PELLEGRINI Pablo Ariel
congresos y reuniones científicas
Scientific and Public Controversies in the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic: The role of Newspapers in shifting the image of experts? consensus
PELLEGRINI, PABLO A.
Jornada; 2019 Postdoctoral Research Symposium; 2019
In this work I study the mediations between public and scientific controversies through the specific case of the 1793 yellow fever epidemic.Indeed, in that yellow fever epidemic that hit Philadelphia there were experts that claimed a domestic origin as the cause of the epidemic, and recommended bloodletting and mercury compounds treatments; on the other hand, other experts supported a foreign origin via trade ships, and considered less invasive treatments for each symptom. Although there are some historical studies on the issue, the role of newspapers in this controversy has not been deeply analyzed.In order to analyze such role, first I study the level of consensus among the experts of the time. That will allow to have a better state of the expert consensus about the causes and treatments of yellow fever at the time. Then, I focus on the way that newspapers presented the issue, observing the kind of experts they appealed and the statements they presented. In that sense, this analysis makes possible to compare the way newspapers presented the issue with the way experts actually conceived it. Results shows that newspapers presented the two types of treatment (mild, or strong purge and bleeding) in a balanced way, with the same number of articles to represent each position. Therefore, while the expert community of the time had a clear consensus on the mild treatment, the newspapers created a public image of the experts? opinion quite different, as if they were in a perfect controversy.This case may prove useful to compare with more contemporary cases, such as vaccines. The analysis highlights the importance of surveying the consensus inside and outside an expert community before its comparison, focusing on the role of media in the mediations between scientific and public controversies.