Expertise, Skepticism and Cynicism: Lessons from Science & Technology Studies

Michael Lynch


The topic of expertise has become especially lively in recent years in academic discussions and debates about the politics of science. It is easy to understand why the topic holds such strong interest in Science & Technology Studies (STS) and related fields. There are at least two basic reasons for such interest. One is that experts are undoubtedly important in modern societies, and the other is that trends in STS research tend to be critical of the cognitive authority associated with the public role of the expert. Putting the two together, STS researchers often align themselves with environmentalist and other movements that question the impartiality of experts and seek to democratize decisions about science and technology. Though such alignment is in many respects laudable, it can also be a source of confusion and misplaced political criticism. Toward the end of this brief synopsis of current STS research and debates on the topic of expertise, I will suggest an alternative agenda for engaging the politics of science and technology...

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