Paradoxes in the Use of Expertise in the Scottish Independence Debate

Topical blogpost here from Christina Boswell

Politics, Knowledge & Migration

In a wonderfully perceptive article from 1999, German sociologist Peter Weingart identifies two paradoxes surrounding the use of science in political debate (and we can apply this to expertise more generally). First, late modern societies show an unprecedented dependence on expert knowledge to assess the risks and consequences of political action. Politics becomes ‘scientised’. But at the same time, science has also become politicised, thus undermining the authority of scientific claims in public debate. The second paradox is that rather than leading to the marginalisation of expertise in political debate, political actors continue to rely on it to bolster their claims. They may be sceptical about the validity of research findings; but nonetheless they are committed to the (often ritualistic) deployment of knowledge claims. Science is still considered necessary to underpin rational debate and decision-making.

The first paradox is certainly manifest in the debate on Scottish independence. From the outset, the media have…

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