"The Authority of Science," 8-10 April 2011

Click here to watch the SlowTV recording of the opening night roundtable on the question, "Is science just another voice in the policy debate?"

Click here to go to the registration page.

4th Sydney-Tilburg conference on the philosophy of science

Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science, University of Sydney, Australia
Tilburg Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science, Tilburg University, The Netherlands

From climate change to the classification of illegal drugs the extent to which scientific opinion should prevail over other voices in determining public policy is hotly contested. What are the scope and limits of the authority of science? The founders of modern philosophy of science, including Sir Karl Popper and members of the Vienna Circle like Otto Neurath, saw it as part of their role to explain the authority of science. Scientific opinion deserves special authority for epistemological reasons – because of the nature of scientific method. A key motive for Popper’s ‘demarcation criterion’ distinguishing science from ‘pseudo-science’ was to restrict the authority of science to disciplines which used the scientific method as Popper understood it.

Since the 1970s the authority of science has been primarily a topic for history of science and sociology of science. These studies have taught us a great deal about how science gained its current, privileged position, and why that position has come under attack. But historical and sociological studies do not address the question of whether and when the authority of science is deserved. The aim of this conference is to direct the attention of philosophers of science and epistemologists back to this issue. What is it about the nature of science that confers epistemic authority on scientific opinion, and what are the scope and limits of that authority? Recent developments in philosophy of science offers new resources to address this question, and to address it in ways that have direct relevance to the practice of contemporary science and its application in public policy.

Co-presented with Sydney Ideas, the conference will open with a public discussion between four distinguished scientists with extensive experience of the science-policy interface: "Is science just another voice in the policy debate?" Their perspectives on the authority of science in practice will provide a vital and challenging context for all those committed to the practice of contemporary science and its application in public policy.


  • Chaired by Paul Willis, ABC TV science program Catalyst
  • Professor Theodore L Brown, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and author of Imperfect Oracle: The Epistemic and Moral Authority of Science
  • Professor David Castle, Chair of Innovation in the Life Sciences, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Christian List, Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at the London School of Economics
  • Professor Rosemary Lyster, inaugural Professor of Climate and Environmental Law at the University of Sydney

Keynote speakers

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman FRS
Hero portrait of Professor Sir Peter Gluckman

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman was the founding Director of the Liggins Institute in Auckland and is Chief Science Advisor to the New Zealand Prime Minister. He is currently Head of the Liggins Institute's Centre for Human Evolution, Adaptation and Disease and is one of New Zealand’s best known scientists. His research has won him numerous awards and international recognition including Fellowship of the Commonwealth’s most prestigious scientific organisation, The Royal Society (London). He is the only New Zealander elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science (USA) and the Academy of Medical Sciences of Great Britain.

In 2009 he became a Knight of the New Zealand Order of Merit replacing the 2008 Distinguished Companion of the NZ Order of Merit, for services to medicine and having previously been made a Companion of the Order in 1997. In 2001 he received New Zealand’s top science award, the Rutherford Medal, and in July 2009 he was appointed as the first Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Professor Gluckman is an international advocate for science, promoting the translation of discoveries in biomedical research into improvements in long term health outcomes. He is the author of over 500 scientific papers and reviews and editor of eight books, including three influential textbooks in his subject area.

NOTE: Unfortunately, Prof O'Kane has had to pull out of the conference. Please see the amended program.
Professor Mary O'Kane
Hero portrait of Prof Mark O

Professor Mary O’Kane is the NSW Chief Scientist and Scientific Engineer and also Executive Chairman of Mary O’Kane & Associates Pty Ltd, a Sydney-based company that advises governments, universities and the private sector on innovation, research, education and development.

She is also Chair of the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy, Chair of the Development Gateway and the Development Gateway International, Chair of the CRC for Spatial Information, and a director of PSMA Ltd, Business Events Sydney, and the Australian Business Foundation. She is a member of the Tax Concession Committee.

