whether the approach taken by Target Malaria (a not-for-profit which is looking at gene drive for malaria reduction) regarding stakeholder engagement on gene drive and discussed here would be something to take inspiration from.

Assessment 4 – Policy Brief

Drawing on content from SOC251, especially weeks 7-9, write a research or policy brief evaluating what the CSIRO has done so far and how that compares with Target Malaria’s approach. Provide recommendations or possible actions based on your analysis.

How to answer:

You are not asked to evaluate gene drive science; you only need to show a very broad/basic understanding. Rather, you should focus on: the extent to which what the CSIRO or Target Malaria have done addresses criticisms made against the deficit model of public understanding of science; evaluation criteria such as those developed by Rowe and Frewer or Annstein, or the RRI/RI people (don’t use all, pick the most relevant) and whether they are relevant here; lessons learnt from public engagement/participation/RRI; third order thinking.

You must reference Irwin (2021 – he’s cited in the week 9 lecture, but you should read that paper yourself, too) and at least two other papers from weeks 7-9, either from the tutorials or the lectures [This is the minimum; remember to read everything you cite.]

Bibliographical details of the above links: – Mankad, A., Hobman, E. V., & Carter, L. (2022) ‘Public perspectives towards using gene drive for invasive species management in Australia’. CSIRO, Australia. Online, available at – Pare Toe, L., Dicko, B., Linga, R. et al. (2022). ‘Operationalizing stakeholder engagement for gene drive research in malaria elimination in Africa—translating guidance into practice’. Malaria Journal 21, 225.




Option 2 AlphaFold for Alzheimer’s disease and Sociology of expectations

A representative from an Alzheimer’s disease patient organization approaches you with a story on a new artificial intelligence tool that predicts protein structures and will revolutionize drug discovery. Given that Alzheimer’s disease results from protein misfolding, this tool, called AlphaFold, could be a game changer for Alzheimer’s sufferers. The patient representative asks you to look into the promises made, and to give the patient organisation advice on how they should communicate this news with their members, and whether they should start a campaign asking them to invest (financially and by donating biological samples) into a project using AlphaFold to study Alzheimer’s.

Drawing on insights from the sociology of expectations or the political economy of hope, and on content from SOC251, especially weeks 10-11write a research or policy brief examining discourses about AlphaFold (especially the future-oriented ones) and providing advice to the patient organisation on how they should communicate with their members about this new technology.

How to answer:

You are not asked to assess the promise of the science in technical terms; you only need to show a very broad/basic understanding of what it is. Rather, you should focus on: how these discourses fit into known narratives, such as the early promise and subsequent disappointment narrative; how different people may express more or less (un)certainty depending on how close they are to the site of knowledge production or how new the innovation is; the costs of hope and hype; the potential performativity of future-oriented discourses; the role of patient organisations in the political economy of hope and lessons from different examples of groups engaging with science in the political economy of hope.

You must reference Brown and Michael (2003), and at least two other papers from SOC251 (most likely the tutorial papers from week 11 or one of the papers cited in the lectures in weeks 10-11, or Mulkay (1993, on the ‘rhetorics of hope and fear’, cited in the lecture week 4). [This is the minimum; remember to read everything you cite.]

To get you started:


Assessment 4 – Policy Brief

Option 3 Public Engagement/RRI

Evaluate an attempt at public engagement/participation in genetics and/or biotechnology of your choice. Based on your analysis and what you have learnt in SOC251, what lessons or recommendations exist for policy makers, public members, patients, researchers, farmers, the biotechnology industry, etc.?

Your case study can include participatory development, RRI, or anything that claims to be more than just ‘1st order thinking’ (whether they succeed is another matter). It should be from the last 8 years (2015-2023). might be a good place to start your research.

Your brief’s title might be:

– Participatory development: Explaining the successful adoption of GM bananas in Mozambique [I totally made this up – I have no idea if GM bananas have been adopted in Mozambique!] – Public engagement in gene drive technology in Mexico: Learning from the GM debates – In vitro meat: Why we should consult with a range of stakeholders – Exploring options for responsible research and innovation in precision medicine – Moving towards third order thinking: An evaluation and critique of the recent public consultation on genome editing in California – Big data and cancer genomics: Why patients should have a voice – Any example of your choice related to genetics and/or biotechnology, and publics/stakeholders

You must reference Irwin (2021 – he’s cited in the week 9 lecture, but you should read that paper yourself too) and at least two other papers from weeks 7-9, either from the tutorials or the lectures [This is the minimum; remember to read everything you cite.]


Option 4 Sociology of Expectations

What future-oriented discourses are there in genetics and/or biotechnology? How might these shape the future relationship between science and society?

How to answer

Answer the question by writing a policy or research brief that concisely overviews the sociology of expectations, examines future-oriented discourses about a contemporary case study of your choice, and reflects on the role of these discourses in supporting investment, creating hope and hype, leading to disappointment etc. You should draw on your personal research and analysis to answer the first part of the question and on the existing literature (e.g. our tutorial readings) to briefly answer the second question.

You must reference Brown and Michael (2003) and at least two other papers from SOC251 (most likely the tutorial papers from week 11 or one of the papers cited in the lectures in weeks 10-11, or Mulkay (1993, on the ‘rhetorics of hope and fear,’ cited in the lecture week 4). [This is the minimum; remember to read everything you cite.]

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