The reach of science #6

Posted on January 31, 2011

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“There are as many opinions as there are experts” — Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“Ford et al. have elaborated a personally constructed and socially situated view of expertise that helps us understand the problems that often arise in conjunction with the elicitation and representation of expertise from multiple domain experts. From this perspective, knowledge can be viewed as functional but fallible representations not of reality writ large but of experience. In this sense, an expert is perceived to possess more functional representations than non-experts. For example, certain physicians are deemed to be ‘experts’ not necessarily because they possess more valid medical information than their colleagues, but rather because they are perceived to be experts (for a variety of reasons) by their medical constituency. The expert’s representations or procedures need not be valid, in a rational-empirical sense, they need only be functional in helping the constituencies manage their uncertainty, just, for example, as all kinds of ‘invalid’ past medical practice (when seen from the vantage of current medical belief) have done. It follows that the expertise does not reside in the expert per se but in the expert-in-context. In brief, expertise is socially situated. Not only have we lost an external (reality) reference for expertise, but we have lost an individual reference as well. The minimum unit of analysis is not the individual expert, but rather is the expert in context with his or her constituency.”

In the above paragraph the key phrase is this: “The expert’s [or scientist’s] representations [knowledge] or procedures need not be valid, in a rational-empirical sense, they need only be functional in helping the constituencies manage their uncertainty.” So at any given time sientific “knowledge’  is based on a popularity contest, and a given scientists status is based on how effectively they reduce the uncertainty of their peers, their constituency, the Nobel Prize Committee of the time. In this sense scientific knowledge is political, is ‘relative’ – it depends on the context, the time, and who votes.




 

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Posted in: Sciencing