The Special Role of Science in Liberal Democracy – University of Copenhagen

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The Special Role of Science in Liberal Democracy

It often assumed that science has a certain fundamental role in democratic decision making in liberal democracies. There should be a distinctive division of cognitive and deliberative labour according science the role of neutral supplier of relevant factual knowledge, whereas democratic decision processes should retain the task of deciding policies. However, more recently this view of the special role of science has become subject of some public and political controversy, as well as academic dispute. Many voices in academia as well as outside it question the legitimacy of according this special epistemic authority to science. Others, among them sociologists of science, stress as illusory or plain false that science can be neutral in the ways that according science this role would seem to require. According to these views, science is replete with values, and this makes the picture of science as a neutral arbiter of facts naive at best. Yet others deny that science and politics can be disentangled in our actual scientific and bureaucratic practices, again putting the idea of a division of roles under pressure.

The main purpose of the project is to investigate idea that science should be accorded this distinctive role in liberal democracies, and the questions that this ideal raises. Accordingly, the project will cover three interconnected questions:

(a) Justification and legitimacy. While arguably fundamental to liberal democracy, the idea that science should be accorded the role as supplier of facts in democratic decision-making has never been extensively developed and defended. How should it be elaborated? How is it justified? There exists many views about how knowledge is best produced; how can it nonetheless be legitimate to accord science and academia in general a special authority? What are the plausible alternatives, if there are any? Should decision-making processes in science, for example, be influenced by democratic processes?

(b) Value neutrality and objectivity. Many philosophers argue that the value-ladenness of science is pervasive. Is this right, and if so how does it affect important ideals of neutrality and objectivity? Is some element of value-ladenness compatible with science having this sort of role in democratic decision-making, and if so why? Questions of value-ladenness and objectivity have been discussed mainly in relation to the natural sciences. However, they loom large with respect to the social sciences and the humanities, academic fields that may also aspire to provide input to democratic decision-making processes. How do questions of value-ladenness affect the legitimacy and capacity of these disciplines as contributors to democratic decision-making?

c) Science and politics entanglement. It may be argued that even if a division of labour - an arms-length-principle separating the scientific process from the policy process - is in principle a sound idea, the actual practice of scientific policy advice defies it. Many guidelines aiming at regulating this science-policy interface exist. How are they to be interpreted, and what are the experiences of trying to implement them? We focus on empirical and conceptual contributions addressing these concerns.

Funding: Carlsberg Foundation