To address ethical and technical aspects of the "expert-lay" divide, organizations such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) support philosophers in "ethical and value studies" programs.   Participants address questions such as: How to weigh  risks/benefits  in  introducing  a  new  chemical  into  the  environment?   What  limits  should  be placed on biotechnology's ability to alter genetic structures?   The hope is that such officially designated "values experts" can clarify science's role in the public sphere, where the defining features of the problems are more normative than epistemological, and to produce a variety of theories, principles, and arguments to guide people towards the good life via a more rational decision making.

I  argue  that  the  role  of  "values  experts"  is  technocratic  and  fails  to  understand  the  pragmatic processes  of  negotiation  and  communication  that  arise  between  experts  and  laity.   I  discuss  two fundamental problems of the "values expert" model and suggest two heuristics for improving the role of  philosophy  in  policy  making.   These  problems  and  heuristics  can  be  illustrated  with  reference  to episodes mentioned in a related paper by Robert Crease.

The problems are:
 
1. Pragmatic Interpretation. The "values expert" model fails to recognize that often no distinct people or organizations have clear authority to make key decisions; often no clearly defined social channels exist in which controversial issues with a technical dimension can be addressed. Typically, a mixture of corporate plans, market choice, interest group activities, lawsuits, and government legislation takes shape to improvise policies.

2. Utilitarian  Bias.  Like  an  ambulance  corps,  "values  experts"  often  meet  crises  after  the  damage has occurred, when resources and options are limited. This pre-frames utilitarian answers as the most logical mode of response and closes off opportunities to reconstruct the situation to prevent the crises.

The heuristics are:
 
1. Explicate?don't calculate.   The expertise of philosophers is better deployed when put to more delimited use.   Rather than play "values experts,"  philosophers  should  strive  to  become  "hermeneutic  diplomats,"  who  attempt  to  clarify  the basic assumptions underlying disputes between experts and laity.

2. R & D.   They should do so in stakeholder dialogue processes as they occur  and  not  after  animosities  become  entrenched.   This  model  does  not  set  philosophers  up  as "values  experts,"  but  positions  them  as  involved  in  research  and  development,  rather  than  simply evaluating a finished product.
 
 



 


 

">
 [PCST]
PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Can 'Values Experts' bridge the gap between experts and the public?

Evan Selinger   Department of Philosophy State University of New York

To address ethical and technical aspects of the "expert-lay" divide, organizations such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) support philosophers in "ethical and value studies" programs.   Participants address questions such as: How to weigh  risks/benefits  in  introducing  a  new  chemical  into  the  environment?   What  limits  should  be placed on biotechnology's ability to alter genetic structures?   The hope is that such officially designated "values experts" can clarify science's role in the public sphere, where the defining features of the problems are more normative than epistemological, and to produce a variety of theories, principles, and arguments to guide people towards the good life via a more rational decision making.

I  argue  that  the  role  of  "values  experts"  is  technocratic  and  fails  to  understand  the  pragmatic processes  of  negotiation  and  communication  that  arise  between  experts  and  laity.   I  discuss  two fundamental problems of the "values expert" model and suggest two heuristics for improving the role of  philosophy  in  policy  making.   These  problems  and  heuristics  can  be  illustrated  with  reference  to episodes mentioned in a related paper by Robert Crease.

The problems are:
 
1. Pragmatic Interpretation. The "values expert" model fails to recognize that often no distinct people or organizations have clear authority to make key decisions; often no clearly defined social channels exist in which controversial issues with a technical dimension can be addressed. Typically, a mixture of corporate plans, market choice, interest group activities, lawsuits, and government legislation takes shape to improvise policies.

2. Utilitarian  Bias.  Like  an  ambulance  corps,  "values  experts"  often  meet  crises  after  the  damage has occurred, when resources and options are limited. This pre-frames utilitarian answers as the most logical mode of response and closes off opportunities to reconstruct the situation to prevent the crises.

The heuristics are:
 
1. Explicate?don't calculate.   The expertise of philosophers is better deployed when put to more delimited use.   Rather than play "values experts,"  philosophers  should  strive  to  become  "hermeneutic  diplomats,"  who  attempt  to  clarify  the basic assumptions underlying disputes between experts and laity.

2. R & D.   They should do so in stakeholder dialogue processes as they occur  and  not  after  animosities  become  entrenched.   This  model  does  not  set  philosophers  up  as "values  experts,"  but  positions  them  as  involved  in  research  and  development,  rather  than  simply evaluating a finished product.
 
 



 


 

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

BACK TO TOP