David Waltner-Toews et al
Guest Post for STEPS Centre
University Professor Emeritus in the Department of Population Medicine at the University of Guelph, Guelph (Canada)
In addressing pandemics, science has never seemed more needed and useful, while at the same time it appears limited and powerless. The existing contract between science and society is falling apart. A new covenant is urgently needed to navigate the days ahead.
On 19 May 1986, The Guardian published an essay entitled “Disasters bring the technological wizards to heel: Chernobyl, Challenger, and the Ch-Ch Syndrome”. At that time the authors, including two of the co-authors of this article, wrote that it was “no longer feasible for ruling elites to employ experts for persuading the public that their policies are beneficial, correct, inevitable, and safe. The Ch/Ch Syndrome amounts to a mortal blow at the scientistic foundation for the legitimacy of the modern mega-technological State. A new social contract of expertise is now taking shape.”
Not long after this, in 1993, Silvio Funtowicz and Jerry Ravetz published a landmark paper on what came to be called Post-Normal Science (PNS), a new understanding of science for situations “when facts are uncertain, stakes high, values in dispute and decisions urgent”. The perspective of PNS – neither value-free nor ethically neutral, is epistemological as well as practical and methodological.