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Scientific Experts and Citizens’ Trust: Where the Third Wave of Social Studies of Science Goes Wrong

Pierluigi Barrotta, Roberto Gronda


Collins and Evans’s Third Way of Social Studies of Science is an ambitious attempt to counteract the de-legitimation of scientific experts that is going on in contemporary Western societies and which, on a theoretical level, represents an unfortunate consequence of the corrosive approach championed by many proponents of Social Studies of Science. Collins and Evans argue that the importance of science in technical decision-making should be defended on purely moral grounds, without having recourse to epistemic notions. The goal of this article is to criticize Collins and Evans’s moral defense of the role of science in democracy, and to point out that, contrary to what they believe, the notion of scientific expertise is epistemic through and through. Our pragmatist account of expertise revolves around the idea that being a scientific expert is a social status that is to be earned and preserved: scientific experts are those who are perceived as trustworthy by the citizens. We argue, therefore, that trust is a bidirectional relationship. Trust is a normative concept that puts constraints on the kinds of behavior that both citizens and scientific experts are legitimate to perform.


pragmatism; expertise; third wave of social studies of science; scientists; philosophy of competence;

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