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Are We All Scientific Experts Now? Paperback – 28 Feb 2014


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Product details

  • Paperback: 140 pages
  • Publisher: Polity Press; 1 edition (28 Feb. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0745682049
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745682044
  • Product Dimensions: 12.4 x 1.3 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 237,700 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

"A valuable contribution to the ways in which we ascribe value to expertise ... Although Collins convincingly answers the book s title question with a resounding no , what is most interesting and refreshing about his analysis is that it enables people holding different kinds of expertise to recognise their role in scientific debate."
LSE Review of Books

"Certainly a book for those who are interested in science and its role in society. For those who are curious about how scientists tackle problems and why they do often have the answers, it should prove illuminating."
Times Higher Education

"This brave, thoughtful little book should be sent to every newspaper editor. Collins doesn t write with Ben Goldacre s righteous anger, but his careful, nuanced scholarship is just as persuasive."
Seamus O Mahony, Dublin Review of Books

"Masterful new book."
Mother Jones

"Brief book with a very high level argument relying a lot on his experience... this kind of nuanced, important thinking about science and expertise is a wonderful gift from Collins that I truly hope we don′t squander."
Stark Reality – Todd I. Stark

′′I read this short book with admiration – an analysis by a social scientist which (unlike much of that genre) should resonate with most actual researchers.′′
Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and Former President of the Royal Society

′′Packed into a slim polemic that succinctly yet movingly distills years of painstaking research into expertise, Harry Collins delivers an immensely rich book–– a thorough cultural and intellectual analysis of why attitudes towards towards scientific expertise have changed, and why a new view of them needs to be adopted, to preserve society. Readers who are new to Collins′s ideas will find come away with a fresh take on explosive controversies, including Climategate and anti–vaccination campaigns. Long time readers of Collins will be amazed at how accessible his technical arguments are and the big impact that′s made by seeing them integrated into a gripping, short–form narrative.′′
Evan Selinger, Rochester Institute of Technology

 

About the Author

Harry Collins is Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology and Director of the Centre for the Study of Knowledge, Expertise and Science (KES) at Cardiff University. He is a Fellow of the British Academy. He has written 17 previous books including the well–known Golem series on science. Harry Collins is continuing his research on the nature of scientific knowledge, on the analysis of expertise and on the sociology of gravitational wave detection.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Peter Davies TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 6 May 2014
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a classic Polity Press book. It's a short book- more an extended essay, and it tackles an interesting, and potentially controversial, question in an interesting way. The answer to the question it addresses, "Are we all scientific experts now?" is of course "No." But I don't think we have all claimed to be such experts- either in our own narrow specialities or in the wider arena of science.

I think the real question the author wants to address is why do people seem to have lost trust in science? Why is the scientific expert not always believed nowadays? What basis do we have for doubting their expertise?

In medicine we have been facing this loss of trust for some time now. Onora O'Neill described the problems well in "A Question of Trust?"- her 2002 Reith Lectures. Well described failings in basic medical care have been seen in many settings- and although the doctors involved may have been "expert" the results of their care was not "good."

Collins tries to describe and circumscribe certain specific types of expertise. He sees science as a very special way of knowing the world- and he'd like to elevate it on this basis, and give it great respect, and expect its practitioners to live up to this ideal. He describes having great respect for the "norms of science."

I think Collins doesn't quite get his answer to the question of why scientific expertise is not always respected right.

I think science done well, reported honestly, and by scientists who both know a lot, but also have some sense of what they do not know, or what might be wrong with their account will be respected. It's all covered by the classic report writer's cliche, "to the best of my knowledge and belief.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Tealady2000 VINE VOICE on 2 April 2014
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I am a research scientist by training and it was interesting to have my profession analysed by a social scientist. Harry Collins makes a lot of good points about different kinds of expertise and he uses good examples to show how the media and politicians can make terrible mistakes because they do not understand how to assess certain kinds of data (or sources of data) correctly.

Collins does not mention the BBC (he focuses more on the press), but I think the BBC is truly awful at presenting a balanced argument when it comes to scientific issues. If you are interviewing a climate scientist who believes on the basis of peer-reviewed evidence that global warming is happening, then you balance the argument with a climate scientist who believes on the basis of peer-reviewed evidence that global warming is not happening - not with Nigel Lawson.

I really liked Collins' evaluation of a typical scientist at the end - an honest, decent person who is genuinely striving to learn the truth about the natural world. That has certainly been my experience over the years. Let's give real scientific experts a proper voice.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By jcmacc VINE VOICE on 3 May 2014
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Although touching on various recent scientific media storms (MMR, the climate gate e-mails etc) what is at the core of this relatively brief book is a discussion of what an "expert" actually is, rather than an in depth look at how lack of expertise leads to bad decisions and poor public understanding of science.

What's most interesting is the breakdown of different ways we can be experts, even accidental or inadvertently (e.g.. an English speaker would be seen as being an expert in that language in a Spanish speaking society). It also discusses how even weak expertise can lead to better decision making - so even basic understanding of immunobiology would give you the insight that Wakefield allegedly finding measles virus in guts of autistic children is not an argument against a measles vaccine.

Overall a very interesting book, but perhaps not really covering the scientific issues per se in the way the cover pages would have you believe.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Dalby VINE VOICE on 26 Jun. 2014
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The question that forms the title of the book is quickly answered in the negative but that is not really what the core arguments of the book are about.

The authors starts with a chapter about the golden age of expectations about science. This was when radiation was good for you and everyone imagined that there would be some utopian world of flying cars. Then the wheels came off the scientific vision car, as they might say. So on reading this as a scientist I was beginning to worry that this was going to be another science bashing book, talking about the arrogance and black and white nature of science compared to the messy subjective views of the social sciences.

Then comes the really interesting discussion which is about expertise. I am an expert in spoken english because I am a native English speaker. My wife is an expert in Spanish as a native Spanish speaker. So how do we define expertise and what expertise can be learnt, what can be imitated and what is genuine expertise. This is the really important question that the book tries to resolve. In the end the author goes for practitioners who develop the field and make contributions are experts and that is why we are not all scientific experts. I would be a little fuzzier in my definition as I am an inter-disciplinarian (between sciences, I am qualified in chemistry but I teach maths to biologists and my research is in computational biology). So for the author I am a pseudo-expert. Someone who can hold a conversation in the subject because I know the material, while not actually being a constructive participant in many of the subjects. I suppose he is right as a true expert needs to know when they might be wrong and so they should not comment.
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