Questioning the authority of science

7 April 2011

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.

A special Sydney Ideas roundtable discussion on Friday 8 April will discuss The Authority of Science: Is Science Just Another Voice in the Policy Debate?

Four distinguished academics with extensive experience of the science-policy environment will debate what it is about the nature of science that confers a special authority on scientific opinion and the limits to its influence.

Since the 1970s studies of the authority of science have taught us a great deal about how science gained its current, privileged position, and why that position has come under attack.

What the studies have not addressed is the question of whether science's authority is deserved and when it should be invoked. The roundtable panellists who will explore this issue are:

* Professor Theodore Brown is Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 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 moral authority of science in society, titled Imperfect Oracle: The Epistemic and Moral Authority of Science.

* Professor David Castle, Chair of Innovation in the Life Sciences, University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on the interaction between science and society. He has also consulted widely to government on such issues as the impact of national technology transfer policies and the role of non-scientific considerations in the regulation of science and technology.

* Professor Rosemary Lyster, 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. As a legal academic Lyster specialises in climate law, water law and genetically modified organisms. She has published two books in the area of energy and climate law.

* Professor Christian List, Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at the London School of Economics. He has published on group deliberation and deliberative democracy, voting and majority rule, welfare and equality, decision theory and other topics.

Their perspectives on the authority of science in practice will provide a challenging context for all those committed to the practice of contemporary science and its application in public policy.

The discussion will be chaired by Paul Willis from the ABC TV science program Catalyst. This event opens the 4th Sydney-Tilburg conference on the philosophy of science, The Authority of Science at the University of Sydney.

Event details

What: The Authority of Science: Is Science Just Another Voice in the Policy Debate?, a free public lecture for Sydney Ideas

When: 5 to 6.30pm, Friday 8 April

Where: Foyer, New Law Building, Camperdown Campus. See map and directions

Cost: Free, no registration required

Co-presented with the Tilburg Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science, Tilburg University, Netherlands and Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science, University of Sydney.

Sydney Ideas

Contact: Verity Leatherdale

Phone: 9351 4312, 0419 278 715

Email: 3012471017124b3f2753182c4e110f153a4a79582c0759320e6c300017602627