Science And Technology Expertise Research Paper

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1. Introduction

Science is a social activity to construct, justify, and critique cognitive claims based on widely accepted methodologies and theories within relevant communities. The term science is used here to include claims of true statements about any phenomenon, be it natural, anthropological, social, or even metaphysical. Methods or procedures are clearly distinct among the various domains of science, but the main assertion here is that the overall goal of claiming truthful statements remains the essence of scientific inquiry throughout all disciplines (similar attempts in Campbell 1921, pp. 27–30). Using scientific expertise, however, is not identical with generating scientific statements (Lindblom and Cohen 1979, p. 7ff.).

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In a policy arena, scientific experts are expected to use their skills and knowledge as a means of producing arguments and insights for identifying, selecting, and evaluating different courses of collective action. Since such advice includes the prediction of likely consequences of political actions in the future, experts are also in demand to give advice on how to cope with uncertain events and how to make a prudent selection among policy options, even if the policy-maker faces uncertain outcomes and heterogeneous preferences (Cadiou 2001, p. 27). Many policy-makers expect scientific experts to help construct strategies that promise to prevent or mitigate the negative and promote the positive impacts of collective actions. In addition, scientific expertise is demanded as an important input to design and facilitate communication among the different stakeholders in debates about technology and risk.

Based on these expectations, scientific expertise can assist policy-makers to meet five major functions (similar in Renn 1995):

(a) providing factual insights that help policymakers to identify and frame problems and to understand the situation (enlightenment function);

(b) providing instrumental knowledge that allows policy-makers to assess and evaluate the likely consequences of each policy option ( pragmatic or instrumental function);

(c) providing arguments, associations, and contextual knowledge that helps policy-makers to reflect on their situation and to improve and sharpen their judgment (reflexive function);

(d) providing procedural knowledge that helps policy-makers to design and implement procedures for conflict resolution and rational decision making (catalytic function); and

(e) providing guidelines or designing policy options that assist decision-makers in their effort to communicate with the various target audiences (communicative function).

These five functions touch on crucial aspects of policy-makers’ needs. First, insights offered by experts help policy-makers to understand the issues and constraints of different policy options when designing and articulating policies. Policy-makers need background information to develop standards, to ground economic or environmental policies on factual knowledge, and to provide information about the success or

 failure of policies. Second, scientific methods and their applications are needed to construct instrumental knowledge in the format of ‘if–then’ statements and empirically tested theories; this knowledge leads to the articulation of means-ends oriented policies and problem solving activities. Third, scientific reasoning and understanding help policy-makers to reflect on their activities and to acknowledge social, cultural, institutional, and psychological constraints as well as opportunities that are not easily grasped by common sense or instrumental reasoning. However, scientific statements may also restrict policy-makers as they are directed towards adopting a single perspective in analyzing and framing a problem. Fourth, policymakers may use scientists to design procedures of policy formulation and decision making in accordance with normative rules of reasoning and fairness. These procedures should not interfere with the preferences of those who are involved in the decision-making process, but provide tools for making these preferences the guiding principle of policy selection. To meet this function, scientists need to play a role similar to a chemical catalyst by speeding up (or if necessary slowing down) a process of building consensus among those who are entitled to participate in the policymaking process (Fishkin 1991). Lastly, scientific experts can help to design appropriate communication programs for the purpose of legitimizing public policies as well as preparing target audiences for their specific function or role in the task of risk management.

This research paper focuses predominantly on the influence of scientific and technical expertise, in particular the results of technology assessments, on public policymaking. The second section deals with the risks and challenges of technical experts providing input to policy design and implementation. The third section addresses the influence of systematic knowledge for policy-making. The fourth section provides some theoretical background for the role of expertise in deliberative processes. The fifth section focuses on cultural differences in the use of expertise for policymaking. The last section summarizes the main points of this research paper.

