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How trustworthy and authoritative is scientific input into public policy deliberations?

Lacey, Hugh (2018) How trustworthy and authoritative is scientific input into public policy deliberations? In: UNSPECIFIED.

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Appraising public policies about using technoscientific innovations requires attending to the values reflected in the interests expected to be served by them. It also requires addressing questions about the efficacy of using the innovations, and about whether or not using them may occasion harmful effects (risks); moreover, judgments about these matters should be soundly backed by empirical evidence. Clearly, then, scientists have an important role to play in formulating and appraising these public policies.
However, ethical and social values affect decisions made about the criteria (1) for identifying the range of risks, and of relevant empirical data needed for making judgments about them, that should be considered in public policy deliberations, and (2) for determining how well claims concerning risks should be supported by the available data in order to warrant that they have a decisive role in the deliberations. Consider the case of public policies about using GMOs. Concerning the range of data: is it sufficient for risk assessment only to be informed by data relevant to investigating the risks of using GMOs that may be occasioned by way of physical/chemical/biological mechanisms directly triggered by events within their modified genomes? Or: should data pertaining to the full range of ecological and socioeconomic effects of using them, in the environments in which they are used and under the socioeconomic conditions of their use, also inform this assessment? Those interested in producing and using GMOs, in the light of their adhering to values of capital and the market, are likely to give a positive answer to the first question; those holding competing values, e.g., connected with respect for human rights and environmental sustainability, to the second. And, concerning the degree of support: the former – citing the ethical gravity of losses (both economic and, allegedly, for food security) that would be incurred by failing to use GMOs on a wide scale – are likely to require less stringent standards of evidential appraisal than the latter.
Scientists, qua scientists, however, do not have special authority in the realm of values. Thus, their judgments, about the evidential support that claims about risks (and some other matters) have, may sometimes be reasonably (although not decisively) contested partly on value-laden grounds – as they have been in the GMO case, where the contestation has generated considerable controversy, and continues to do so. It follows that, in the context of deliberations about public policy, unless scientists engage with representatives of all stakeholders in the outcomes of the policies (as, for the most part, has not happened in the GMO case) – taking into account that their competing values may lead to making different decisions about what are the relevant data, as well as about the degree of support required for their claims about risks to gain the required credibility to inform the deliberations; and respecting "tempered equality" of participants in the dialogue (Longino) – their trustworthiness is put into question and their authority diminished.

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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (UNSPECIFIED)
Keywords: Risks; Public Policy; Trust; GMOs
Subjects: General Issues > Science and Policy
Depositing User: Hugh Lacey
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 04:11
Last Modified: 16 Oct 2018 04:11
Item ID: 15155
Subjects: General Issues > Science and Policy
Date: 14 October 2018

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