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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." Newton's idea that he just cast a few pebbles into the ocean of ignorance catches this.When science acknowledges its limitations- both in terms of basic concepts, and in terms of current practicalities of measurement it tends to be on strong ground. Its conclusions will be tentative and provisional, and temporary. And it will distinguish well between measurements, theories and speculations. Such scientists are likely to gain respect and trust.

Unfortunately like doctors before them, many scientists have reached beyond their reasonable limitations and doubts, and moved more into advocacy or science policy. They have moved beyond the science, or used it to make political or philosophical points, rather than to advance knowledge. And when science is seen to be serving an agenda, it loses its analytic neutrality and epistemic strength and becomes one more discourse amongst many. Most people will pick this kind of behaviour up, and a scientist involved in it becomes progressively less scientific, and more like anyone else who holds an opinion.

The other problem for scientists within any one discipline is that science always involves collaboration across sectors. The measurements may all be of for example temperatures, but the analysis of the data is a statistical exercise, and likely needs expertise from beyond a small in group. Collins sees small groups of experts as being worthy of respect- they have interactional expertise-but I think he rather privileges in-group forms of knowledge when what may actually be needed is wide review of findings- from multiple perspectives. Collins sees peer review as being valid whereas the evidence is growing that it is a way of showing fools seldom differ, and of enforcing uniformity rather than a good means of selecting papers for their intrinsic interest and validity. The potential of the web to use crowd based post-publication review- with many people from many disciplines contributing to the review is not considered in this book.

This book is interesting, and worth reading. it has an interesting account of expertise and how it is established. I don't think it gets its description fully complete or accurate, and I think our concepts of expertise are ripe for change. The internet is going to drive much of this change- by making more ideas, views and critiques freely available across the web, and raising more questions about an editor's selection of papers and reviewers.

Enjoy reading this book- it's a good spur to thinking- and be your own expert in assessing its merits.
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VINE VOICEon 2 April 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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VINE VOICEon 3 May 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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VINE VOICEon 26 June 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
“Are we all scientific experts now?” elegantly looks at how people view science today.

This is understandable because there are many misconceptions with the public believing that they grasp inferences from research but failing to see the inexactness of the subject. This can lead to dismissal of scientific evidence as being very inaccurate rather than merely the natural product of research.

The author covers “Climategate”, vaccinations and a number of other topics very clearly and I found the book generally interesting and much of this accords with my views. Science certainly is not infallible and there will always be competing interests.

A pleasant read for the armchair science enthusiast.
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VINE VOICEon 17 July 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In this treatise/exposition, the author attempts to cover most of the facets of the arguments of scientific expertise in its interpretation and application, This has become a vague and hazy area with pitfalls abounding for the public perception of science ending up hurting the reputation of scientific fields and hence the fields of science itself.

The author handles the various examples very well (eg Climategate)and I felt that this was the main flesh of his exposition, often extrapolating forwards to a conclusion. It does feel that he is writing this for the layman who has a grasp of some of the argument and wants to elevate that level of understanding by introducing a higher level of science and comprehension of arguments.

Experts can be wrong in method, interpretation or overstepping their level of expertise.

It is also far too easy to form an opinion based on populist messages or "science/opinions that fits your own views". Unfortunately the media is all too happy to forge its own path in its presentation of scientific expertise.

I think it is a worthwhile read for anyone who wants to sift through the coverage of scientific arguments forearmed with some level of comprehension. It is slightly uneven in tone due to the nature of the material (I perked up at things I could relate to).
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VINE VOICEon 5 May 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book does a bit more than its title might suggest: instead of being simply a defence of scientific expertise in a time when the expert is more challenged than ever before, this work actually traces the growth of skepticism amongst the general public.

This book contains much knowledge that will already be known to most people, but much new, certainly to me. The work is valuable, not only for the new information, but also for its ordering of the whole melange. Perhaps even the most doubting Thomas would have a little more respect for the scientific perspective were they to read this tome. I shall certainly be more cautious about dismissing the scientific point of view in future!
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on 21 June 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Though basically an extended essay I was quite impressed with this. It is quite detailed and well argued and the author provides plenty of evidence.

Probably essential reading for many newspaper journalists.
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on 16 July 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
With the proliferation of *Insert Scientific Concept* for Dummies books and the popularisation of various sciences in TV series and other written works Harry Collins is positing the question 'Are We All Scientific Experts Now?'

The answer is obviously, 'no'. The writer examines this and other areas in this very interesting extended essay. And yes, Mr Collins is a REAL scientist himself!
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VINE VOICEon 2 April 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This short book about the social science aspects of defining expertise in science raised more questions than it answered for me. The author wants to elevate the role of scientist back to that of the boffin in the white coat - for science to regain its respect - which is perhaps an admirable aim. However real life is not like that and we are criminally short of scientists and engineers in this country now. Making science seem too difficult is never going to encourage teenagers into it.

He uses some interesting cases to back his theories - the damage caused by the MMR vaccine and autism scandal, the SA government's decision not to give anti-retroviral drugs to pregnant women to prevent AIDS, 'Climategate' and the taking of scientists email chats totally out of context - all caused by the wrong kinds of experts.

These case-studies were fascinating, however I did find his analysis of all the different kinds of expertise and levels of such a little dry. We do need top scientists desperately, but we also need to popularise it and help understanding. (I think I was a scientific expert, but am not any longer!)
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