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 NEW INSTITUTE.
From left to right: Robert Doubleday, Anna Alexandrova, Emily So and Michael Kenny
- Dr Anna Alexandrova, Principal Investigator
- Professor Michael Kenny, Co-Investigator
- Dr Emily So, Co-Investigator
- Dr Robert Doubleday, Co-Investigator,
- Dr Hannah Baker Postdoctoral Research Associate
- Dr Federico Brandmayr, Postdoctoral Research Associate
- Dr Cléo Chassonnery-Zaïgouche, Postdoctoral Research Associate
- Katie Cohen, Research Assistant
- Una Yeung, Project Administrator
Conferences and Workshops
- Are Social Sciences Special? Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, 28-29 June 2022
- 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
The Politics of Economics Series
- Conversations on the Politics of Economics: Claims for Knowledge, Hybrid Workshop, 14 September 2022
- The Politics of Economics with Kath Weston, 3 March 2022
- The Politics of Economics with Melinda Cooper, 7 December 2021
- The Politics of Economics with Grieve Chelwa, 30 November 2021
- The Politics of Economics with Aditya Balasubramanian and Pedro Ramos Pinto, 13 July 2021
- The Politics of Economics with Isabella Weber, 3 June 2021
- The Politics of Economics: Systemic Discrimination and Neoliberal Capitalism, 27 April 2021
- The Politics of Economics with Quinn Slobodian, 6 April 2021
- The Politics of Economics in the time of Covid-19 with Gerardo Serra, 23 March 2021
- The Politics of Economics in the time of Covid-19 with Verena Halsmayer and Eric Hounshell, 23 February 2021
- 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
Expert Bites Seminars
- Expert Bites with Geoff Mulgan (UCL IRIS), 20 October 2020
- Expert Bites with Lisa Stampnitzky (Politics, University of Sheffield), 29 January 2020
- Expert Bites with Alfred Moore (Politics, University of York), 28 November 2019
- Expert Bites with Bill Byrne (Information Engineering, University of Cambridge), 7 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
Alexandrova, A., Northcott, R. & Wright, J., ‘Back to the big picture’, Journal of Economic Methodology (2021): pp. 1–6
Alexandrova, A., ‘Well-being and Pluralism’, Journal of Happiness Studies (2020): pp. 1–23.
Baker, H., Concannon, S, Meller, M et al ‘COVID-19 and science advice on the ‘Grand Stage’: the metadata and linguistic choices in a scientific advisory groups’ meeting minutes’, Humanit Soc Sci Commun 9, 465 (2022).
Baker, H., Concannon, S, So, E, ‘Information sharing practices during the COVID-19 pandemic: A case study about face masks’, PLOS ONE 17(5): e0268043 (2022).
Brandmayr, F., ‘Social science as apologia: Editor’s introduction’, European Journal of Social Theory (2021).
Brandmayr, F., ‘Explanations and excuses in French sociology’, European Journal of Social Theory (2021).
Brandmayr, F., ‘When Boundary Organisations Fail: Identifying Scientists and Civil Servants in L’Aquila Earthquake Trial’, Science as Culture (2020): pp. 1–24.
Brandmayr, F., Book review: ‘The Crisis of Expertise’, European Journal of Social Theory. doi:10.1177/1368431020910298, (2020).
Brandmayr, F., ‘Public Epistemologies and Intellectual Interventions in Contemporary Italy’, International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society (2019): pp. 1–22. (Open Access).
Brandmayr, F., Book review: The Dark Side of Podemos? by Josh Booth and Patrick Baert, The Sociological Review (24 June 2019).
Chassonnery- Zaïgouche, C., Forget, E., Singleton, JD, ‘Women and Economics: New Historical Perspectives’, History of Political Economy 54 (supplement) (2022).
Chassonnery- Zaïgouche, C., ‘Contested Values: Economic Expertise in the Comparable Worth Controversy, USA, 1979 –1989’, SSRN Electronic Journal (2022).
Chassonnery-Zaïgouche, C., & Vallois, N., ‘There Is Nothing Wrong About Being Money Grubbing!’ Milton Friedman’s Provocative “Capitalism and the Jews” in Context, 1972–1988, History of Political Economy, 53(2) (2021).
Chassonnery-Zaïgouche, C., ‘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 42 (2020): pp. 229–259.
Chassonnery-Zaïgouche, C., ‘Introduction to Symposium: Economists in Courts’, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, vol 42 issue 2, (June 2020): pp.199–202.
Chassonnery-Zaïgouche, C., Cherrier, B. and Singleton, J.,’ “Out in the open” controversy: economists’ perspectives on the first gender reckoning in economics’ in Shelly Lundberg (ed.), Women in Economics (CEPR, 2020).
Cohen, K. and Doubleday, R. (eds), Future Directions for Citizen Science and Public Policy (Centre for Science and Policy, 2021)
Shaw, J., Garling, O. and Kenny, M., Townscapes: Pride in Place (Bennett Institute for Public Policy, 2022)
Singh, R. and Alexandrova, A., ‘Happiness economics as technocracy’, Behavioral Science and Policy, 4 (July 2020): pp. 236–244.
Spence, R. and So, E., Why Do Buildings Collapse in Earthquakes?: Building for Safety in Seismic Areas, (Wiley-Blackwell, 2021)
Zhu, Y, Geis, C., and So, E., ‘Image super-resolution with dense-sampling residual channel-spatial attention networks for multi-temporal remote sensing image classification’, International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, 104 (2021).
Zhu, Y., Geis, C., So, E. and Jin, Y., ‘Multitemporal Relearning with Convolutional LSTM Models for Land Use Classification’, IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing, 14 (2021): 3251–3265.
Blogs and podcasts
1 December 2023, Expert Bites with Arsenii Khitrov
11 August 2023, Trusting the experts takes more than belief, Matt Bennett
15 July 2023, Independent SAGE and their continued quest for transparency, Hannah Baker
17 June 2023, Citizen science in a pandemic: a fleeting moment or new normal? Katie Cohen
9 June 2020, Mask or no mask? A look at UK’s policy over time, Emily So, Hannah Baker
14 May 2020, The SAGE we knew and the SAGE ‘everyone’ now knows and wants to scrutinise, Hannah Baker
14 May 2020, Workshop Report – Disaster response: knowledge domains and information flows, Rob Doubleday, Emily So, Hannah Baker
21 April 2020, Are the experts responsible for bad disaster response? Federico Brandmayr
16 April 2020, Reading Elizabeth Anderson in the time of COVID-19, Anna Alexandrova
29 January 2020, When does explaining become explaining away? A workshop summary, Federico Brandmayr
May – July 2022, Science, Policy and Climate Resilience , a series produced in partnership with the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP)
December 2021 – March 2022, Science advice and government, a series produced in partnership with the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP)
February 2022, Cambridge Conversations: Decisions, Politics, and Expertise, Anna Alexandrova, John Aston and Dennis Gruber
21 September 2021, Thoughtlines podcast | Anna Alexandrova – We are what we question