Expertise & Democratic Politics

How should scientific expertise be integrated into democratic political life? Americans have wrestled with that dilemma since the early twentieth century, often relying on the alleged objectivity of scientific knowledge as a solution. If expertise is objective, in this view, it is also politically neutral, and thus experts can intervene in political debates and decisions without undermining democratic rule.

However, like much scholarship in science & technology studies, my work on economic statistics has shown that economic data cannot, and should not, be regarded as politically neutral.  At the same time, economic statistics (and scientific knowledge more generally) play a crucial role in constraining the abuse of political power and facilitating the modern administrative state. My current book project, Economic Statistics and the Challenge of Democratic Control, tries to find a path through this dilemma. A few preliminary items related to this project are below.

The summary of my NSF grant for the project can be found here.

“Price Indexes, Political Choice, and the Challenge of Democratic Control.” Paper for the 2015 meeting of the Ottawa Group, the International Working Group on Price Indices.
This essay offers a partial overview of the approach I will be taking in my book. A copy of the draft is available on request.

“Shaping Knowledge about American Labor: External Advising at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Twentieth Century.” Science in Context 23, no. 2 (June 2010): 187-220.
In this article, I examined the history of how the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has solicited broader public input over official statistics.