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Why Democracies Need Science, von Collins, Harry (eBook)

  • Erscheinungsdatum: 27.03.2017
  • Verlag: Polity
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Why Democracies Need Science,

We live in times of increasing public distrust of the main institutions of modern society. Experts, including scientists, are suspected of working to hidden agendas or serving vested interests. The solution is usually seen as more public scrutiny and more control by democratic institutions ? experts must be subservient to social and political life. In this book, Harry Collins and Robert Evans take a radically different view. They argue that, rather than democracies needing to be protected from science, democratic societies need to learn how to value science in this new age of uncertainty. By emphasizing that science is a moral enterprise, guided by values that should matter to all, they show how science can support democracy without destroying it and propose a new institution ? The Owls ? that can mediate between science and society and improve technological decision-making for the benefit of all. Harry Collins is a Fellow of the British Academy, and Distinguished Research Professor in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University. Robert Evans is Professor in Sociology at Cardiff University.


    Format: ePUB
    Kopierschutz: AdobeDRM
    Seitenzahl: 200
    Erscheinungsdatum: 27.03.2017
    Sprache: Englisch
    ISBN: 9781509509645
    Verlag: Polity
    Größe: 522 kBytes
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Why Democracies Need Science,

Choosing Science

Scientific values and the technical phase

Technological decision-making in the public domain involves the inter-mingling of expertise and democracy. What the distinction between technical and political phases allows - in fact, advocates - is that the two are kept separate as far as possible and we do everything we can to preserve the distinctive features of each. The differences between the technical and political phases were summarized in our 2002 paper in table 2.1 .

The lower three rows of table 2.1 are relatively straightforward. Starting with row 2, the idea that participation is based on meritocratic principles follows directly from the idea that the technical phase is concerned with expert knowledge; even where concerns are raised by non-expert whistleblowers and other stakeholders, domain experts will need to evaluate the significance and impact of the claims. 26 The next two rows are closely related to this meritocratic requirement: first, experts will need to represent themselves in the technical debate. Expertise responds to unpredictable changing circumstances in real-time and is based on understandings which are often tacit, so no non-expert can be delegated to do the job. In contrast, because the political phase is assumed to be democratic, then anyone with a stake or their representative may participate and, as the vast literature on democratic theory attests, many different mechanisms exist for allowing this to take place.

Table 2.1 Technical and Political Phases

The top row is more complicated and most of this chapter is about what we mean by 'intrinsic' politics. To understand the difference between Wave Two (mainly descriptive) and Wave Three (mainly prescriptive), it is important to distinguish between a descriptive 'is' and a prescriptive 'ought'. A well-known example in the STS literature - Shapin's study of the controversy surrounding phrenology in nineteenth-century Edinburgh 27 - makes the point. Shapin shows that the outcome, in which phrenology was effectively vanquished and proponents of the status quo retained their positions of influence and authority in the academic world, was closely linked to, and, in part, explained by, their connections and influence in the wider cultural and political life of Edinburgh society. This is the 'is' of the matter. The question is what follows from this description? One could argue that the scientific debate would have been concluded more quickly and efficiently if the influence of the various social and political factors had been brought immediately to centre-stage. But we argue that this would be incompatible with the idea of science. We argue that, despite the inevitable influence of local political factors in the technical debate about phrenology, the guiding principle should be to eliminate these effects so far as is possible. One conclusion that can too easily be drawn from the Second Wave is that, because science is affected by politics, one should forget the distinction - to act politically in a matter of science is to act scientifically. The

Shapin example reveals the flaw in this idea; would we want the fate of phrenology as a potential field of scientific knowledge to have been decided by local Edinburgh politics? The answer seems, a self-evident, 'no'!
The problem of demarcation

But what does it mean to act 'scientifically'? The fact that this question is a classic philosophical topic - 'the problem of demarcation' - makes it evident that science is hard to separate from other enterprises, at least in terms of a set of necessary and sufficient characteristics. If one cannot say what something is, then it is hard to choose it. Indeed, much of the power of Wave Two comes from exactly this point: showing that science is much like other activities means that the

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