Research

Current and Future Projects

Experts in Science

It would be better if people understood how science works, rather than taking science as a collection of facts and numbers.” Shane Bergin. Plenary address at the international conference on Trust, Expert Opinion and Policy, Dublin

Publications: Expertise and Institutional Design in Economic Committees, Experts and Consensus in Social Science, The Role of Experts in the Methodology of Econoomics, Experts in Science: a View from the Trenches

Description: Scholars have pointed out that in liberal democracies reliance on expertise creates a tension between the democratic need to give equal and open voice to everyone, and the special epistemic (and possibly decision-making) status of experts. In societies where information flows freely (e.g. through the internet), experts cannot rely only on top-down models, where their authority is established at the source and the public is there only to listen and learn. So how can expertise be justified and established in modern democratic science societies? Because people often illegitimately claim expertise in a certain field, and adduce several putative factors, proofs, and qualifications to justify their expertise, psychologists, philosophers and sociologists have studied and developed criteria of expertise – i.e., extensive lists of normative principles for the acceptance and/or dismissal of an expert’s opinion. For instance, the presence of bias in judgement can be a reason for dismissing an expert’s advice. But biases, and the reasons for dismissing an expert judgment in the case of biases, are not easily understood by the public. This project aims at building on the extensive work by philosophers, sociologists, and psychologists to formulate explainable and usable criteria of expertise in public-science interaction and public policy.

Some research questions:
– Can we apply the engagement model of science communication to “meta-science” communication – i.e. communicating the epistemic authority of science?

– Can we motivate and explain the need for “user-friendly” criteria of expertise – i.e., criteria that can be applied to concrete social practices and communicated to the participants in those practices?

– Can we provide examples of, and a rationale for, “meta-science” communication – i.e. how science works, in addition to what science says?

Trust in Economics

Does the public trust economists? Research and media outlets have recently reported a severe crisis of confidence affecting science, and economics in particular. But available surveys give too broad a picture for the truth to be told, focusing first on natural and medical sciences. Among the social sciences, economics is one of those affecting social life the most, with great influence on many public and private sectors. Thus it seems important to know public attitudes towards economics in an unbiased and systematic manner. This project will provide a conceptually grounded empirical and a methodological look into the relation of trust between economics and the lay public. Past and current economic crises and turmoil have often cast economics in bad light, but is that a problem for economics as a science? Or is it a failure in communication? Are some of the current negative judgments on economics and economists due to the lack of effort in building a relation of trust between a science and its public? These and other hypotheses will be studied from philosophical, sociological and economic viewpoints; by using conceptual analysis and primary sources from media and popular outlets.

Some research questions:

– Do economists value trust in public communication of their science?

– Are they effective in communicating trust?

– How should we conceptualize trust?

– How can public trust in economics be empirically studied and measured in surveys?

– Should we, and how can we, build trust between economics and the public?

Disagreement

Publications:  A Puzzle about Belief UpdatingResolving Disagreement Through Mutual Respect, Disagreement Behind the Veil of Ignorance.

Description: What should rational epistemic agents do in a situation of peer disagreement? The literature on epistemic disagreement has provided several arguments supporting the claim that a conciliatory approach is the answer. In other words, when disagreeing with an epistemic peer a rational person should change her beliefs and move her opinions closer to the other agent’s opinion. Stronger still is the view that it is impossible for two rational epistemic peers to disagree after having exchanged their evidence on the subject of disagreement. Both weak and strong conciliatory stances assume, implicitly or explicitly, that disagreement constitutes evidence on which to update one’s beliefs. The core of this research project is to understand whether updating in the light of disagreement is rational at all, and if so which method for updating can be best defended.

Some research questions: 

– Are conciliatory positions rational?

– Which forms of updating on disagreement are rational, and which are not?

– Is disagreement with someone on a given subject evidence for doubting your own beliefs on that subject?