Extending Expertise? Experts and Amateurs in Communication and Culture

I’ll be giving a talk at a conference this weekend “Extending Expertise? Experts and Amateurs in Communication and Culture”. It’s being held on April 30 – May 1 at the University of Ottawa.

Since around 2002 serious questions have been raised in the Science and Technology Studies literature about who ought to be “at the table” when dealing with public science questions. For example, following the recent meltdown at the Japanese nuclear plant at Fukushima, questions were raised worldwide over how we ought to assess the safety of nuclear power plants. It is not clear that deference to scientists and nuclear “experts” is a reasonable way forward when asking such questions. After all, days into the Japanese disaster the CEO and President of Bruce Power and a recognized expert in nuclear power production, Duncan Hawthorne, made a series of claims and predictions (view the 15 minute video for the complete interview, there are others here, and here) about the unfolding crisis that turned out to be quite baffling and short-sighted.

Given that science and technology experts are fallible, and that members of the lay public have a legitimate democratic stake in the decision making that goes into solving public science problems (e.g. whether or not to build more nuclear plants, to fund expensive science experiments, or to fund IVF), questions remain such as where to draw the line between lay public input and expert guidance, who to count as an “expert” with respect to a particular problem, and what process to use to seek input and determine recommendations.

The conference will deal with some of these issues, particularly with issues surrounding the role that the media plays in mediating expertise.

I’m very much looking forward to it. I’ll post about the presentations I attend.

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