Our Science, Technology and Society list publishes books that examine the social, political and economic implications of developments in science and technology.
Recent highlights have included Data Lives, The Imposter as Social Theory and We Have Always Been Cyborgs. Path-breaking book series include Dis-positions: Troubling Methods and Theory in STS and Contemporary Issues in Science Communication.
Science, Technology and Society
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Remembering can act as a work of connecting past and present, providing a connective tissue for making lives meaningful. In cases where the remembered past is traumatic or ‘difficult’ in some way, remembering constitutes an act of repair that is grounded in the very specific ecological settings and practices in which the person is located. In this piece, we discuss the case of mental health service users detained within a secure forensic inpatient mental health facility where remembering intersects with a broader notion of mental health ‘recovery’. We describe the ways in which memory comes to matter for patients and the dilemmas this creates. We focus in particular on the informal practices adopted by ward staff as they support patients’ memory work. We argue that a ‘process-ecological’ approach to remembering can inform practical decisions are around care planning and the ward design of the setting.
Craft (noun): [countable, uncountable] an activity involving a special skill at making things with your hands
I crafted this piece (which is both textile and text) from diverse threads. One thread is made of a myriad of threads and brings the story of the making of a textile piece. An activity that produces the cloth and shapes relations, humans, knowledge, textile materials and subjectivities within it. The crafting of a hand-made ecology. The second thread is spun of fictional voices of various theorists and my reflexive voice. It is aimed to (un)make in order to understand what happens while weaving. And the third thread tells my personal story of grief and how I (un)make myself through crafting.
Therefore, the meaning of craft was modified for this piece. Here, it is both verb and noun. It is an activity involving special skills not only to make, but to (un)make; and not only things, but humans. And it is also a textile woven.
Since the 1950s, the rural midlands of Ireland have been the site of large-scale industrial peat-cutting. With the phasing out of the peat industry, these post-industrial ‘waste’ landscapes are now being positioned as central to the country’s ‘green’ and ‘smart’ futures as sites for renewable energy, carbon sequestration and information services. Contemporary discourses of waste and bog landscapes resonate with discourses in the 18th and 19th centuries, when colonial efforts to drain and reclaim these semi-aqueous territories were driven by moral as well as economic imperatives. In this chapter, we aim to disrupt linear accounts of bog progress and ruination that rely on binaries of waste/value, to surface ‘submerged’ bog relations that pre-date and endure in spite of their designation as ‘un-valuable’ within colonial and post-colonial economies. Our contribution is that ‘repair’, rooted in maintenance, endurance and liveability, while not spectacular, resists the temporality of boom/bust, even if remaining ambivalent in political expression.
This chapter turns to religious belief as an example of expertise, drawing on: (1) the study of religious practices in the anthropology of religion; (2) the literature associated with the so-called Third Wave in Science and Technology Studies; and (3) Wittgenstein’s concept of forms of life, including his remarks on the potential for communication across ideological or religious boundaries. There are actually four expert communities in the crisis of expertise, namely: (1) consensus scientists; (2) non-scientist citizens who believe in consensus science; (3) fringe (or “minority”) scientists; and (4) non-scientist believers in fringe science. Expertise, that is, should be associated neither with esoteric knowledge (such as scientific principles), nor with “correct” views (even astrologers can be “experts”). Religious believers become experts in the language, practices, and principles of their community, just as scientists become experts in the language, practices, and principles of their discipline. Both occupy, in Wittgenstein’s terminology, a “form of life,” or worldview.
This chapter argues that viewing the crisis of expertise in terms of a battle between “expertises,” grounded in faith-like commitments, will best serve the goals of communication, persuasion, and understanding in policy disputes in a divided nation. Since conflicting expert communities have specialized languages and values that, respectively, unite and distinguish each community, the solution to the crisis of expertise involves persuasive communication between worldviews. Communication is made possible by: (1) self-awareness that we are all ideological; (2) modesty about the science in which one believes (that is, recognizing uncertainties); and (3) a common anchor in some level of scientific data and method (hence, my argument and solution do not apply to ordinary “culture war” controversies, such as who won the 2020 US presidential election). That analysis finds support in the literature associated with science communication theory and conflict resolution in policy disputes. However, this chapter’s approach differs from similar analyses by scholars in this field who, like Naomi Oreskes, emphasize a diversity of viewpoints as a key to trustworthy science and, like Frank Fischer, emphasize citizen science and deliberative collaboration in policy arguments.
