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SEE Q&A (4): Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Values/Politics October 14, 2008

Posted by Will Thomas in Collins-Evans Q&A.
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We continue our 8-part Q&A with Harry Collins and Rob Evans concerning their Sociology of Expertise and Experience project.  Once again, we note that Collins and Evans crafted their answers jointly.  This is not a spontaneous exchange.

Will Thomas: Is there a fact/value divide within this theory to distinguish those who participate purely as stakeholders, and those who participate as experts?  Whose responsibility is it to reinterpret the claims of non-expert stakeholders within the expert framework?  What are the implications of SEE for the democratic ideal?

Harry Collins

Harry Collins

Rob Evans and Harry Collins: There is a clear distinction between experts and stakeholders and between propositions and preferences. The language of facts and values, however, cross-cuts the distinctions we want to make.  Starting with stakeholders, in the Third Wave paper we disentangle the concepts with Wynne’s sheep farmer example.  The sheep farmers were both experts and stakeholders in the matter of farming practice post-Chernobyl.  Those who owned the farms (let us imagine they were London based financiers), were stakeholders only.  The sheep farmers had a legitimate contribution to make to the technical phase of the debate (i.e. how to measure the contamination of the sheep) in virtue of their expertise in sheep farming and Lakeland ecology. The owners of the farms did not have this expertise and so could not, and should not, contribute to this debate.  Nevertheless, both sheep farmers and farm owners had legitimate contributions to make to the political phase of the debate in virtue of their stakes in the matter.

Wave Two, in contrast, has confounded  stake-holding with knowledge and expertise.  Perhaps this is because the distinction between technical and political phase does not map neatly on to the distinction between facts and values.  SSK and the rest of Wave 2 has shown, beyond any shadow of doubt, that values enter into the construction of scientific knowledge, i.e. into the construction of the `facts’ that inform the technical phase.  The crucial difference for Wave 3 is between ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ politics (or other values). In the case of the technical phase, which is concerned with propositional questions, intrinsic politics/values are needed if closure of a debate is ever to be achieved.  Nevertheless, the technical phase can still be distinguished by its aspiration to be ‘value-free’ even if it can never achieve value freedom in practice.

In contrast, in the political phase, values are out in the open and used to win arguments and justify preferences – they are not intrinsic but `extrinsic.’  The difference between the technical and the political phase is the extent to which the actors try to render their conclusions value free.  In social studies of science the thing that is going wrong is that the impossibility of getting rid of intrinsic values has been taken to imply that there is not reason why science should not be overtly political.  Indeed, it seems more honest to bring the intrinsic politics and values into the open and proceed to make science in a political way.  This makes the distinction between science and politics (and hence between the technical and political phase) disappear — everything becomes politics.

Rob Evans

Rob Evans

The Wave 3 argument is that, within the technical phase, scientists and other experts should be trying their hardest to get rid of even the intrinsic values in the substance of their scientific work.  If the intrinsic politics can be uncovered, then, far from being celebrated, the findings upon which they bear should be discounted accordingly.  This has to be the case if the notion of science as a form of life is to be preserved.  Only if we accept the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic politics/values can we continue to talk of a difference between fact and value (even if we now know that a fact is not quite what it was thought to be under Wave 1).  Only if we can talk of a difference between fact and value can we have a democratic society that still values science as an activity and gives cultural authority to experts.

This does not imply a return to Wave 1, however. Wave 3 treats the distinction between fact and value as a subtle sociological matter not an easy analytic distinction.  The distinction between fact and value is a matter of the form-of-life in which they are created and the aspirations of the actors within that form-of-life.  Of course, exactly how `facts’ and politics are combined in any society depends on the flavour of its democracy.

To sum up, Wave Three separates out things that are mixed up in Wave 2 but does not separate them in the way it was done in Wave 1.  In Wave 1 science and politics/values belong in different logical categories which are reflected in the real world.  In Wave 2 science and politics/values are inseparable.  In Wave 3 they can be separated once more but, crucially, only by reference to whether the politics/values are intrinsic or extrinsic:   politics and science are different forms of life.  To act authentically as a scientist one must continually try to separate one’s politics from one’s science even of one cannot entirely succeed.   A science in which scientists did not try to separate science from politics would look very different – Lysenkoism is an example.


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