2. Using Scientific Expertise For Policy-Making: Risks And Challenges

The interaction between experts and policy-makers is a major issue in technology management today and is likely to become even more important in the future. This is due in the first instance to the increased interactions between human interventions and natural responses and, secondarily, to the increased complexity of the necessary knowledge for coping with economic, social, and environmental problems. Population growth and migration, global trade, inter-national market structures, transboundary pollution, and many other conditions of modern life have increased the sensitivity to external disturbances and diminished the capability of social and natural systems to tolerate even small interventions. Although contested by some (Simon 1992), most analysts agree that ecological systems have become more vulnerable as the impact of human intervention has reached and exceeded thresholds of self-repair (Vitousek et al. 1986).

Given this critical situation, what are the potential contributions of expertise to the policy process? In principle, experts can provide knowledge that can help to meet the five functions mentioned above and to anticipate potential risks before they materialize. But they can do this only to the degree that the state of the art in the respective field of knowledge can provide reliable information pertaining to the policy options. Many policy-makers share assumptions about expertise that turn out to be wishful thinking or illusions (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1990, Jasanoff 1990, 1991, Rip 1992, Beck 1992). Most prominent among these are:

(a) illusion of certainty: making policy-makers more confident about knowing the future than is justified;

(b) illusion of transferability: making policy-makers overconfident that certainty in one aspect of the problem applies to all other aspects as well;

(c) illusion of ‘absolute’ truth: making policy- makers overconfident with respect to the truthfulness of evidence;

(d) illusion of ubiquitous applicability: making policy-makers overconfident in generalizing results from one context to another.

These illusions are often reinforced by the experts themselves. Many experts feel honored to be asked by powerful agents of society for advice. Acting under the expectation of providing unbiased, comprehensive, and unambiguous advice, they often fall prey to the temptation to oversell their expertise and provide recommendations far beyond their realm of knowledge. This overconfidence in one’s own expertise gains further momentum if policy-maker and advisor share similar values or political orientations. As a result policy-makers and consultants are prone to cultivate these illusions and act upon them.

In addition to these four types of illusions, experts and policy-makers tend to overemphasize the role of systematic knowledge in making decisions. As much as political instinct and common sense are poor guides for decision making without scientific expertise, the belief that scientific knowledge is sufficient to select the correct option is just as short sighted. Most policy questions involve both systematic as well as anecdotal and idiosyncratic knowledge (Wynne 1989). Systematic knowledge often provides little insight into designing policies for concrete issues. For example, planning highways, supporting special industries, promoting health care for a community and many other issues demand local knowledge on the social context and the specific history of the issue within this context (Wynne 1992, Jasanoff 1991). Knowledge based on local perspectives can be provided only by those actors who share common experiences of the issue in question. The role of systematic versus particularistic knowledge is discussed in more detajobil in the next section.

3. The Relevance Of Systematic Expertise For Policy-Making

There is little debate in the literature that the inclusion of expertise is essential as a major resource for designing and legitimizing technological policies (Jasanoff 1990). A major debate has evolved, however, on the status of scientific and technical expertise for representing all or most of the knowledge that is relevant to these policies. This debate includes two related controversies: the first deals with the problem of objectivity and realism; the second one with the role of subjective and experiential knowledge that nonexperts have accumulated over time. This is not the place to review these two controversies in detail (see Bradbury 1989, Shrader-Frechette 1991). Depending on which side one stands on in this debate, scientific evidence is either regarded as one input to fact-finding among others or as the central or even only legitimate input for providing and resolving knowledge claims. There is agreement, however, among all camps in this debate that systematic knowledge is instrumental for understanding phenomena and resolving problems. Most analysts also agree that systematic knowledge should be generated and evaluated according to the established rules or conventions of the respective discipline (Jaeger 1998, p. 145). Methodological rigor aiming to accomplish a high degree of validity, reliability and relevance remains the most important yardstick for judging the quality of scientific insights. Constructivist scholars in science and technology studies do not question the importance of methodological rules in securing credible knowledge but are skeptical whether the results of scientific inquiries represent objective or unambiguous descriptions of reality (Latour and Woolgar 1979, Knorr-Cetina 1981). Rather, they see scientific results as products of specific processes or routines that an elite group of knowledge producers has framed as ‘objective’ and ‘real.’ The ‘reality’ of these products is determined by the availability of research routines and instruments, prior knowledge and judgments, and social interests (see also Beck 1992, although he regards himself as a moderate realist).

