How does science go about explaining itself, and is it obliged to do so publicly? At intersections such as that between science, society, and politics, the question of responsibility and legitimacy in dealing with knowledge is highly relevant At such interfaces, however, there is also a specific imperative of usefulness or usability – what is a great scientific breakthrough for one person may be without significance for another. This aspect of usefulness is inherent in good scientific practice. Usefulness is considered a sufficient criterion for knowledge in a scientific context – responsibility and legitimacy, on the other hand, are not defined in this way. Questions of responsibility and legitimacy are not new in this context, but more topical than ever.
In order to shed more light on these questions, my work takes its starting point in the DFG project “Scientific policy advice as a socio-epistemic practice: Textual procedures ascribing significance, executive authority, and responsibility.” Scientific policy advice is one of many interfaces in which a very specific form of expert exchange takes place. In addition to facts and figures, contexts, traditions, and methods are actively adopted or assigned in these self-explanatory contexts – also to create points of explanation and connection for a common working context. In more traditional academic publications, these contents are not taken up – in scientific policy advice, however, they could be essential for translating expertise into useful information for those outside the field. But to what extent can texts as artifacts of this socio-epistemic practice provide evidence of the “good” use of knowledge?
In this context, the way of dealing with knowledge, uncertainties, and open questions is a relevant feature of scientific practices. In order to grasp these ways of handling knowledge epistemologically, a notion of procedure (“Verfahren”) is developed that is oriented toward the technical use of this concept. “Procedure” as a philosophical concept then allows – unlike, e.g., the philosophical concepts of process – to make visible the intermediate level of planning, acting, and designing as well as processes and entries in these operations. Based on this, forms of dealing with knowledge can be re-examined, linking the questions of legitimacy and responsibility with the debate on usefulness. Using the example of scientific policy advice, this is intended to make a productive contribution to the ongoing debate about science as a democratic institution.
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
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