Using Insights from the Humanities and Social Sciences to Investigate Tensions Around Scientific Authority
In the last few years, simmering tensions surrounding the authority of science and expertise have burst into broad view. While a crisis of scientific authority has perhaps been most keenly felt with the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also been a prominent element of debates surrounding climate change, the ability of government officials to communicate critical information—and how the public receives that information—as well as the increasingly expansive role of technology, and the science behind it, in daily life. Crises of scientific authority, in other words, have shaped both understandings of and responses to the defining global emergencies of our times.
How should we understand such moments of public dissent from scientific authority? Are they evidence of scientific illiteracy or even "anti-science" bias in the public? Or do they point instead to broader conflicts over values and interests or the meaning of authority? What role have scientists and experts themselves played in this process? How, finally, should such moments of crisis be addressed?
"Science in the Public Square" is a transdisciplinary group dedicated to using insights from the humanities and social sciences to investigate these and related questions. In collaboration with scientific and medical experts, we will be organizing events and co-teaching courses designed to catalyze a broad conversation among students, faculty, and the public about how and why crises of trust in science occur and how best to respond to them.