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21 Settembre 2022 at 09:50
I thank Professor Kershen for his positive consideration of my ideas. As an emeritus university teacher and researcher in law in the USA, maybe he is less than optimistic because politics is so polarized and conflictual in his homeland. I dare to be more hopeful, anticipating that a – very difficult – implementation of REDemo in any given country may lead to much more than a “marginal improvement” of democracy. Time will tell…
See in context
21 Settembre 2022 at 09:49
Drew L. Kershen
Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law Emeritus
University of Oklahoma, College of Law
Giovanni Molteni Tagliabue has written a provocative book about the use of scientific knowledge and expertise in democratic governance. He is deeply concerned that democratic governance (politics) presently either ignores science or distorts science for political ends. I share his concerns and read his book to learn his proposals for addressing these concerns.
I am impressed with the depth and thoughtfulness of his ideas. He argues persuasively and thoroughly about ways to improve the use of science in democratic decision-making. He made me think carefully about democracy. I think his ideas are worthy of careful attention and serious discussion.
Yet, I came away from his book unconvinced that democratic governance (politics) would be significantly improved in its use of science in decision-making. Even if his proposals were adopted in part or in whole, I worry that politics would capture the proposals and continue to ignore or to distort science for political ends. I suspect that politics is tougher and more devious than his proposals suggest.
At the same time, if his proposals were adopted, democratic decision-making might be marginally improved. And marginal improvement is still improvement. In that optimistic attitude, I reiterate that his book deserves careful attention and serious discussion.
5 Settembre 2022 at 14:03
Questo testo è stato sottoposto dall’ateneo pisano alla valutazione di stato condotta dall’ANVUR, ottenendo il risultato di cui discuto qui: https://qoto.org/web/statuses/108945632264361973
4 Settembre 2022 at 19:44
Professor Boyd is a former Chief Scientific Adviser at the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA): therefore, he has experienced the shortcomings of the current “Science Speaks to Power” paradigm, finding it hard to advance scientific information to support evidence-based options in the realm of democratic politics – and as a result “being frustrated” (personal communication).
While I welcome his constructive comments, may I just clarify some points:
– In my view, the chamber(s) of elected public experts would not only “scrutinize” governments (the executive branch), but would actually appoint a number of ministers; this is a problematic and admittedly underdeveloped issue in my book, because the institutional arrangements would need to vary in different democratic settings, above all in presidential vs. parliamentary democracies.
– The problem of how to contain the possible Schumpeterian slippery slopes of elected experts, i.e. to avoid “the scientific legislative chamber becoming just as political as the party political chamber” is a major one. I do not believe that “scientists are not like other people”, but I hope that a careful design of the renewed framework (“a highly rules-based system”) may let some positive aspects of the scientific mentality emerge in the process of law-making and governing (the Rationalization of democracy). I invite my acute commentator to imagine how incisive his action could have been if he, instead of being just a (scarcely listened to) adviser, had been a genuine in-power player: I imagine that Professor Boyd would agree that his proposals could have had a much higher chance of influencing laws and regulations – being fully legitimized by voters’ authorization, much more than the aforementioned appointed members of upper chambers. In this sense, the important problem of the political education of citizens – who, let us keep in mind, have every right to be rationally ignorant in Downsian terms – is secondary: voters would be offered more science-based policy options than in the exclusively party-political system democracies have now. In other words, I propose an institutional jump beyond the unhappy condition of scientific advisers as “honest brokers” of evidence at the service of politics – an epithet my commentator is so uneasy with.
– I concur that we need to avoid “creating a new echo chamber for scientists”: I have offered some suggestions on how to maintain a high level of accountability for public experts who are candidates and are elected, mostly by looking at the necessarily broad setting out of personal programmes and the ongoing process of their implementation as policies.
4 Settembre 2022 at 09:18
Dr. Deborah Piovan is an agronomist with significant entrepreneurial and managerial experience in the agri-food sector, about which she has published several articles and held lectures, also regarding Italian and European legislation and policies.
I share her opinion about the positive role that the media, and societal subjects at large, can play in the push for more evidence-based politics – this is an important part of the “extension” of democracy in the REDemo project.
