"Chemical Harmonies: The Politics of Standardized Practices and Controls"
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Colleen Lanier Christensen, PhD Candidate, Department of the History of Science, Harvard University.
Co-sponsored by the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University.
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Sheila Jasanoff, Faculty Associate. Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School.
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In the 1970s, the industrialized nations of the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) grew concerned about inconsistent national testing requirements in new chemical control laws, and worked to harmonize standards to facilitate trade in chemical products. This talk explores the politics of international regulatory harmonization through the case of chemical testing, demonstrating how governments worked to create common frameworks for risk regulation while preserving national sovereignty. The rules enacted, Good Laboratory Practice and Test Guidelines, established quality standards and protocols for evaluating health and environmental effects; they made toxicology studies legible to and transportable among governments, thereby authorizing regulators to trust data generated in laboratories at home and abroad. In the decades since, regulators have privileged data from these studies in regulatory review, discounting other forms of evidence. I demonstrate how 1) in creating a harmonized framework, OECD members prioritized economic over epistemic concerns and 2) regulators’ reliance on the particular knowledge production practice of standardized protocols created an inability to know and act on knowledge produced by other means.
Colleen Lanier Christensen is PhD candidate in the History of Science at Harvard University, with a secondary field in Science, Technology, and Society. She works at the intersection of history of science, science and technology studies, and public health, looking at governance of environmental and health risks, including chemicals and medical technologies. Her dissertation traces the history of chemical testing standards from the 1970s to the present, examining how regulators have worked to make toxicity testing amendable to administrative bureaucracy and the consequences for how they know and regulate chemical risks. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation.