(Political) Representation in Science and Science Policy

Hannah Hilligardt (doctoral project, ongoing)

As the case of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the continuing and accelerating climate crisis shows, scientific knowledge and expertise is increasingly important for good political decision making. The judgements scientists make carry significant and sometimes contested weight, both in political and public debates. Such political power comes with political responsibilities for scientists, with a potential for abuse, as well as the need to navigate political conflicts and value disagreements.

The aim of my dissertation project is to contribute to the ongoing philosophical discussions on this changing political role of scientists by employing a specific aspect of democratic theory: theories of political representation. I argue that – although certainly not equivalent – the role responsibilities of scientists are related to the responsibilities of other types of public officials. Philosophers of science can therefore profit from the extremely rich and nuanced resources within political theory on the legitimacy and responsibilities of political representatives to, in turn, help clarify the ways in which science and politics can fruitfully interact in democratic societies.

I focus in particular on three problems that are discussed in political philosophy of science, where, I claim, theories of representation are especially helpful. The first part scrutinises the debate on how to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate value-influences in science. I use the work of political theorist Iris Marion Young to argue that societal and political considerations should not merely be considered as “values”. Science and scientists represent the social perspectives, opinions and interests of the respective societies they operate in. I claim that different procedures are necessary to ensure the legitimacy of these three different aspects. The second problem under consideration is what it could mean for scientists to represent the public and its interests. And should such a demand be made when thinking of the political role of scientists? If so, how could it be implemented?

In the last part of the project, I turn to the role nonhuman entities play in the work of scientists. I take direction from the work of Bruno Latour and ask if scientists can function as political representatives of nonhuman entities, and, if so, what this means for their political role. I discuss these questions at the hand of examples from environmental and climate sciences and policies and debates that followed from them.