I would like to point out the following:
1. It is true that we have examples of experts who pander to certain anti-scientific orientations of public opinion in order to gain visibility, sacrificing the necessary rigor in treating the available evidence. In my text I have dubbed them “fringe” scientists, and I have offered some clues on how to defuse their detrimental influence (see II.20. A big challenge for public experts).
2. “Making ex ante evaluations on policies compulsory”: I suppose that this means at least two aspects: a. careful assessment of the expenses which are implied in proposed actions and choices (too often, politicians – above all when candidates – make wild promises without considering the financial side of their demagogic outbursts); b. mandatory impact assessment of proposed laws and regulations, in relation to their expected effects (e.g. social, economic, environmental). I concur with all this.
2 Settembre 2022 at 09:52
The author deconstructs the rationale and processes of democracy to expose many of its weaknesses, or its “defective framework”. He sees it as holding many of the vices of a Machiavellian-Schumpeterian view of the world where, broadly, politics is seen as a competition between those within the political classes rather than a representation of the balance of public opinion or a process for achieving a broad consensus. He suggests this problem needs to be addressed.
While this is a critique of democracy it is not an endorsements of anti-democratic arguments. Rather, it is concerned about strengthening democratic deliberation. Arguably, democratic processes which ignore scientific information are in danger of creating injustice, simply because there is a greater probability that decisions based on scientific knowledge are likely to be robust to future natural challenges. The book attempts to resolve the conceptual and practical separation of science from democracy. The political science needed to engineer a new system of justice in democracy is certainly an important area for consideration.
I welcome the analysis in this book, its perspective and suggestions. It is a much-needed analysis of a subject which attracts too much comment and analysis which is broadly superficial and normative rather than transformative. The author’s approach is thorough and intellectually-grounded. The question of how we bring rationalism and objective reasoning to bear on an increasingly subjectively-focused process of governance within national democracies is profound.
The author proposes a new way of looking at this problem by implementing something he calls REDemo (Rationalized and Extended Democracy). In grounded and practical terms, this involves creating a system involving a second (or even third) elected chamber to be populated by scientists who would offer a legislative process (and presumably scrutiny of the executive) which creates a strand of legislation built around scientific knowledge and principles. This book is certainly an important contribution to thinking and the author carefully builds the arguments in favor of his proposals – such as whether election to such a chamber is compatible with pursuing a career in science. In this model, scientists would not be members of political parties but would be elected according to an algorithm which ensures different disciplines were represented within the legislative assembly.
While the case for such a structure is strongly made, I suggest its wise to be careful what one might wish for. There is an assumption deeply embedded in the author’s thesis that scientists are not like other people; that in the right circumstances they will behave differently and the party factions which exist in normal politics would not re-appear in a different form within the scientific assembly – for example, ‘group think’ and tribalism develop quickly within supposed independent scientific assemblies even to the extent that individuals start to follow social rather than purely objective reasoning in their deliberations. Kuhn’s perception of how science work was largely built around this kind of social construct within science. I can see this happening in any scientific assembly just because it is formed of people. In other words, what is to stop the scientific legislative chamber becoming just as political as the party political chamber?
The great paradox of what is being proposed is that, by being put up for election, scientists would themselves be accountable to people who have little understanding of the issues at hand. Choices about whom to elect then boil down to subjective preference for different personalities and we, unfortunately, converge back on the same old Schumpeterian problem. It may be possible to counter this through informed design of the electoral process and, as the author suggests, have a supervised process of nomination, much as one might say happens for expert members of the upper chambers of some bicameral systems.
However, at the center of this is really the unrealistic expectation that scientists are the “honest brokers” who bring rationality and objectivity to bear on arguments which sit mainly in the, presumably ‘dishonest’, domain of subjective public discourse. [ As an aside the “honest broker” terminology is really unfortunate and quite revealing about how some sociologists of science see scientists. The fact that some scientists have latched on to this kind of epithet of themselves also shows that it is due for a strong debunking.] Arguably the main things which keeps science honest is their isolation from the polluting influence of social norms. We know that as soon as scientists are put in to the same circumstances as other people then they behave pretty much as other people do. It takes a highly rules-based system to stop this happening.
