New Books in the Arts & Sciences:
Celebrating Recent Work by Gil Eyal
The Crisis of Expertise
By: Gil Eyal
In recent political debates there has been a significant change in the valence of the word “experts” from a superlative to a near pejorative, typically accompanied by a recitation of experts’ many failures and misdeeds. In topics as varied as Brexit, climate change and vaccinations there is a palpable mistrust of experts and a tendency to dismiss their advice. Are we witnessing, therefore, the “death of expertise,” or is the handwringing about an “assault on science” merely the hysterical reaction of threatened elites?
In this new book, Gil Eyal argues that what needs to be explained is not a one-sided“mistrust of experts” but the two-headed pushmi-pullyu of unprecedented reliance onscience and expertise, on the one hand, coupled with increased suspicion, skepticismand dismissal of scientific findings, expert opinion or even whole branches of investigation, on the other. The current mistrust of experts, Eyal argues, is best understood as one more spiral in an on-going, recursive crisis of legitimacy. The “scientization of politics,” of which critics warned in the 1960s, has brought about a politicization of science, specifically of regulatory and policy science, and the two processes reinforce one another in an unstable, crisis-prone mixture. Eyal demonstrates that the strategies designed to respond to the crisis - from an increased emphasis on inclusion of laypeople and stakeholders in scientific research and regulatory decision-making to approaches seeking to generate trust by relying on objective procedures such as randomized controlled trials (RCTs) – end up exacerbating the crisis, while undermining and contradicting one another.
This timely book will be of great interest to students and scholars in the social sciences and to anyone concerned about the political uses of, and attacks on, scientific knowledge and expertise.
About the Author:
Gil Eyal's work deals with sociology of expertise, intellectuals and knowledge, in particular as it relates to broader political processes and to the interstitial spaces between fields. In two early books he has dealt with the transition from socialism to capitalism in Eastern Europe, and the role played by intellectuals, technocrats and in particular economists in the process. (With Ivan Szelenyi and Eleanor Townsley) Making Capitalism without Capitalists. (London: Verso, 1998); The Origins of Post-Communist Elites: From the Prague Spring to the Breakup of Czechoslovakia. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003). A later book dealt with expertise about Arab affairs and the role it plays in Israeli society, government and the military: The Disenchantment of the Orient. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006). His latest book provides a sociological explanation for the current autism epidemic, and traces the blurring of boundaries between experts and laypeople that play a role in the dynamics leading to the epidemic. (With Brendan Hart, Emine Onculer, Neta Oren and Natasha Rossi) The Autism Matrix: The Social Origins of the Autism Epidemic. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010). The approach applied in this book is developed further in his recent article: "For a Sociology of Expertise: The Social Origins of the Autism Epidemic,” AJS Vol. 118, No. 4 (January 2013), pp. 863-907.
About the Speakers:
Peter B. de Menocal is Dean of Science for the Faculty of Arts & Sciences at Columbia University and the Thomas Alva Edison/Con Edison Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He is the Founding Director of the Center for Climate & Life, and a geochemist and paleoclimate scientist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
Steven Shapin is Franklin L. Ford Research Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University. His books include Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (Princeton University Press, 1985 [new ed. 2011]; with Simon Schaffer); A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England (University of Chicago Press, 1994); Wetenschap is cultuur (Science is Culture) (Amsterdam: Balans, 2005; with Simon Schaffer), The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation (University of Chicago Press, 2008), among other published works.
Diane Vaughan is Professor of Sociology at Columbia University. Among her publications, she has written three books on how things go wrong in organizations: Controlling Unlawful Organizational Behavior, Uncoupling, and The Challenger Launch Decision.
Shamus Khan is Chair and Professor of Sociology at Columbia University. He is the author of Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School (Princeton, 2011) and The Practice of Research (Oxford, 2013, with Dana Fisher), among other publications.
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