Professor O’Kane was Vice-Chancellor and President of Adelaide University from 1996-2001 and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) from 1994-96. Before that, she was Dean of the Faculty of Information Sciences and Engineering at the University of Canberra. She is a former member of the Australian Research Council, the Co-operative Research Centres (CRC) Committee, the board of FH Faulding & Co Ltd and the board of the CSIRO. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering and a Fellow of Engineers, Australia.

Professor Theodore L. Brown (UIUC)
Hero portrait of Prof Ted Brown

Theodore Brown is Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). He served as Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate College, and in 1987 became the founding director of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Institute. The Beckman Institute at Illinois is among the largest and most broadly-based interdisciplinary research institutions in the world.

Brown's field of research interests were inorganic and organometallic chemistry, with an emphasis on the kinetics and mechanisms of reactions. Seventy Ph.D. candidates completed their thesis researches under his mentorship, and nearly thirty postdoctoral research associates worked in his laboratories.

Brown’s current interests are in the cognitive, philosophical and social aspects of the scientific enterprise. In 2003 he authored Making Truth: Metaphor in Science, which explores the essential roles of metaphorical reasoning in science. He recently completed a book on the authority and moral authority of science in society: Imperfect Oracle: The Epistemic and Moral Authority of Science. He continues as coauthor of the best-selling general chemistry text, Chemistry: The Central Science, now in its 11th edition.

Professor Christian List (LSE)
Hero portrait of Prof Christian List

Christian List is Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at the London School of Economics. He has published on judgment aggregation, group deliberation and deliberative democracy, voting and majority rule, group agency, causation and causal explanation, freedom, welfare and equality, decision theory and other topics.

Professor Rosemary Lyster (USYD)
Hero portrait of Prof Rosemary Lyster

Rosemary Lyster is the inaugural Professor of Climate and Environmental Law at the University of Sydney. She is also Director of the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law (ACCEL). As a legal academic Rosemary specialises in Climate Law, Water Law and GMOs. She has published two books with Cambridge University Press in the area of Energy and Climate Law. They are Rosemary Lyster and Adrian Bradbrook Energy Law and the Environment (Cambridge University Press: 2006) and Adrian J. Bradbrook, Rosemary Lyster, Richard L. Ottinger and Wang Xi (eds) The Law of Energy for Sustainable Development (Cambridge University Press: 2005). Rosemary is also the principal author of Rosemary Lyster, Zada Lipman, Nicola Franklin, Graeme Wiffen, Linda Pearson, Environmental and Planning Law in New South Wales 2nd edition (Federation Press: 2009). Rosemary is the Energy and Water Special Editor of the Environmental Planning and Law Journal which is the leading environmental law journal in Australia. Rosemary is a member of the IUCN – The World Conservation Union Commission on Environmental Law, comprising environmental lawyers from around the world. She has an extensive list of publications including books, chapters in books and articles in leading international and domestic law journals. She is a regular presenter at international and domestic conferences.

Suitable subjects for submitted papers would include:

History of Philosophy of Science (HOPOS) perspectives
Epistemology of complex systems modelling
Epistemology of highly mediated observation
Philosophical foundations of statistics and decision theory
Epistemology of translational research
Integrating philosophy of science into scientific practice
Philosophy of science in science education

Local organising committee

Prof Mark Colyvan
Prof Paul Griffiths
Mr Fabien Medvecky

Program committee

Prof Mark Colyvan
Prof Paul Griffiths
Prof Al Hàjek
Prof Stephan Hartmann
Prof Huw Price
Dr Jan Sprenger
Dr Katie Steele

Please click here for the conference abstracts.

Conference program

Friday, April 8

4.30-5.00 - Registration, New Law School Foyer


Roundtable: New Law School foyer

"Is science just another voice in the policy debate?"

