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SEE Q&A (5): Policymaking in Waves 2 and 3 October 20, 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: The problem of expertise in policymaking has long been a concern to scholars such as Sheila Jasanoff (The Fifth Branch, Science at the Bar, etc.) and Yaron Ezrahi (Descent of Icarus [out of print]), and, more recently, for Bruno Latour (The Politics of Nature).  Drawing on the insights of SSK, they have argued that scientific experts cannot be called on to offer non-politicized policy recommendations, because scientific consensus-building is itself a political process.  Instead (to paint with a broad brush), effective policymaking can only take place when facts and political concerns are negotiated simultaneously.  Pretending otherwise only opens the door to the systematic sowing of doubt concerning the validity of even a large-majority consensus (as we can see on classic issues such as global warming, the cigarette-cancer link, and evolution in science education).

I notice you don’t engage with this literature directly.  Is this a fair reading of the literature, and do you see yourselves as extending it, addressing difficulties presented by it, or answering different questions entirely?

Rob Evans

Rob Evans

Rob Evans and Harry Collins: To repeat, Wave 2 of Science Studies shows (and Collins has made a considerable contribution to showing it) that it is impossible to have a pure science free of the influence of ‘extra-scientific factors’ including politics.  To that extent all technological decisions in the public domain must be influenced by politics whether we notice it or not.  Where Wave 3 departs from the previous work is in what are taken to be the implications of these discoveries.  The predominant mode of thinking coming out of Wave 2 is that, because scientific and technological decisions are a continuation of politics, the ideas of a scientific/technological decision on the one hand, and a political decision on the other, cannot be separated.  It follows that Wave 2 treats the very notion of the scientific and the political as constructed.

Wave 3 says it is a mistake to draw this implication.  Though it is the case that there can be no pure science separate from politics it does not follow that politics and science are the same or that institutions for technological decision-making are simply political institutions albeit with (more…)

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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.  (more…)