Why Democracies Need Science,
Why Democracies Need 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