The authors’ thesis and suggested remedy is tremendous food for thought and debate. We need this kind of provocative suggestion. Any weaknesses of his model identified at this stage will make the remedy better in the long run. Science is advancing at such a pace that there is a huge danger of a massive rift within society between those who hold the rising power of scientific capability – doubtless mainly within large international corporates – and those who are being subjugated by this power. We have very inadequate processes for debating about how to regulate this power.
The author is right that if democracy is not to give way to a science-powered autocracy (which it may already have done in many ways), or even oligarchy, it needs much better processes than are currently in place to incorporate appropriate scientific knowledge in to Madisonian democratic systems. Scientists themselves are poorly adapted to involving themselves in these systems because they have few incentives to participate. Their participation is broadly based on mechanisms which act as gatekeepers to control access to the political and policy echo chambers. This can work to some extent – keeping scientists separate keeps them “honest”, or objective, but it also makes them less relevant and more prone to subjugation because access is contingent on the will of those already inside the echo chambers. Whether creating a new echo chamber for scientists themselves is the right answer is debatable but it is one potential answer.
Scientists themselves are also the subject of exploitative practices. Their creativity is largely focused on doing good things but when their innovations are soaked up and turned in to products by market mechanisms there is precious little consideration of whether the outcome actually stands up to ethical scrutiny. Scientists are, arguably, as much slaves of a form of destructive capitalism as most other citizens. Scientists therefore need to have more control over the ultimate use of their own inventions and the author’s suggestion is an indication of one way this could be achieved.
University of St Andrews
1 Settembre 2022 at 11:38
A scientific approach on the political decision-making process is urgent and useful. How to do that is the “rub”. Considering that politicians tend to follow, not to lead, I suggest involving society at large in the making of the REDemo strategy. Changes happen when society presses its leaders. Also, involving media is crucial: only when an evidence-based approach pays (be it in politics or in media communication) it will be implemented; favoring a pre-airing pr pre-printing fact-checking on TV and press, making it desirable to viewers and readers, could be key.
An assembly of scientists democratically elected and democratically making decisions is subject to the same issues of democracy itself: you are planning ways to contain the search for consensus, but this remains a crucial aspect of decision making, by definition.
To conclude, appointing or electing scientists is a good way to find evidence-based solutions, but is by no means a guarantee to be able to do that. We have experience of scholars, and not few, come to that, that bend their opinions and policy suggestions to the whims of politicians or of society, a society whose wishes are often forged by marketing and by fearmongerers, politicians who tend to give society what is easy to give in the short period.
Including social, inter-generational and environmental (climatic, too) responsibility in national constitutions might help. Making ex ante evaluations on policies compulsory might help.
To conclude, very interesting considerations, I read them with great interest.
31 Agosto 2022 at 12:49
Comments on the REDemo project – “Rationalized and Extended Democracy”: Inserting public scientists into the legislative/executive framework, reinforcing citizens’ participation, by Giovanni Molteni Tagliabue
1. Starting point: the rationalisation of the legitimacy crisis besetting liberal democracies at present. Framing the problem: liberal democracies are affected by a competence deficit; it is such a competence deficit that causes the legitimacy crisis observed the world over; this competence deficit is not due to the liberal component of the compound term, but to the democratic component. The steps that lead to this conclusion are:
a) various rational choice accounts of the democratic game are used to explain the pitfalls of actually existing representative governments. The main literature used mainly refers to the American model of representative government, but it is generalised to any other form of representative government despite their differences. Furthermore, the democratic game is not decomposed in its constitutive subgames, nor is it investigated the way in which those subgames interact among themselves.
b) the pitfalls of representative government are sometime attributed to the behavioural traits of the political players, and sometime to the institutional setting (rules) wherein the game is played. No clear causal relation is established between these two sources of failure, nor is it explained the way in which the two interact. Also, the same type of strategic behaviour is equally attributed to individuals actors (politicians) and collective entities (political parties) without paying attention to possible inconsistencies between the two.
c) although scientists have always operated as policy advisers and often as legislators as well, they are given no agency, and turned into the puppets of politicians. This misrepresents the relationship established by political actors, state institutions and epistemic communities in the xxth century, especially in the US. The critical literature on the cold war and big science, the military-industrial-academic complex, and the development of the Keynesian and neoliberal consensus politics supply ample evidence that academic and scientists are far from being mere puppets.
