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The Digital Scholar: Philosopher's Lab

Volume 3, Issue 1, 2020

Jennifer Shields
Pages 123-131

Do democracies need knOWLedge?

This paper serves to review the book Why Democracies Need Science, written by Harry Collins and Robert Evans. Of particular interest to this paper is the institution of The Owls, which Collins and Evans propose in their text. A theme which is present throughout the book, a theme which Collins and Evans seek to work through is that of post-truth; the first section of the paper will address the concept of post-truth. Next, the birds of science will be examined, in the second section; this is a classification system Collins and Evans develop, from a borrowed analogy from Richard Feynman. After examining the eagle scien-tists, the hawk scientific fundamentalists, and the vulture philosopher-apologists, attention will be paid to The Owls of science. The third section per-tains to The Owls. The Owls are an institution which Collins and Evans note and which includes social scientists and those with a rigorous under-standing of the social analysis of science [Collins, Evans, 2017, p. 78]. The role of The Owls is to serve to better advise politicians in a post-truth era. The purpose of this paper is to argue that the theorized institution of The Owls is an insufficient mechanism to deal with a post-truth era. After introducing The Owls, the fourth section of the paper considers the neutrality of an Owl, as a consensus does not guarantee truth or correctness. The fifth section then examines The Owls and democracy, as Collins and Evans do not specify the type of democracy in which The Owls would operate. The sixth section notes the exclusivity present within the institution of The Owls, as it is restricted to only two occupations, and is seemingly elitist. Finally, I conclude by asking the question – what does this mean for science and technology studies? As the institution of The Owls seems like an insufficient one to deal with a post-truth era.

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