This conclusion confirms that while the culture wars generally seem intractable, there is hope for constructive and persuasive communication, based on understanding another’s perspective and values, in the crisis of expertise. That diagnosis goes beyond the familiar observations that a cultural distrust of expertise persists, that consensus science is worthy of acceptance, and that (in light of social studies of science) we should be modest about consensus because science is tentative and often uncertain. Specifically, this book adopts Third Wave categories of expertise, extending that theoretical framework with a new constellation of disciplinary approaches—the anthropology of religion, the neo-Calvinist critique of the Enlightenment, and Wittgenstein’s later philosophy—to highlight the inevitability of ideological commitments in the crisis of expertise. Once that is acknowledged, it is possible to at least understand that believers in fringe science occupy a different world than consensus scientists, and that persuasive communication requires understanding that world.
When the utility of masks or vaccinations became politicized during the COVID-19 pandemic and lost its mooring in scientific evidence, an already-developing crisis of expertise was exacerbated. Those who believe in consensus science wondered: “How can ‘those people’ not see the truth?
This book shows that it is not a ‘scientific’ controversy, but an ideological dispute with ‘believers’ on both sides. If the advocates for consensus science acknowledge the uncertainties involved, rather than insisting on cold, hard facts, it is possible to open a pathway towards interaction and communication, even persuasion, between world views.
As the crisis of expertise continues to be a global issue, this will be an invaluable resource for readers concerned about polarized societies and the distrust of consensus science.
This introduction to the book explains that the so-called “crisis of expertise,” wherein large segments of the population distrust consensus science, is not a new phenomenon. The crisis was, however, exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. This book addresses the public controversies that arise when there is some science on both sides of the dispute, such as a dispute between fringe views by minority scientists and consensus views by the majority in a scientific community. The book recommends that both sides respect each other to encourage communication about scientific matters, especially because both sides have ideological commitments and values that drive scientific positions. Both sides should therefore be recognized as experts, not because both sides are correct, but because both sides represent respective communities of believers. Due to the inevitable uncertainties of science, consensus scientists cannot assume that their views are obvious, or that their facts are unassailable. Persuasive communication is needed, based on an understanding of how the other side thinks.
This chapter explores some recent studies that support the argument for an ideological or religious orientation to the crisis of expertise, including Professor Shi-Ling Hsu’s identification of anti-science ideology in the Trump administration. Such studies are helpful in showing how science can become politicized—scientists become associated with a political party—and can lose its mooring in evidence. The problem with the term “anti-science ideology,” however, is the implication that believers in consensus science have no ideology—they (allegedly) simply follow the facts. The scientific enterprise, however, issues numerous facts, sometimes inconsistent and sometimes outdated in terms of scientific progress. Even consensus scientists belong to a community of believers with values and commitments.
This chapter acknowledges the complexity of the crisis of expertise, as well as the danger of assuming that only one “side” is operating ideologically. The chapter surveys some recent explanations (of our crisis of expertise) offered by sociologists and endorses their suggestion that recourse to scientific explanations needs to be accompanied by some level of modesty. Finally, the chapter considers two institutions that some hope will solve the crisis of expertise, namely, the law and the scientific establishment. In other words, why not just impose scientific truths through legal regulation? Or, alternatively, why not just have a majority of scientists announce a compelling consensus that everyone should accept? The chapter explains that both of these institutions have failed, and will continue to fail, due to (1) the current capture of the legal system by political parties and (2) the fact that the consensus of a majority of scientists alone is not necessarily compelling nowadays.