Sunday, May 16, 2010

B. Campbell - “Uncertainty as Symbolic Action in Disputes among Experts” - Social Studies of Science 15 (1985): 429-53

Campbell claims that uncertainty does not cause controversy because the content of scientific knowledge is a social construction.  Therefore uncertainty is something that is negotiated, discussed and argued about.  He further argues that the adequacy of empirical evidence thus becomes a prop in the social negotiations that occur over the credibility of expert statements made in public arenas, where the authority of a scientist as an expert is connected to the image of the relationship between scientific understanding and empirical evidence.
    He is attempting to establish five points.
    1) uncertainty is a strategic element of argument as opposed to something that causes argument;
    2) adequacy of evidence and knowledge is relative and varies with the social situation of experts;
    3) the social structuring of expert arguments does not mean that the scientists’ arguments have been ‘distorted’ by the social circumstances of their expertise;
    4) uncertainty arguments don’t necessarily undermine the credibility of scientific expert knowledge;
    5) the approach that he takes emphasizes the political dynamics of expertise and the complex relationships between scientific and policy issues.

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