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OMCO 2040 - Mapping Controversies: Health Safety Issues in Profitable Chemical Markets

Type d'enseignement : Seminar

Semester : Autumn 2017-2018

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English



Course Description

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are everywhere. They are found in food packaging, medical devices, toys, PVC manufacturing, in the workplace and at home. To date, however, they remain barely regulated. One explanation put forward by many commentators is that private companies fund most studies that examine their risks, to the point that the experts working on EDCs find themselves in situations of “conflicts of interest”. In this group, we will be looking at how the conflicts of interest that the regulation of EDCs may cause have been –and could be more efficiently– managed. We will look into the ways in which EDCs have been studied, how their risks have been managed and compare how the relationships between producers and public authorities (agencies, expert committees, etc.) has been organized in different countries. More generally, we will analyze how products that both profitable and toxic can be managed, so as to ensure business competitiveness, public health and, this is a daunting challenge, independent expert judgment and a fair exercice of democracy.


BOULLIER, Henri (Post-doctorant)

Pedagogical format

As a project based course, you will work intensely with your group, under the supervision of your group teacher. Each week, you will meet to work on an assignment, and you will present your findings during class to your group teacher and to your classmates. Some weeks, your group will be organized in subgroups. One of the important by-product of this course is to learn the ethics and methods of working on a class project over 3 months. At a time of increasing complexity of questions that you will have to tackle, whether in the industry, in national state agencies or in academia, working by oneself is less and less an option.

Course validation

You will be evaluated along two axes:

1) A weekly evaluation. Every week, we will ask you to search documents pertaining to your controversy and to analyse them using a series of methods and tools that we will teach you. You will collectively build a database that will become the natural resource for scholars and journalists willing to learn and understand your controversy. This database should be made public on the PSIA website once the term is over.

2) A white paper. The insights gained from becoming specialists of your controversy will be consolidated into a white paper. The point of the paper is to sharpen the contentious points of the controversy and clarify its dynamics. So this is « white » as in normatively neutral but decidedly engaged in moving the controversy out of its opacity and shedding light on it. You will be helped every step of the way to write it up. Tasks will be assigned on a weekly basis, and roles will be rotated so that all group members get to do everything, that is collect data, analyse and summarize, write sections of the paper, design the main argument of the paper.


This is a project course. As such it is experimental and the delivery – the white paper – will be the direct result of your involvement in your group. Expect to read a lot and to discuss a lot. Readings and discussions will be mostly about the case your group will study, so solidly grounded in a controversial situation that needs to be understood, analyzed and explained in objective and scientific manners.