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Comments by Commenter

  • Andrea Saltelli

    • Ottimo lavoro, ricca bibliografia, argomenti molto condivisibili. Suggerisco aggiungere alle fonti Nick Couldry per il data colonialism eJack Stilgoe quando si parla di self driving car. Magari Louise Amoore perl’ AI ethics. Ma il testo si regge anche bene senza questi.

  • avetro

    • About the funding of AI ethics by Big Tech in first line of introduction (I could no t comment directly there for some technical reason), you might take into account that the phenomenon of “corporate capture” is particularly prominent in the whole ML/AI research. For example, it has been reported that 58% of the affiliations of the authors of the most cited papers in two prestigious ML conferences come from big tech,
      to which should be added 28% from other companies, for a total of 86%, which is indicative of who dictates directions (See https://arxiv.org/abs/2106.15590 ) . Another similar fact is reported in”Redesigning AI” (Mit Press, 2021) : “A handful of tech giants, all focused on algorithmic automation—Google (Alphabet), Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, Ali Baba, and Baidu—account for the majority of money spent on AI research. (According to a recent McKinsey report, they are responsible for about $20 to $30 billion of the $26 to $39 billion in total private AI investment expenditures worldwide.)”

    • A comment on the capability to make predictions about human behaviour uniquely using past data. This data and technology driven inductive approach have bee pushed since the 2000’s (see for example the discussion around the article of Chris Anderson about the end of theory
      http://www.wired.com/2008/06/pb-theory/ ): at that time the term “AI” was not in the hype yet, and the term “Big Data” was prevailing. The “magic” of the Google Flu algorithm was among the best cases of that new approach, although quickly contested by scientists as enough data showed its failure. An interesting critic about this naif inductive appraoch is provided in
      “Predicting the future from the past: An old problem from a modern perspective
      Cecconi, F. and Cencini, M. and Falcioni, M. and Vulpiani, A., American Journal of Physics, 80, 1001-1008 (2012),DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.4746070

  • Brunella Casalini

    • Nell’umanità, però, l’operare dello spirito può progredire solo in quanto co-operare, ovvero quando il successo dell’attività dell’uno non supplisce semplicemente a ciò che manca all’altro, ma ingenera in lui entusiasmo, così da far venire alla luce quella forza universale e originaria che s’irradia negli individui solo in modo particolare o derivato. Per questo motivo, l’organizzazione interna di questi istituti deve creare e conservare una cooperazione ininterrotta…

       

  • Cleonice Tenore

  • Daniela Tafani

  • davidbertioli

  • deborah piovan

    • 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.

  • Fabio Mazzocchio

    • Il contributo risulta molto chiaro nell’esposizione e coerente nell’organizzazione tematica. Puntuali i riferimenti teorici e bibliografici. Interessante sul piano ermeneutico ed esplicativo il confronto che l’autore propone tra il paradigma politico-filosofico antico e quello moderno. Condivisibile la tesi circa il carattere “impolitico” della Modernità, alla luce della teoria politica classica (e della successiva scissione tra antropologia ed etica che si consuma a partire dalle riflessioni dei padri della modernità politica). Su tale sfondo, l’articolo ben illustra l’opposizione tra realtà e costruzione ideologica in riferimento alla categoria di Popolo e ai tentativi di fondazione “dal basso” dello spazio politico senza “sostegno ontologico”.   

