Examining the Experts: Science, Values, and Democracy
AbstractThis dissertation examines the role of experts in democracies, with a focus on issues that involve the translation and use of science in political decisions. Conventional accounts of the relationship between expertise and politics have assumed the validity of a Weberian division of labor, in which experts provide a neutral assessment of the facts, while citizens and their representatives supply the values necessary for political judgment. I challenge this model on the grounds that it presupposes an outdated view of scientific inquiry as a value-free process, and develop a new normative theory for the use of expertise in politics that builds on a wide range of recent work in the philosophy of science that shows how the values, assumptions and purposes of experts shape the production of scientific knowledge. My main argument is that the role of values in science makes it problematic to leave the determination of the science entirely to scientists in policy decisions. I argue on both epistemic and democratic grounds that scientific claims must be submitted to critical democratic scrutiny to prevent democratic policy from being guided by the unexamined judgments of experts on scientific issues such as climate change, biotechnology, obesity, nuclear weapons and environmental safety.
The basic argument is simple, but demonstrating its plausibility requires addressing three important challenges, which correspond to the three parts of the project. The first challenge is to trace the theoretical link from a particular philosophy of scientific knowledge and uncertainty to the necessity of particular forms of democratic (rather than scientific) contestation, and to provide an account of what democratic scrutiny could accomplish on scientific issues. The second challenge is to show how democratic debate on science should be structured in order to realize the epistemic and democratic goals outlined in the first part. I develop an institutional proposal for publicly-monitored, adversarial science courts with citizen juries, designed to overcome the difficulties of deliberation between those who have asymmetric knowledge and authority, and the difficulties of democratic participation and accountability on complex issues in a public sphere that is often highly distortive. The first two parts take the science as given and focus on its use in political decision-making. But the agenda for political debate on science is largely determined by earlier decisions about which research should be pursued and how, typically made at the funding stage. In the third part, I turn to institutions of public funding for science, and develop a theory of the proper forms of democratic input into science funding to enhance the possibilities for the democratic use of expertise at the decision stage.
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