1.1. Assessment of the proposed rationalisation: I’m not convinced that the framing of the problem is right. I don’t think the connection between competence deficit and legitimacy crisis is at all proved. I couldn’t find in the work a convincing account of the alleged causal link between the two elements. Alternative narratives based on the unresponsiveness of representative government to the demos are, in my opinion, far more convincing. These narratives do not depend on the idea of a competence deficit of legislators, but on the structural disconnection between representatives and represented produced by the type of electoral democracy engendered since the end of second world war. Against the claim of the author, this minimalist understanding of democracy as electoral competition between elites was due to liberal demophobias and constitutional attempts to impose external side-constraints on democratic practices. That is, the liberal values and principles the author wants to preserve. I come back on this later.
2. solution to the legitimacy crisis: elective wise-guys legislative chambers made up of professional experts. In bicameral systems like the Italian, this would entail reserving the senate to candidates working in public scientific institutions like universities and CNR. Those elected will serve two-terms only, and have the same legislative power granted to the senate at present. This solution would represent, according to the author, a deepening of democracy. The reasoning process leading to this solution develops as follows:
a) liberal constitutional essentials (absolute and exclusive individual rights, functional separation of powers, and the rule of law) represent exogenous elements that need to be preserved. For the author, it is impossible to conceive of a non liberal form of democracy; any democracy lacking one of those elements will be ipso facto illiberal. This also means to a very large extent preserving the minimal conception of democracy (MCD) as an electoral method for selecting the ruling elite. Electoral mechanisms are thus to be used to select and empower experts, replacing the current system of meritocratic appointments. Direct participation of the people is possible, but it has to be reactive and unobtrusive: as a tie-breaker whenever a stalemate between the two legislative chambers is reached; as a right to petition parliament by submitting popular bills.
b) liberal constitutional principles and values supply the standards and criteria of validity political actors have to take into consideration when engaged in decision making and policy making. The validity of laws and policies is instrumental in nature, and concerned with gauging how well they engender the values and principles established at the constitutional level. Democratic politics is to be seen as an imperfect procedure dealing with regulative, rather than constitutive, issues. The constitution is conceived as an original event, rather than a process, and represents the unquestionable source of legitimacy. Constitutional essentials are grounded on procedure-independent processes of discovery unearthing what are the fundamental values and principles democratic institutions have to abide by. Moreover, unlike politicians who are biased and untrustworthy, both the discovery process and the subsequent interpretation of constitutional essentials ought to be reserved to professional experts – those who have the right competence to find out the best means to reach given ends.
c) At the postconstitutional level, professional experts need to be empowered by making them elective figures. Their direct general election is supposed to replace the system of meritocratic appointment-cum-delegation of policy-making power used at present. This form of empowerment is supposed to counter the tendency to by-pass expert advise by politicians whenever it does not not fit with their political orientation, or run against the lobbying pressures of organised interests. A two term limit is imposed to avoid expertise capture by organised interests. As for the election of politicians, the one of the wise-guys is supposed to combine a formal ex-ante form of authorisation with substantive ex-post type of accountability, even if the imposition of a two term limit reduces the deterrent effect of the latter. The election of professional experts to the wise-guys chamber of the legislative means, finally, that they can be called to assume ministerial responsibility without using the doubtful tactics used recently by the Italian presidents of the Republic to appoint Mario Monti and Mario Draghi.
