The aim of the research is to examine socio-historically the medical scientific disputes relating to the so-called prion disease including scrapie, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), transmissible mink encephalopathy (TME), chronic wasting disease, kuru, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker (GSS) and fatal familial insomnia. BSE and new variant CJD have become the subject of increasing debate and controversy involving many different professional and non¬professional groups. Some scientists have launched large projects to examine the nature of the fatal disease since the 1960s by studying a prototype of mad cow disease, scrapie in sheep. While there are many different hypotheses regarding the cause of scrapie, BSE and new variant CJD, currently the majority of scientists accept a hypothesis called "prion theory". Prion theorists claim that the disease is caused by abnormal proteins that contain no DNA, which has long been regarded as the blue print of every single life form. This theory has held centre stage of the severe controversy, but the scientific community has gradually come to accept the prion hypothesis. However, some researchers still do not agree with this view. To understand these contemporary circumstances necessitate an examination of the history of scientific disputes relating scrapie, and this research will analyse how competing hypotheses have achieved and lost credibility with in the scientific community and wide r arenas.
This research has three major aims. Firstly, it shows the history of scrapie research in the context of development of biomedicine in the twentieth century. The development of scrapie research corresponded with on-going institutional changes in British and later American biomedicine. Secondly, this research examines the relations between scientific practice and wider social transformations which have been closely associated with the development of scientific knowledge. In particular, the development of molecular biology and biotechnological enterprise has played a vital role in building consensus around so-called prion research. Thirdly, this work builds on an appropriate methodological framework from within the sociologically formed history of medicine, which has shown that medical scientific knowledge can be analysed in ways similar to the analysis of other social beliefs and knowledge systems. This work aims to contribute to that well-established tradition of social history of science, which refers primarily to the theoretical works of the sociology of scientific knowledge(SSK)