secrecy {fragments}

~ musings on secrecy ~

My Own Little Tribute: Bill Freudenburg’s Research

Continued from the previous post

Bill’s research spanned decades on a myriad of subjects: he contributed original research on job loss and the northern spotted owl, technological risk, environmental justice, the Minerals Management Service (one of the first sociologists to study the former agency), the federal outer continental oil leasing program, and at the end of his productive scholarly life, the BP Oil disaster and America’s “energy future.” Bill traversed the sociological imagination investigating subjects that continue to engage social scientists, policymakers, and the public alike. He trained as a sociologist, but crossed fields to become an archivist, statistician, ecologist, historian, and advocate for reform.

As sole researcher, Bill drew on theories such as recreancy as a platform in which to scrutinize complex social problems. With long term colleagues such as Robert B. Gramling, bureaucratic slippage became an incredibly useful concept in which to frame government secrecy (I shamelessly use it in my own work):

…the tendency for broad policy statements to be successively reinterpreted, both over time and across multiple layers of regulatory implementation. The net result, we suggest, can resemble the childhood game in which a “secret” is whispered to one person, who then whispers it to the next, and so on; the eventual secret, or the eventual implementation of the policy, can prove to have very little resemblance to the statement that started the process” (Freudenburg & Gramling, 1994a, p.222).

It is Bill’s work on information/knowledge – sociology of knowledge –  that I find most inspiring and thoughtful. Among Bill’s explorations are: atrophy of vigilance, power and control of information (Freudenburg, 1986b), trust in information (Freudenburg, 2001b, 1993a), public right to know (Freudenburg & Baxter, 1985), asymmetry and bias in scientific judgment (Freudenburg & Muselli, 2009), Type I and Type II errors (Freudenburg & Keating, 1985), disasters (Freudenburg  & Gramling, 2011; Freudenburg, Gramling, Laska, & Erikson, 2009a; Freudenburg, Gramling, Laska, & Erikson, 2008), risk (Freudenburg & Alario, 2006; Freudenburg, Coleman, Gonzales, & Helgeland, 1996; Freudenburg & Davidson, 2007; Freudenburg & Jones, 1991; Freudenburg & Pastor, 1992a, 1992b; Freudenburg & Davidson, 2007; Alario & Freudenburg, 2010),  probabilistic risk assessment (1988), scientific uncertainty (Freudenburg, Gramling, Davidson, 2008; Freudenburg & Rursch, 1994), and transparency (Freudenburg, 2008a).

Bill’s research remains of critical significance in the wake of the Fukushima reactor disaster within the context of an energy hungry world. I hope this bibliography of Bill’s works will encourage continued exploration into the social issues that so defined an illustrious career.


For more information on Bill’s work, see “William Freudenburg: An Intellectual and Professional Biography” by Riley Dunnlap and Debra Davidson in the Rural Sociologist, June 2011.


Written by S.

April 8, 2011 at 8:49 pm