2.1. Assessment of the proposed solution: it rests on many problematic claims, hidden assumptions, and unanswered questions. Starting from the latter, I could not find a clear justification of the liberal constitutional essentials (absolute and exclusive individual rights, functional separation of powers, and the rule of law) the author wants to defend. How are they arrive at, by whom and in what way? None of them seems to me above critique. In fact, different liberal schools advance conflicting claims in relation to all of them. This means that they are not self-explanatory either, and that their substantive content requires authoritative interpretation. American constitutionalism is a case in point. By and large, conservatives propose an originalist approach concerned with the real intentions of the framers, while progressives wish to update old ideas and make the constitution more consequential. Such a conflict cannot be resolved by the solution proposed. Moreover, conflicts between (i) legitimate rights holders, (ii) independent state powers, and (iii) opposite conceptions (formal and substantive) of the rule of law are similarly difficult to be resolved in this way. At bottom, all of them rest on political disagreements that defy technical reasoning. They are not only value-laden, but are based on ideals of the self and society people want to engender – ideals that cannot be dismissed on feasibility ground. In short, liberal constitutional essentials cannot be taken for granted without begging the question. If the standards and criteria of validity embodied by our constitutions are the object of reasonable critique and require qualified interpretation, it is then very controversial to see how the proposed imperfect procedural approach can work at the postconstitutional level.
The author concedes that there are always multiple feasible answers to policy questions, and that correctness theories are not suitable to dealing with political problems. This raise the question concerning the rationale of a wise-guys branch of the legislative. If professional expertise cannot supply right answers, what is the role of the latter? The political branch of the legislative is ostensibly supposed to represent the needs, interests and aspirations of their constituencies. Who or what is the wise-guys body supposed to represent? Political decisions and policy making entail two things: expressing evaluative judgments, rather than facts-based assessments, and dealing with the trade-offs entailed by policy-making. To carry out those activities properly professional expertise is not needed. In fact, professional experts represent one constituency among many others with its specific needs, preferences and desires. Attributing to this constituency legislative and executive powers would therefore reinforce the current biases of electoral democratic systems. In short, academics scientists and professional experts belong to the same professional managerial class that is dominating legislative and executive bodies the world over, and cannot, as a result, offset the biases generated by electoral dynamics.
Such a structural inability to empathise and figure out what other constituencies would choose if they were asked directly cannot be bridged by any of the virtues the author attributes to scientists and professional experts: benevolence, selflessness, foresight, enlarged time-horizon. Besides, what is the evidence that lead the author to attribute those virtues to professional experts? To my knowledge there is no study that show the existence of a distinctive set of behavioural traits among academics vis-a-vis that of politicians. There is instead ample evidence that show remarkable similarities between the institutional settings in which academics and politicians operate. My personal experience and research in academic governance suggest that, once all differences are taken into account, academia is perhaps more dysfunctional than the political realm. This is perhaps the reason why the author wants to restrict the selection process to those working in public institutions. Note however that the term public is in this context quite ambiguous. It can mean either of two things: public as opposed to private enterprises, or as opposed to for-profit organisations. In both cases, the identification of the institutional pool from which to select the candidates for the wise-guys chamber is problematic. If we accept the notion of public as opposed to private, we should exclude a large spectrum of academic and research institutions cultivating professional expertise. The US is a clear instance. No less problematic is to use the notion of public as synonym for non-for-profit to exclude all for-profit organisations. Thanks to thirty years of relentless neoliberal reforms, all non-for-profit organisations (public institutions included) operate now de facto according to a for-profit logic, universities above all. Likewise can be said about the two-term limit: if it is an effective deterrent against regulatory capture, it can work without introducing a wise-guys elective chamber; if it has detrimental effect on accountability, as imputed by liberal critics, it would not improve upon the current system of appointments.
3. Further remarks on elections, meritocracy and accountability. Representative government and academic governance mirror each other far too much to use the second as a counterbalance to the first. Moreover, both employ the same blend of electoral and appointment practices to select their personnel, and show remarkably similar defect in engendering meritocracy and accountability.
a) academic governance has been the object of far too many inquiries and studies showing that it has similar defects to those attributed to representative government. Traditional forms of collegiality which attributed full decision-making power to the dons were blamed for failing to engender meritocratic forms of selection, and for taking into due accounts the need of all other stakeholders, students above all. Under the pressure exercised by the 1960s protest movements seeking to democratise them, restricted forms of electoral democracy were eventually introduced into public universities. They notably failed to redress any of the previous problems, or to improve the accountability of the electoral elites who acquired regulatory power as result. In fact, the conflict of the faculties ended up producing the kind of factionalism that is pervasive in the political realm. It is because of those dysfunctionalities that neoliberals have successfully managed to reform the system by using managerial techniques imported from the corporate world. As a result, we have now a new class of university managers made up of second rate, bilingual academics and professional administrators running the show who are not accountable to anybody. If academics and scientists have repeated failed to counter neoliberal market rhetoric and reforms, thus setting their own affairs in order, how can they be trusted to redress the defects of actually existing representative institutions?