  • Francesco Scotognella

    • Ringrazio la professoressa Maria Chiara Pievatolo per il prezioso commento.
      Nonostante il numero di casi riportati in questo lavoro sia esiguo, tali casi evidenziano che il mutuo appoggio tra scienziati non è un residuo del passato. Shechtman scrive il suo fondamentale lavoro sui quasicristalli negli anni ottanta, mentre Baessler scrive il suo lavoro sul trasporto nei semiconduttori organici negli anni novanta. Si può aggiungere l’esempio più recente, datato 2017, della pubblicazione di Gabriele D’Avino e coautori confutante una teoria sulla ferroelettricità proposta dal premio Nobel James Fraser Stoddart [1,2].
      Anche Perelman, con la sua soluzione alla congettura di Poincarè, può essere considerato un parresiasta che, al posto di cercare un consenso nel collettivo di pensiero, carica i suoi tre lavori su arXiv. Altri matematici, studiando pazientemente i suoi lavori, gli daranno ragione.
      Se si facesse un’analisi sul rapporto tra lavori scientifici “parresiastici” e totale delle pubblicazioni scientifiche, si troverebbe un numero molto vicino allo zero. Nondimeno, tali esempi fanno ben sperare circa la sopravvivenza di questa modalità di comunicare la scienza.
      Difatti, la proposta di Pievatolo di considerare il mutuo appoggio tra scienziati un ethos tra i tanti possibili è più che ragionevole. La stragrande maggioranza della ricerca accademica è schiacciata dai collettivi di pensiero. Ma, se da un lato, l’omogeneizzazione delle argomentazioni e il rapido susseguirsi delle mode, descritte brillantemente da Lucio Russo, sono innegabili, va tuttavia sottolineato che, nell’abbondare di modalità per esporre la propria teoria o modello (abbondanza di archivi e riviste), il parresiasta ha strumenti per essere ascoltato dalla comunità scientifica.
      Tenendo conto della crisi della comunicazione scientifica giustamente menzionata da Pievatolo, che richiama quanto scritto da Shawn Cunningham e John Ziman, il mutuo appoggio al parresiasta può funzionare al meglio nella modalità di accessibilità totale ai risultati scientifici.

      [1] G. D’Avino, M. Souto, M. Masino, J.K.H. Fischer, I. Ratera, X. Fontrodona, G. Giovannetti, M.J. Verstraete, A. Painelli, P. Lunkenheimer, J. Veciana, A. Girlando, Conflicting evidence for ferroelectricity, Nature. 547 (2017) E9–E10. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature22801.

      [2] “‘Quei calcoli erano sbagliati’”, ricercatore italiano svela l’errore del Nobel per la Chimica Stoddart, la Repubblica. (2017). https://www.repubblica.it/scienze/2017/07/26/news/_quei_calcoli_erano_sbagliati_ricercatore_italiano_svela_l_errore_del_nobel_per_la_chimica-171690576/ (accessed November 23, 2021).

    • Ringrazio il dottor Vincenzo Aglieri per questo commento pertinente e acuto.
      Mi scuso per non avere sottolineato abbastanza in questo lavoro il mio intento di postare l’accento dal pluralismo metodologico di Feyerabend, dove ogni modello è accettabile basta che funzioni (quindi una sorta di anarchia metodologica), alla descrizione di una comunità scientifica anarchica, in quanto non democratica (uno scienziato non cerca la maggioranza dei consensi con la sua teoria) e non autoritaria [1].
      La visione di una comunità scientifica composta di scienziati che sono costretti a trovare, e valutare, la teoria migliore è suggestiva. Infatti, il mutuo appoggio può essere visto come solidarietà tra scienziati, ma anche come un processo molto efficace nel metodo scientifico, che permette di verificare nel modo più rapido la validità di una teoria. Ma questo si vede a posteriori: dopo le verifiche della comunità scientifica si affermerà la teoria del parresiasta. Prima e durante la sfida tra parresiasta e autorità, l’influenza del collettivo di pensiero, di cui l’autorità è parte, ostacolerà l’affermarsi della teoria più efficace. Si pensi alle fatiche di Ignaz Semmelweis durante tutta la sua vita.

      [1] F. Scotognella, Scientist As Parrhesiastes, European Scientific Journal, ESJ. 17 (2021) 1–1. https://doi.org/10.19044/esj.2021.v17n25p1.