For the analysis of scientific input to policy-making, the divide between the constructivists and the realists matters only in the degree to which scientific input is used as a genuine knowledge base or as a final arbiter for reconciling knowledge conflicts. A knowledge discourse deals with different, sometimes competing claims that obtain validity only through compatibility checks with acknowledged procedures of data collection and interpretation, proof of theoretical compatibility and conclusiveness, and the provision of intersubjective opportunities for reproduction (Shrader-Frechette 1991, pp. 46ff.). Obviously many research results do not reach the maturity of proven facts, but even intermediary products of knowledge, ranging from plain hypotheses, via plausible deductions to empirically proven relationships, strive for further perfection (cf. the pedigree scheme of Functowicz and Ravetz 1990). On the other hand, even the most ardent proponent of a realist perspective will admit that only intermediary types of knowledge are often available when it comes to assess and evaluate risks.

What does this mean for the status and function of scientific expertise in policy contexts? First, scientific input has become a major element of technological decision-making in all technologically developed countries. The degree to which the results of scientific inquiry are taken as ultimate evidence to judge the appropriateness and validity of competing knowledge claims is contested in the literature and also contested among policy-makers and different social groups. Frequently, the status of scientific evidence becomes one of the discussion points during social or political deliberation depending on the context and the maturity of scientific knowledge in the technological policy arena under question. For example, if the issue is the effect of a specific toxic substance on human health, subjective experience may serve as a heuristic tool for further inquiry and may call attention to deficits in existing knowledge, although toxicological and epidemiological investigations are unlikely to be replaced with intuitions from the general public. If the issue, by contrast, is siting of an incinerator, local knowledge about sensitive ecosystems or traffic flows may be more relevant than systematic knowledge about these impacts in general (a good example for the relevance of such particularistic knowledge can be found in Wynne 1989). Second, the resolution of competing claims of scientific knowledge usually are governed by the established rules within the relevant disciplines. These rules may not be perfect and even contested within the community. Yet they are regarded as superior to any other alternative (Shrader-Frechette 1991, pp. 190ff.). Third, many technological decision options require systematic knowledge that is either not available or still in its infancy or in an intermediary status. Analytic procedures are then demanded by policy-makers as a means to assess the relative validity of each of the intermediary knowledge claims, to display their underlying assumptions and problems, and to demarcate the limits of ‘reasonable’ claims, that is, to identify the range of those claims that are still compatible with the state of the art in this knowledge domain (Shrader-Frechette 1991). Fourth, knowledge claims can be systematic and scientific as well as idiosyncratic and anecdotal. Both forms of knowledge have a legitimate place in technological decision-making. How they are used depends on the context and the type of knowledge required for the issue in question (Wynne 1992). All four points show the importance of knowledge for technology policy and decision making, but also make clear that choosing the right management options requires more than looking at the scientific evidence alone.

4. Scientific Evidence In Deliberative Processes

Given the delicate balance between anecdotal, experiential, and systematic knowledge claims, policymaking depends on deliberative processes in which competing claims are generated or ignored, sorted, selected, and highlighted. The first objective is to define the relevance of different knowledge claims for making legitimate and defendable choices. The second objective is to cope with issues of uncertainty and to assign trade-offs between those who will benefit and those who will suffer from different policy options. The third objective is to take into account the wider concerns of the affected groups and the public at large. These three elets of deliberation are related to coping with the problems of complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity.

