The Tower of Babel, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1563

The End of Expertise (2021)

Our 40th seminar explores the role and changing conceptions of expertise in our society, phenomena often tied to the rise of the internet.

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Oil on panel 1563.(CC BY 4.0 Wilimedia Commons)

In conjunction with issues such as climate change denial, vaccination hesitancy, and political populist movements, we see an increasing questioning of traditional sources or models of authority, whether this authority is mainstream journalism, scientific consensus or academia. At the same time, we can chart a longer history of activist movements in the twentieth century that have challenged the perceived blind spots of traditional expertise and authority, whether this is feminist questioning of male bias in science, AIDS activists challenging medical orthodoxy for access to drug trials, or indigenous groups protesting against engineering mega-projects or paternalistic development schemes. Is the current perception of the ‘death of expertise’ overstated? Do our conceptions of expertise need to change? Are the current challenges to expertise part of a healthy public sphere, or the sign of a dangerous slide towards populism and demagoguery?

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Invited Panelists

Harry Collins, PhD, FBA

Harry Collins is Distinguished Research Professor and directs the Centre for the Study of Knowledge, Expertise and Science (KES) at Cardiff University. He is Fellow of the British Academy and winner of the Bernal prize for social studies of science. Harry Collins has been a participant in the “science wars,” a dispute between scientists and the sociologists who, like Collins, have chosen to study the process by which scientists reach their conclusions.

Maya Goldenberg, PhD

Maya Goldenberg is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Guelph, with a cross-appointment to the Bachelor of Arts and Science Program, and Graduate Faculty in the Institute for History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at University of Toronto. Her research addresses the fundamental epistemic question, “How do we know what to believe about health care?” (or “when are knowledge claims justified in health care?”)

Steven Sloman, PhD

Steven Sloman is a cognitive scientist at Brown University. He studies how people think. He has studied how our habits of thought influence the way we see the world, how the different systems that constitute thought interact to produce conclusions, conflict, and conversation, and how our construal of how the world works influences how we evaluate events and decide what actions to take.

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