Ep. #38 When good intention isn’t enough: Jacqui Hoepner on morally repulsive public health research & academic freedom

“I went into this thinking that objectivity and neutrality were the Name of the Game. That you couldn’t do good research if you were in any way biased or if you had your own opinions or experiences or values that might influence the research.” Subscribe on Android

In episode number 4 of our STS Series, Dr Jacqui Hoepner, an Early Career Research Fellow at the Australian National University talks to our own Dr Julia Brown. They begin by discussing Jacqui’s PhD experience, where she originally set out to navigate the tricky landscape of wind turbines and public health, with good intentions to be a neutral researcher in a very politicised realm. After receiving some serious push-backs she chose instead to turn her attention to silencing in academia. Jacqui unpacks what it means to have academic freedom and question where you draw the line around what research should and should not be done. They end by talking about reflexivity and what value anthropology has in studies of science.


If you’d like to read the blogpost that Jacqui wrote for TFS last year, you can find it here: https://thefamiliarstrange.com/2018/05/24/academic-freedom/

And you can listen to Jacqui’s podcast ‘You Need to Shut Up’ here https://www.youneedtoshutup.com/ or here https://podcasts.apple.com/za/podcast/you-need-to-shut-up/id1367884727

If you’d also like to be inspired by the incredible work of Simone Dennis, you can read more about her here: https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/dennis-sj

Mary Douglas (1966) Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, https://books.google.com.au/books/about/Purity_and_Danger.html?id=QGRUTH8hnQ4C



“I was quite naïve thinking that all I had to do was have good intentions and that was enough to… do research in this highly politicised area.”

“Sharing your stories with participants is not a bad thing. The fact that you find yourself saying [to research participants] ‘don’t worry, I’m not going to perpetuate what happened to you again, I’m not going to make it worse. I’m going to do everything I can to tell your story with honesty and authenticity and integrity’. That’s a good thing. That’s a research strength.”

“If you’re being told that your work is killing people, or [it’s] dangerous or awful or … ‘not worth the paper it’s printed on’, by a colleague, I think that’s very – it’s a very different issue. I think it can be much harder to brush off”

“Especially when you’ve been working in public health or a medical field, if I’ve been giving people the wrong advice for all this time, what does that mean for the treatment I’ve given or the advice I’ve given or recommendations I’ve made? And so, I think it’s a lot easier to get defensive [when they are told their research and facts are wrong]”

“I’ve become a lot better at accepting when I’m wrong … and I think it’s a tool that we can all use effectively to be more empathetic; to be better citizens; to be more compassionate. And I think it really just comes down to thinking about why we think what we think, and how we think what we think, and acknowledging our limitations, acknowledging we’re not always right, and being comfortable saying that.”

“It’s really, to me, suggesting that a boundary has been crossed and all the old rules are out the window. It suggests that academic freedom is much more complicated, much more contingent than we think and that the [moral] boundaries are shifting based on societal values.”

“Anthropology matters [in STS] because I think it gives us tools that have been seen within science…  Adopting a reflexive methodology helps every researcher, it doesn’t matter what field they’re in. And so, I think realising that we all have values, perspectives, experiences, biases – I don’t even like using the word biases, but anyway – that they’re not things we need to shove in a box and put away; that they’re actually things we can use to be better researchers. And I think, you know, there’s plenty of examples of scientists doing this…but it’s just that it doesn’t make it into the image we have of science and scientists…[But] it doesn’t help anyone to pretend that scientists are automatons, just going about their business without thinking at all about what they’re doing. I just don’t think we give [scientists] the tools [in science training] to express that particularly well.”

Dillon Wind Power Project

Wind turbines at White Water, Palm Springs, California. By Tony Webster (2014)

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com

Shownotes by Deanna Catto

[Feature Image: ‘Lempster_1′ (2009) by PSNH, available at:

[Image: ‘Wind Energy’ (2014) by Tony Webster, available at:


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