How can deliberative processes deal with the problems of complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity? To respond to this question, it is necessary to introduce the different theoretical concepts underlying deliberative processes. The potential of deliberation has been discussed primarily in three schools of thought:

(a) The utility-based theory of rational action (basics in Fisher and Ury 1981, Raiffa 1994; review of pros and cons in Friedman 1995): in this concept, deliberation is framed as a process of finding one or more option(s) that optimize the payoffs to each participating stakeholder. The objective is to convert positions into statements of underlying interests. If all participants articulate their interest, it is either possible to find a new win-win option that is in the interest of all or at least does not violate anybody‘s interest (Pareto optimal solution) or to find a compensation that the winner pays to the losers to the effect that both sides are at least indifferent between the situation without the preferred policy option and no compensation and the implementation of this option plus compensation (Kaldor–Hicks solution). In this context systematic knowledge is required to inform all participants of the likely consequences of each decision option. The evaluation of desirability of each option is a matter of individual preferences and in this perspective outside of the deliberation process.

(b) Theory of communicative action (Habermas 1987, Webler 1995): this concept focuses on the communicative process of generating preferences, values, and normative standards. Normative standards are those prescriptions that do not apply only to the participants of the discourse but also to society as a whole or at least a large segment of the external population. Normative standards in technological arenas include, for example, exposure limits or performance standards for technologies. They apply to all potential emitters or users regardless whether they were represented at the discourse table or not. The objective here is to find consensus among moral agents (not just utility maximizers) about shared meaning of actions based on the knowledge about consequences and an agreement on basic human values and moral standards. Systematic knowledge in this context helps the participants to provide insights into the potential effects of collective decision options and help them to reorganize their preferences according to mutually desirable outcomes.

(c) Theory of social systems (Luhmann 1986, Eder 1992): the (neo)functional school of sociology pursues a different approach to deliberation. It is based on the assumption that each stakeholder group has a separate reservoir of knowledge claims, values, and interpretative frames. Each group-specific reservoir is incompatible with the reservoir of the other groups. This implies that deliberative actions do not resolve any- thing. They represent autistic self-expressions of stake- holders. In its cynical and deconstructivist version, deliberation serves as an empty but important ritual to give all actors the illusion of taking part in the decision process. In its constructive version deliberation leads to the enlightenment of decision-makers and participants. Far from resolving or even reconciling conflicts, deliberation in this viewpoint has the potential to decrease the pressure of conflict, provide a platform for making and challenging claims, and assist policy-makers in making them cognizant of different interpretative frames (Luhmann 1993). Deliberations help to reframe the decision context, to make policymakers aware of public demands, and enhance legitimacy of collective decisions through reliance on formal procedures (Skillington 1997). In this under-standing of deliberation, reaching a consensual conclusion is neither necessary nor desirable. The process of talking to each other, exchanging arguments, and widening one‘s horizon is all what deliberation is able to accomplish. It is an experience of mutual learning without a substantive message. Systematic knowledge in this context is never free of context and prescriptive assumptions. Hence, each group will make knowledge claims according to its interests and strategic goals. Integration of knowledge is based on rhetoric, per- suasion skills, and power rather than established rules of ‘discovering the truth.’

These three understandings of deliberation are not mutually exclusive although many proponents of each school argue otherwise. Based on the previous arguments, it is quite obvious that the rational actor approach provides a theoretical framework to under- stand how actors in deliberative processes deal with complexity and partially uncertainty. The communicative action approach provides a theoretical structure for understanding and organizing discourses on ambiguities and moral positions. In particular, this concept can highlight those elements of deliberation that help participants to deal competently with moral and normative issues beyond personal interests. The system–analytic school introduces some skepticism towards the claim of the other schools with respect to the outcomes of deliberation. Instead it emphasizes the importance of procedures, routines, and learning experiences for creating links or networks between the major systems of society. Deliberation is the lubricant that helps each of the collective social actors to move mostly independently in society without bumping into the domains of the other actors.

