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The Significance of Scientific Testimony

The Carlsberg Foundation's 'Semper Ardens' Fellowships within the Humanities and Social Sciences


The central ambition of the project is to write a monograph tentatively entitled 'The Significance of Scientific Testimony.' The book will bring philosophical resources to bear on an important topic in contemporary society - scientific testimony. More specifically, the monograph aims to shed light on the nature and role of scientific testimony in society. I will do so by drawing on resources from (i) the philosophy of science, (ii) social epistemology and (iii) the study of folk epistemology. In the past, these philosophical resources have been related to scientific testimony in a piecemeal manner. But they have not hitherto been systematically connected in a sustained investigation of scientific testimony within a monograph. Thus, the project aims to be groundbreaking in doing so.


In a nutshell, the project is important because scientific testimony is important. Traditionally, scientific testimony has played a central role in deliberative democracies. However, scientific testimony is increasingly challenged as the basis of evidence-based policy. This is partly due to misconceptions of the role of scientific testimony in collaborative science. But it is also because the significance of scientific testimony in deliberative democracy is inadequately understood. I hope that by clarifying the nature of scientific testimony, its proper role in society will become clearer and, in consequence, better appreciated.


The Semper Ardens project enables me to dedicate the entire academic year 2018-2019 to work on the book. I hope to have a full first draft completed by the fall of 2019. However, since the book project is extremely ambitious and wide-ranging, it is imperative to subject the manuscript to extensive quality control. Fortunately, my strong international network will be of great help in this regard. I have a number of collaborators in California (at UCLA where I did my PhD and at Stanford where I was a visiting scholar) and in Scotland (where I worked at the University of Edinburgh). Moreover, I am a fellow at the research project The Epistemic Role of the University in Society at VU Amsterdam (2017-2019). These places are ideal settings for improving the book.


The long term aspects of Scientific Social Responsibility flow fairly directly from the main topic of the monograph. After all, the book will concern the proper roles of scientific experts in society. Thus, it has a fairly direct bearing on the roles and responsibilities of scientific experts in society. The project will concern the norms that scientific experts should abide by when making public testimony. However, it will also concern the guidelines that science reporters should ideally follow in order to ensure that public deliberation and decision-making are appropriately evidence-based. A special challenge consists in addressing cases of conflict between the ideal of representing diverse viewpoints and the ideal of representing scientific expertise.