Between Scientists & Citizens: Assessing Expertise In Policy Controversies

We are increasingly dependent on advice from experts in making decisions in our personal, professional, and civic lives. But as our dependence on experts has grown, new media have broken down the institutional barriers between the technical, personal and civic realms, and we are inundated with purported science from all sides. Further, we remain attached to an ideal of critical thinking that envisions citizens as making their own, independent judgments on public affairs—an ideal that places appeals to expert authority among the fallacies.

The general inquiry into the place of knowledge in politics goes back to the image of the philosopher king in Plato’s Republic, and in the American tradition, to the debate between John Dewey and Walter Lippmann on how to balance the contributions of ordinary citizens and experts in contemporary mass democracy. Today scholarship on this question is driven in part by a sense that science is contributing less than it could to our policy debates. Grappling with this problem will require collaboration across many disciplines: among rhetorical and communication theorists studying the practices and norms of public discourse, philosophers interested in the informal logic of everyday reasoning and in the theory of deliberative democracy, and science studies scholars examining the intersections between the social worlds of scientists and citizens.

For this conference, we invite work from across the disciplines focused on argumentation, reasoning, rhetoric, communication and deliberation, with special emphasis on:
  • lay assessment of expertise and expert testimony
  • detection of and response to distorted science and "manufactured controversy"
  • pedagogies for developing critical thinking about science in controversies
  • roles scientists and scientific information play in civic deliberations and policy-making
  • transformation of arguments as they travel between technical, personal and civic spheres
  • expert testimony as a source of knowledge
  • roles of traditional journalism, new media, "boundary organizations" and "trading zones" in constructing public knowledge of science
  • design of institutions for providing trustworthy advice on controversial issues
  • special problems of communicating scientific information in health, organizational, legal, crisis, risk and other contexts
We expect hour long sessions (25 min. paper, 10 min. formal response, 15 min. discussion), and plan to publish select conference proceedings in print-on-demand and electronic formats.

For consideration, submit a 250 word abstract with an additional 5-10 item bibliography, and a separate cover page with complete contact information, to by October 31, 2011.
GPSSA Great Plains Society for the Study of Argumentation,
Aug 1, 2011, 7:52 AM