Deliberative processes aimed at integrating experts, stakeholders, policy-makers, and the public at large can be organized in many different forms. Practical experiences have been made with advisory committees, citizen panels, public forums, consensus conferences, formal hearings, and others (see Rowe and Frewer 2000). A hybrid model of citizen participation (Renn et al. 1993) has been applied to studies on energy policies and waste disposal issues in West Germany, for waste-disposal facilities in Switzerland, and to sludge-disposal strategies in the United States (Renn 1999).

5. Cultural Styles In Using Scientific Expertise

The way that knowledge and expertise are included in policy processes depends on many factors. Comparative research on the influence of systematic knowledge in policy processes emphasizes the importance of cultural context and historic developments (Solingen 1993). In addition, state structures and institutional arrangements significantly influence the type of inclusion of expertise into the decision-making processes. There has been a major shift in modern states to an organized and institutionalized exchange of science organizations with policy-making bodies (Mukerji 1989, Jasanoff 1990). Although science has become a universal enterprise, the specific meaning of what science can offer to policy-makers differs among cultures and nations (Solingen 1993). The situation is even more diverse when one investigates the use of science in different countries for advising policymakers. Scientific and political organizations partially determine what aspects of life are framed as questions of knowledge and what of ‘‘subjective’’ values. In addition, national culture, political traditions, and social norms influence the mechanisms and institutions for integrating expertise in the policy arenas (Wynne 1992).

In one line of work, policy scholars have developed a classification of governmental styles that highlight four different approaches to integrating expert knowledge into public decisions (Brickman et al. 1985, Jasanoff 1986, O’Riordan and Wynne 1987, Renn 1995). These styles have been labeled inconsistently in the literature, but they refer to common procedures in different nations. The ‘adversarial’ approach is characterized by an open forum in which different actors compete for social and political influence in the respective policy arena. The actors in such an arena need and use scientific evidence to support their position. Policy-makers pay specific attention to formal proofs of evidence because policy decisions can be challenged on the basis of insufficient use or neglect of scientific knowledge. Scientific advisory boards play an important role as they help policy-makers to evaluate competing claims of evidence and to justify the final policy selection (Jasanoff 1990).

A sharp contrast to the adversarial approach is provided by the fiduciary style (Renn 1995). The decision-making process is confined to a group of patrons who are obliged to make the ‘common good’ the guiding principle of their action. Public scrutiny or involvement is alien to this approach. The public can provide input to and arguments for the patrons but is not allowed to be part of the negotiation or policy formulation process. Scientists outside the policymaking circles are used as consultants at the discretion of the patrons and are selected according to prestige or personal affiliations. Their role is to provide enlightenment and information. Patrons’ staff generate instrumental knowledge. This system relies on producing faith in the competence and the fairness of the patrons involved in the decision-making process.

Two additional styles are similar in their structure but not identical. The consensual approach is based on a closed circle of influential actors who negotiate behind closed doors. Representatives of important social organizations or groups and scientists work together to reach a predefined goal. Controversy is not visible and conflicts are often reconciled before formal negotiations take place. The goal of the negotiation is to combine the best available evidence with the various social interests that the different actors represent. The corporatist style is similar to the consensual approach, but is far more formalized. Well-known experts are invited to join a group of carefully selected policymakers representing major forces in society (such as employers, unions, churches, professional associations, and environmentalists). Invited experts are asked to offer their professional judgment, but they often do not need to present formal evidence for their claims. This approach is based on trust in the expertise of scientists.

