Making Doable Problems within Controversial Science : U.S. and Swedish Scientists’ Experience of Gene Transfer Research

Abstract: This thesis explores how scientists within the controversial scientific field of gene  transfer make their research doable. Based on in-depth interviews with gene transfer scientists and key individuals from different regulatory agencies and advisory boards in Sweden and the U.S.A., the study focuses on how scientists describe and reason about how they handle the various problems that confront them as they work in a technically advanced and highly controversial field of research.Drawing upon Clarke and Fujimura’s concepts of situatedness and doability, Latour’s concepts of enrollment and translation, Strauss’concepts of articulation work and alignment as well as Gieryn’s concept of boundary-work, the study analyzes how doable problems are constructed within gene transfer, from basic science to clinical application on human subjects. Doable problems were constructed by enrolling allies on different levels, translating interests and creating alignment of interests and activities of the allies enrolled. The study covers how scientists handle questions of funding, research cooperation and choice of scientific material as well as the ethical complications involved in gene transfer research and its applications. For the U.S. scientists an essential part of creating doable problems consisted of boundary-work in relation to regulatory demands and interventions, something that did not concern the Swedish scientists to the same extent.Gene transfer, due to its controversial character, has raised public fears and concerns. Using Goffman’s concept of frames, the study also analyzes how gene transfer scientists attempt to gain public acceptance by framing gene transfer as an ordinary kind of therapy, while simultaneously heralding it as a revolutionary new technology, in order to obtain the external funding necessary for an expensive and extensive research.