Spontaneous Generations 5 (1):1-4 (2011)

Abstract
Scientific claims implicitly invite criticism. While we might expect that challenging an epistemic authority in religious circles would be seen as an illegitimate activity (e.g. heresy) and met with suppression, challenging an epistemic authority in scientific circles is supposed to be a legitimate form of engagement, and should (ideally) be met with reasoned argument based in empirical evidence. Given this implicit invitation to challenge scientific claims, and the sweeping knowledge claims often made by today’s scientists, it is hardly surprising that people outside narrowly defined scientific communities (i.e. science’s “public”) often challenge the truth of scientific consensuses. The scrutiny of scientific claims by non-scientist members of the public is quite understandable and in many ways unobjectionable, given the role that science advice increasingly plays in our society’s governance structures and public policy making. As scientists increasingly play policy-maker, they become doubly subject to public criticism: first as a scientist making substantive claims about reality and second as public-interest decision-maker making important decisions about public policy. Thus, for the scientist’s social role as epistemic authority to remain justified, public criticism of science should ideally be entertained and answered by practicing scientists
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DOI 10.4245/sponge.v5i1.15622
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