PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Expanding expertise and public debates on health and nutrition

Esa Väliverronen  

Science and technical expertise is challenged regularly in current debates on health and nutrition. Public debates on healthy living, lo-carb diet, fats and obesity involve new actors such as nutrition therapists, fitness coaches and lifestyle bloggers. These new actors present themselves as experience-based experts opposed to traditional scientific and technical experts. Researchers in science and technology studies have analyzed this trend as the expansion of expertise. Expertise is evolving beyond traditional technically and professionally certified elites. These new, mainly experience-based experts do not always challenge the knowledge and instructions provided by professional science-based experts. However, they do challenge the knowledge basis and rhetoric of expertise. Through celebrating personal experience, individual choice and pleasure instead of population statistics and discipline they challenge the conventional argumentation used by scientific experts. This paper draws on several recent case studies on health and nutrition including interviews, surveys and textual analysis of public discourse. These case studies focusing on science communication and dietary advice involve both health and food scientists and experience-based experts such as nutrition therapists, life style coaches and bloggers. The aim of the paper is to analyze the underlying mechanisms contributing to the expansion of expertise and particularly the role of the news media and social media in this process. Our preliminary argument is that the public media has become an important arena for the legitimation of these new forms of expertise. (theme: trends in PCST)

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.