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Public Ethics Talk

Public Ethics Talk: Who's Watching the Experts? A Proposal for a Science Court

Tuesday 26 November 2019
Public Ethics Talks
Turfmarkt 99
2511 DP The Hague
Spaanse Trap

Modern societies depend on expertise on many issues. This poses a problem for democracies since nonexperts must evaluate policies based on knowledge claims they may not understand. This talk develops an institutional proposal to facilitate democratic scrutiny over expertise : creating an adversarial “science court”. There are three main challenges to democratic scrutiny on scientific issues: citizens cannot set the agenda and terms of the debate; they face difficulties evaluating competing expert claims because of their lack of expertise; and asymmetries in knowledge and authority make deliberation between experts and laypeople unproductive. I argue that an adversarial “science court” can address these three challenges. The court is initiated by citizens and involves experts making the case for different sides of a scientific question. A jury of randomly selected citizens questions the experts, deliberates and delivers a decision. The adversary structure is intended to expose the background assumptions, potential biases and blind spots in rival expert claims, while the separation of scientist-advocates from citizen-jurors avoids the difficulties of mutual deliberation under conditions of unequal authority and allows citizens to be active participants despite their lack of expertise. I end by discussing the court’s democratic status and legitimacy, and responding to objections about citizen competence.

Dr. Zeynep Pamuk

Dr. Zeynep Pamuk is Supernumerary Fellow in Politics at St John’s College, Oxford. She holds a PhD in Political Science from Harvard and a BA in Ethics, Politics & Economics from Yale. Her research lies in the intersection of political theory, the philosophy of science and social science, and social epistemology. Her book manuscript examines the relationship between science and democracy, from the funding and production of scientific knowledge to its use in policy decisions. She was awarded the British Academy’s Brian Barry Prize for Excellence in Political Science last year for her essay, “Justifying Public Funding for Science,” which is now published in the British Journal of Political Science.

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