These four styles are helpful in characterizing and analyzing different national approaches to policymaking. The American system is oriented toward the adversarial style and the Japanese system toward the consensual. The policy style of northern Europe comes closest to the corporatist approach, whereas most southern European countries display a fiduciary approach. All these systems, however, are in transition. Interestingly the United States has tried to incorporate more consensual policies into its adversarial system, while Japan is faced with increasing demands for more public involvement in the policy process. These movements towards hybrid systems have contributed to the genesis of a new regulatory style, which may be called ‘mediative.’ There has been a trend in all technologically developed societies to experiment with opening expert deliberations to more varied forms of stakeholder or public participation. In the United States, it has taken the form of negotiated or mediated rule making, in Europe it has evolved as an opening of corporatist clubs to new groups such as the environmental movement. It is too early to say whether this new style will lead to more convergence among the countries or to a new set of cultural differentiations (Renn 1995).

6. Conclusions

The economic and political structures of modern societies underwent rapid transitions in the late twentieth century. This transition was accompanied by globalization of information, trade, and cultural lifestyles, an increased pluralism of positions, values, and claims, the erosion of trust and confidence in governing bodies, an increased public pressure for participation, and growing polarization between fundamentalist groups and agents of progressive change. The resulting conflicts put pressure on political systems to integrate different outlooks and visions of the future and to provide justifications of governmental decisions on the basis of both facts and values. In this situation, policy-making institutions discovered an urgent need for policy advice, as well as new modes of integrating expertise with values and preferences. Research on advisory processes indicates that the following points will need to be addressed.

(a) Using scientific expertise in the policy arena is one element in the quest of modern societies to replace or amend the collective learning process of trial and error by more humane methods of anticipation, in which the possibility of errors is reduced. This process is socially desired, though it cannot reduce the uncertainties of change to zero. Anticipation both necessitates and places new demands on expertise in the service of policy-making.

(b) Scientific expertise can serve five functions: enlightenment; pragmatic or instrumental; reflexive; catalytic; and communicative. All five are in demand by policy-makers, but expertise may also distort their perspective on the issue or prescribe a specific framing of the problem. That is why many policy analysts demand that scientific input be controlled by democratic institutions and be open to public scrutiny.

(c) Scientific expertise is also used for legitimizing decisions and justifying policies that may face resistance or opposition. Expertise can, therefore, conflict with public preferences or interests. In addition, policy-makers and experts pursue different goals and priorities. Expertise should be regarded as one crucial element of policy-making among others. Scientific advice is often mandated by law, but its potential contributions may vary from one policy arena to another. In particular, scientific expertise cannot replace public input in the form of locally relevant knowledge, historical insights, and social values.

(d) The influence of expertise depends on the cultural meaning of expertise in different social and political arenas. If systematic expertise is regarded as the outcome of a socially constructed knowledge system, its authority can be trumped by processes that are seen to be more democratic. If, however, systematic expertise is seen as an approximation of reality or truth, it gains a privileged status among different sources of knowledge and inputs, even if it is the product of a democratically imperfect process. The degree to which these different understandings of expertise are accepted or acknowledged within a political arena will affect the practical influence and power of experts in collective decision-making.

(e) Scientific expertise is absorbed and utilized by the various policy systems in different styles. One can distinguish four styles: adversarial, fiduciary, consensual, and corporatist. A new mediative style seems to be evolving from the transitions toward more open procedures in decision-making. This style seems to be specifically adjusted to postmodern societies. Scientific expertise in this style pursues a ‘system and problem oriented’ approach to policy-making, in which science, politics, and economics are linked by strategic networks.

(f ) Organizing and structuring discourses on the selection of policy options is essential for the democratic, fair, and competent management of public affairs. The mere desire to initiate a two-way-communication process and the willingness to listen to public concerns are not sufficient. Deliberative processes are based on a structure that assures the integration of technical expertise, regulatory requirements, and public values. Co-operative discourse is one model among others that has been designed to meet that challenge.

No one questions the need to initiate a common discourse or dialogue among experts, policy-makers, stakeholders and representatives of affected publics. This is particularly necessary if highly controversial subjects are at stake. The main challenge of deliberative processes will continue to be how to integrate scientific expertise, rational decision-making, and public values in a coherent form.


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