The right tool for the job? Modeling, spatial relationships, and styles of scientific practice in the UK foot and mouth crisis

Karen Bickerstaff, Peter Simmons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper we explore the expert controversy over the management of a major rural risk issue, the foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak that affected the United Kingdom in 2001, and in particular the role of predictive epidemiological modeling in the decisionmaking process. We pose the questions of why this technique was identified as the right tool for the job by government and why, at the same time, its use was so fiercely contested by other experts in animal health. To set our analysis in context we outline briefly the causes, characteristics, and consequences of FMD together with its history in the United Kingdom. We then provide an account of the 2001 FMD outbreak and the policies that were employed to control the epidemic. In the main discussion we integrate the geographical concept of spatial practices with the concept, drawn from the sociology of scientific knowledge, of styles of scientific practice and apply this to the analysis of the knowledge practices and arguments of the scientific groups that advised on controlling the epidemic. We analyse the key differences between expert groups and their policy recommendations in terms of their different styles of scientific spatial practice. In the rhetorical boundary work of the opposing scientific groups we see these differences in ‘style’ being invoked to delineate the boundaries of ‘sound science’ and thereby legitimate their respective policy prescriptions. We conclude by discussing the relationship between styles of scientific spatial practice and recent trends in government policy style and its implications for future risk policy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-412
Number of pages20
JournalEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2004

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