Discussants: Theodore L. Brown, David Castle, Christian List, Rosemary Lyster

Moderated by Paul Willis

Saturday, April 9

8.30-9.00, Registration, Level 1, New Law School Building, outside Room 100 and 102


Plenary I: Law School Lecture Theatre 106

Christian List

The Voice of Science?

Introduced by Stephan Hartmann (Director, Tilburg Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science)


Coffee break


Parallel session A

A1: Seminar Room 100

A2: Seminar Room 102

A3: Seminar Room 105

"Authority of Instruments" panel:

Victor Boantza

Elements as Instruments of Analysis: Exploring the Authority of Instruments in Early Modern Chemistry

Ofer Gal

Radical Instrumentalism

Margaret Carlyle

Modelers and Makers, Midwives and Medical Men: Debating the Authority of Birthing Instruments in Enlightenment France

Ian Wills

Thomas Edison and the authority of inventions

Stefaan Blancke and Maarten Boudry

Science as a rhetorical device: The authority of ‘science' in the evolution/creation debates

Maarten Boudry and Stefaan Blancke

Nec plus ultra - restricting the epistemic authority of science

Pamela Lyon

Ground on which to stand: biology and the authority of science


This session finishes at 12.00

Jim Franklin

Evaluating extreme risks: expert authority and data-free statistics

Mark Burgman et al.

Expert performance and the psychology of status

Stephan Hartmann

Voting, Deliberation, and Truth

Jan Sprenger

Applying the Precautionary Principle to various forms of uncertainty




Plenary 2: Law School Lecture Theatre 106

Theodore L. Brown

The Voice of Science in Society

Introduced by Jan Sprenger (Resident Fellow, Tilburg Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science)


Parallel session B

B1: Seminar Room 100

B2: Seminar Room 102

B3: Seminar Room 105

David Castle et al.

Democracy deficits and epistemic deficits in the assessment of new technologies

Artur Koterski

The Problem of Meta-Criterion of Demarcation Between Science and Pseudo-Science

Anna Stoklosa and David Castle

The authority of scientific evidence in Health Technology Assessment models

Mark Colyvan

The Science of Decision

Fabien Medvecky

Interest and opportunity: Disagreeing authorities in climate change economics

Huw Price

Conduct Unbecoming: Eddington on Intuition versus Physics

Craig Dalton

The scientific authority of public health in the philosophy-free zone

Jacob Pearce

Fluoridation in Victoria: the authority of science, public health policy, and culture

Joan Leach

Authority and Popular Science


Coffee break


Plenary 3: Law School Lecture Theatre 106

Rosemary Lyster

Rescuing Climate Science from Politics

Introduced by Mark Colyvan (Director, Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science)

Sunday, April 10


Keynote I: Law School Lecture Theatre 106

Sir Peter Gluckman

Evidence and Policy Formation - The Challenge of "Post-Normal Science"

Introduced by Paul Griffiths (Deputy Director, Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science)


Coffee break


Parallel session C

C1: Seminar Room 100

C2: Seminar Room 102

C3: Seminar Room 105

Silvia De Bianchi

The Authority of Science and H. Weyl's Epistemology: a Kantian Legacy? Observation on the ‘anthropological criterion'

Kirsty Kitto

The failure of objectivism in science: context and complexity

Darrell Rowbottom

The Authority of Science vs. The Demarcation of Inquiry

Nathalie Gontier

Towards a universally applicable evolutionary methodology: a new look upon the units and levels of evolution debate

Paul Griffiths

History and Philosophy of Biology meets Public Understanding of Genetics

Emanuele Serrelli

Pitfalls and strengths of adaptation in biology education: how can philosophy of science help

Adam La Caze

When Randomized Trials

Robert Farrell and Cliff Hooker

The fundamental power and limits of science are those of its uniquely constrained SDAL cycling organization

Cliff Hooker

On the distinctive power and limits of working with complex systems models in science


Please join us for lunch and afternoon drinks at the Rose Hotel, 54 Cleveland St, Chippendale.

Follow the locals - it's a short walk.