b) the rise and fall of the research university shows the entanglement between political and scientific activities, as well as the propensity of academic and scientists to collude with their mecenati. Big science, big government and big corporations represent a power block that is using similar logics of action, and supporting each other at critical junctures. They all vie to appropriate the product of human endeavour in its various form, and then claim an exclusive intellectual and economic entitlement to it. When their activities end up producing large scale social bads, they use the resources at their disposal to shift the blame on others or engage in denial & delays tactics aimed to avoid accountability. Within the scientific realm, those who refuse to conform to the logic of big science are pushed to the margins of academia, and cut off from the main funding streams. Big science is dominated by epistemic communities which are permanently engaged in redefining what counts as science or scientific evidence in ways that suit their own ends. They are also committed to making scientific activities policy-relevant by blunting their critical edge. Thus, public debates systematically end up producing stark binary choices, while appeals to complexity are employed to shift responsibility away when those choices yield widespread negative side-effects. All social and environmental problems we face today have been generated by big science’s commitment and personal contribution to endless economic growth. Empowering professional experts through the electoral mechanism would likely increase the bargaining power of big science and of the epistemic communities dominating it. It is a dangerous illusion to think that this bargaining power will be used to redress current imbalances, and engender the common good.
c) The link between elections and democracy is highly contentious, if not self-serving. It is at the core of the MCD, and its aims were originally related to cold war ideological imperatives. The MCD was conceived during the behavioural revolution in American political science by Schumpeter and Dahl using questionable behavioural assumptions, and stark binary distinctions. According to its proponents, the politics of the ballot-box had the power to solve both the problem of formal ex-ante authorisation, and substantive ex-post accountability without involving the demos in decision and policy making. This justification was strongly supported by the so-called empirical theorists of democracy, who also affirmed that the MCD was the most effective form of government. Historical evidence showed them wrong. For the outcome of welfare policies was widespread discontent among the very social strata that were supposed to be the main beneficiaries of endless growth and modernisation policies – working and middle classes. Following the demise of the Keynesian consensus politics in the 1970s, this same empirical approach to democracy was used in the service of the neoliberal cause. Another bunch of stark binary distinctions based on the same questionable behavioural assumptions was employed in support of global developmental strategies. Since the 2008 global financial crisis, the neoliberal consensus politics has been confronting a legitimacy crisis even more severe than the one experienced in the 1970s. In its wake, a new generation of empirical theorists of democracy has emerged suggesting an institutional makeover aimed to preserve the essence of the MCD. The author of the REDemo project wants to join this group evidently, and is keen to repropose the electoral method to fill an alleged competence deficit. By now it should be evident to all and sundry that electoral solutions of this type have failed to deliver in the past and are not going to do so in the future. At best, electoral empowerment would supply a temporary respite to the epistemic communities dominating big science, who on their part are experiencing their own legitimation crisis.
30 Giugno 2022 at 11:59
Thanks to Dr. Bertioli, a Canadiam plant geneticist who works on the creation/breeding of improved cultivars. Since he is involved in regulatory matters regarding agri-food biotechnologies, I would appreciate a further comment from him: does he think that a renewed institutional framework of the kind I have outlined would help legislation and governmental action to be better science-informed? (By the way, it is worth noting that Canada is one of the few – if not the only – jurisdiction in the world in which agri-food regulation follows some basic scientific principles.)
23 Giugno 2022 at 00:44
Science, or as it used to be called, Natural Philosophy, has become divorced from Philosophy. The result is that modern Science, although incredibly powerful in discovering details of the natural world, is woefully inept in whole philosophical fields, such as ethics and political philosophy.
What a delight to see this book from Prof. Giovanni Tagliabue! It lays out so much, so clearly, and makes thought-provoking proposals to overcome the limitations of our current political systems.