Expertise Under Pressure


What is the role of experts in understanding social change? Expert judgment today is both intensely sought out, across private and public spheres, and also intensely criticised and derided with well-publicised failures to predict various high profile social and natural phenomena. Does the problem lie with the very idea that objective expertise about complex processes is attainable? Or does it stem from the way that expert judgment is developed and communicated? Or, perhaps it reflects the diminished standing of experts and expert knowledge in democratic and pluralistic societies? To explore these questions, we propose three case studies in which expert judgment is both consequential and controversial. They are the UK Government’s emergency response, the use of agglomeration theory in city planning, and deep philosophical controversies about the possibility and objectivity of social science. These cases differ in scope and focus but they enable us to analyse four distinct features of legitimate expertise: sensitivity to temporal scale, translatability in space, ambivalence about precision, and moral responsibility. The overarching goal of the project is to establish a broad framework for understanding what makes expertise authoritative, when experts overreach, and what realistic demands communities should place on experts. 

This project is part of the Centre for the Humanities and Social Change, Cambridge, funded by the Humanities and Social Change International Foundation.


From left to right: Robert Doubleday, Anna Alexandrova, Emily So and Michael Kenny


Click here to meet the team. 


Forthcoming Events


Are Social Sciences Special? Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, Conference 21-22 September 2021


Previous Events

The Politics of Economics Seminars

The Politics of Economics in the time of COVID-19 with Andrea Mennicken, 8 December 2020

The Politics of Economics in the time of COVID-19 with Emmanuel Didier, 4 November 2020

WEBINAR Staying Alert: Cybernetic Policy Imagination and the Pandemic, Will Davies (Goldsmiths, University of London) and Alice Pearson (University of Cambridge), 7 July 2020

WEBINAR Politics of Economics in the Time of COVID-19, Parfait Akana and Gerardo Serra, 30 June 2020

WEBINAR Performing Social Science? Disciplines, Expertise, and the Corona Crisis, Jana Bacevic (University of Cambridge), Cléo Chassonnery-Zaïgouche (University of Cambridge) and Jack Wright (University of Cambridge) 25 June 2020

WEBINAR Politics of Economics during COVID-19: The EU’s Technocratic Crisis Management, Jens van t'Klooster (KU Leuve) and Raf Danna (University of Cambridge), 2 June 2020

WEBINAR The Politics of Economics in the time of COVID-19: Pandemic Easing as Sovereign Financing, Will Bateman and Jens van’t Klooster (KU Leuve), 26 May 2020

WEBINAR The Politics of Economics in the time of COVID-19: Macro in Crisis, 19 May 2020

WEBINAR The Politics of Economics in the time of COVID-19: Epistemic Humility, Erik Angner (Stockholm University) and Anna Alexandrova (University of Cambridge), 12 May 2020

ONLINE The Politics of Economics in the Time of COVID-19 – Valuing Life, Elizabeth Popp-Berman (University of Michigan) and Mike Kenny (University of Cambridge), 5 May 2020

CANCELLED: Resilient Capital: How the Core of Mainstream Macroeconomics Coped w. the Great Recession, Cornel Ban (Copenhagen Business School), 10 March 2020

CANCELLED The Politics of quantification, Andrea Mennicken (LSE, 25 February 2020)

Incentivising on Ethical Economics Hilary Cooper & Simon Szreter (University of Cambridge), 11 February 2020

Theoretical Expertise and the Weaponising of the Phillips Curve, 1970-77, James Forder (University of Oxford), 28 January 2020

Economics for the Digital Age? Diane Coyle (University of Cambridge), 29 October 2019

The Politics of Law & Economics, David Gindis (University of Hertfordshire) and Steven Medema (Duke University, USA), 12 November 2019 

Indebted: Student Finance, Social Speculation, and the Future of the US Family, Caitlin Zaloom (New York University), 14 October 2019


Conferences and Workshops

POSTPONED Are Social Sciences Special? Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, Conference 17-18 September 2020

Economists in the City: Reconsidering the History of Urban Policy Expertise, Blogged Conference, 11 May 2020 – 15 July 2020

Disaster Response: Knowledge Domains and  Information Flows,11 February 2020

When Does Explaining Become Explaining Away? Compassion, Justification and Exculpation in Social Research, 27 September 2019


Expert Bites Seminars

Expert Bites Seminar with Geoff Mulgan (UCL IRIS), 20 October 2020

Expert Bites Seminar with Alfred Moore (Politics, University of York), 28 November 2019

Expert Bites with Alice Vadrot (Political Science, University of Vienna), 21 June 2019

Expert Bites with Arsenii Khitrov (Sociology, Cambridge), 22 May 2019

Expert Bites with Elizabeth Anderson (Philosophy, University of Michigan), 15 May 2019

Expert Bites with Mike Hulme (Geography, Cambridge), 26 March 2019


Centre for Science and Policy Forum/ Expertise Under Pressure events

Centre for Science and Policy Forum: What is Progress? 23 November 2019

Centre for Science and Policy Forum: Summer Roundtable, 8 May 2019


Cléo Chassonnery-Zaïgouche, 'Economists Entered the ‘Number Games.The Early Reception of Wage Decomposition Methods in the U.S. Courtrooms (1971–1989)', Journal of the History of Economic Thought (2020)

Cléo Chassonnery-Zaïgouche, 'Introduction to Symposium: Economists in Courts', Journal of the History of Economic Thought, vol 42 issue 2, (June 2020), pp.199–202

Cléo Chassonnery-Zaïgouche, Beatrice Cherrier and John Singleton, ' ‘Out in the open’ controversy: Economists’ perspectives on the first gender reckoning in economics' in Shelly Lundberg (ed.), Women in Economics (CEPR, 2020)

Ramandeep Singh and Anna Alexandrova 'Happiness economics as technocracy', Behavioral Science and Policy, vol 4 (July 2020), pp.236–244

Federico Brandmayr, 'Public Epistemologies and Intellectual Interventions in Contemporary Italy', International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society (2019), pp. 1–22. (Open access).

Federico Brandmayr, book review of The Dark Side of Podemos? by Josh Booth and Patrick Baert, The Sociological Review (24 June 2019)