02 August 2011

A Democracy Paradox in Studies of Science and Technology

I am a co-author along with Eva Lövbrand and Silke Beck on a paper published in the current issue of Science, Technology and Human Values (which I also mentioned on this site last fall)The paper is titled "A Democracy Paradox in Studies of Science and Technology," (it can also be found here in PDF) and it takes a close look at claims made by scholars who study science and technology that the governance of science and technology ought to be grounded in deliberation among experts and the general public. Political legitimacy, it is argued, derives from such deliberation. However, such claims are themselves almost universally grounded not in deliberation, but authority.  Hence the "democracy paradox."

At the core of our argument is a question:
If scholars of science and technology draw on deliberative democrats’ normative account of legitimacy, but reject the principles for legitimate rule prescribed by the same theory, how do we know that deliberative expert practices are more legitimate than those they seek to counter?
In short, shouldn't experts in the interface of science and society be bound by the same criteria of legitimacy that they apply to other types of expertise?  The answer would seem to be "yes," but this is not how it works in practice.

We conclude:
Only when specifying and adhering to internally consistent criteria of legitimacy, will students of science and technology be able to make a convincing case for more deliberative governance of science and technology.
For my part (not speaking for my co-authors), appeals to deliberative democracy by science studies scholars can not evade the paradox.  Instead, we must look to other conceptions of democracy to understand the legitimate roles of science and expertise in governance.

A wonk warning: the paper is technical and has quite a bit of jargon, as it is written for a specialized audience. But if debates within STS or other social sciences of science happen to be an interest, then I hope that you find it interesting and challenging.  Reactions welcomed!

Here is the paper's citation and abstract: 
E. Lövbrand, R. Pielke, Jr., and S. Beck, 2011. A Democracy Paradox in Studies of Science and Technology Science, Technology & Human Values, July 2011 vol. 36 no. 4 474-496, first published on August 26, 2010 as doi:10.1177/0162243910366154


Today many scholars seem to agree that citizens should be involved in expert deliberations on science and technology issues. This interest in public deliberation has gained attraction in many practical settings, especially in the European Union, and holds the promise of more legitimate governance of science and technology. In this article, the authors draw on the European Commission’s (EC) report "Taking the European Knowledge Society Seriously" to ask how legitimate these efforts to "democratize" scientific expertise really are. While the report borrows from deliberative democrats’ normative accounts of legitimacy, the authors identify a tension between the principles for legitimate rule prescribed by deliberative democratic theory and the report’s celebration of diversity and dissent. While this inconsistency suggests that the legitimacy of deliberative governance arrangements is justified on empirical rather than normative grounds, it remains an open question whether studies of science and technology offer enough empirical support for such a justification. In this article, the authors address this pressing question and propose three possible responses.