Especially in the United States, but to a lesser extent in other parts of the world, there is continuing resistance to scientific expertise. This surfaces in distrust of an exceptionally broad consensus about anthropogenic global warming, in distrust of claims about the safety of genetically modified organisms, and with respect to many other scientific topics. The source of the trouble lies in the difficulties of integrating deference to experts with apparently fundamental democratic principles. I shall try to show how prominent features of contemporary political life translate important democratic ideas into facile slogans – for example, recommendations about “free and open” discussions – that undermine a valuable division of epistemic labor. On the basis of my diagnoses, I shall offer some tentative suggestions about how trust in experts might be restored.
Philip Kitcher, currently a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, is the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. He is the author of books on the philosophy of science, on the philosophy of mathematics, on the philosophy of biology, on science and social issues, and on ethics, as well as on Wagner’s Ring and Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. A former President of the American Philosophical Association (Pacific Division), he is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was the first recipient of the Prometheus Prize, awarded by the American Philosophical Association for lifetime achievement in expanding the frontiers of philosophy and the sciences. His stay in Germany during the current academic year is partially supported by a Humboldt prize. His publications include Vaulting Ambition: Sociobiology and the Quest for Human Nature (1985), The Advancement of Science (1993), Science, Truth, and Democracy (2001), In Mendel’s Mirror (2003), and Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith (2009). In German his works have appeared under the titles Genetik und Ethik and Mit Darwin leben.