  • Gian Francesco Esposito

  • Giovanni Molteni Tagliabue

    • Professor French’s comment is particularly valuable, owing to his dual experience as an academic and an elected official (former Member of the National Assembly as well as Minister of Communications in Quebec), therefore being well placed to make observations on my hypothesis of “professors on politics”, to paraphrase the title of an interesting article by Professor French himself (see in the References). His kindly expressed scepticism is welcome.
      But a basic misunderstanding regarding my imagined institutional framework must be corrected: in my view, academics who stand to be elected in the National Scientific Assembly (or similar bodies at more restricted geographical levels) are NOT elected “by their peers”, but by the general electorate (universal suffrage) – as traditional party politicians would still be in the parallel legislative chambers and bodies. Otherwise, it would be a half-epistocracy: an arrangement which is actually proposed by other authors; I reject it on the grounds that it would be a betrayal of a basic democratic principle.
      Furthermore, I am not so blindly optimistic to believe that elected scientists would be “immune to the many pathologies of democratic representation”; but I argue that they would have incentives and motivations which can be in good part different (aiming more at the common good) from those which guide the dynamics of party politicians. I understand that I should stress this point more in the amended/enriched version of my text, which will follow the collection of reviewers’ comments.

    • Thanks for the comment to Professor Vibert, who is an expert in the field of unelected policymakers i.e. non-majoritarian institutions such as independent authorities.

    • 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.)

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • Drew L. Kershen
      Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law Emeritus
      University of Oklahoma, College of Law
      dkershen@ou.edu
      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.

    • 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…

    • Comments by Dr.ir. Gijs Kleter, 25 September 2022
      Wageningen Food Safety Research, part of Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands
      gijs.kleter@wur.nl
      Summary: I’d suggest to replace “preliminary warning” with a more formal term such as “disclaimer” or “caveat”
      Section I.1.3: Perhaps some attention can be paid to the recent developments regarding “new genomic techniques” applied to crops, in particularly gene editing resulting in small mutations (“targeted mutagenesis”, such as with CRISPR Cas9) and cisgenesis (genetic transformation with genes from the same or crossable plant species). The European Commission has acknowledged that current GMO legislation is not adequate for tackling these new developments and will come up with proposals for legislative amendments in spring 2023. Various countries, such as the USDA’s secure ruling (USA), Argentina, Australia, Canada, and Japan, have already established policies regarding these techniques, in some cases exempting them from pre-market approval procedures based on their similarity with conventional breeding practices. Perhaps also to note that GMO legislation is based on precaution rather than any known risks inherent to the technology of genetic modification (as opposed to, e.g., other environmental and food hazards, such as pathogens, toxic chemicals, allergens, etc.
      Section I.1.4: editorial: replace “EPBM” with “EBPM” (NB the abbreviation is provided here but defined once again in section II.4.2)
      Section II.1 and II.15.2.: I guess one could make a distinction here between nations where any change in political leadership will have its bearings on the staffing of key positions within governmental bodies (such as the chief executive of an agency, for example in the USA, etc.) whereas in other countries, public servants are essentially free from such influences (such as in The Netherlands), where the same chief public servants will hold their position regardless of who will be appointed as their minister.
      Section II.15.2: Perhaps relevant to note here that even “independent institutions” may be subject to political forces. Take for instance the European Food Safety Authority, established as per the General Food Law (Regulation [EU] No. 178/2002) so as to disentangle scientific risk advice from policy and centralize it at community level: As the Europarliament decides on its budget, several parliamentarians (apparently disgruntled over EFSA’s positive statements on GMOs and glyphosate) successfully managed to withhold its annual budget at some instances on the grounds of perceived bad management of conflicting interests amongst its scientific Panel experts (e.g., MEPs block budget approval for three EU agencies, EU Council – EU monitor; European Parliament demands stricter regulation of conflicts of interest at EFSA (gmwatch.org)).

    • As an academic expert in agri-food biotechnology regulation, Dr. Kleter is acutely aware of the frequent detachment of laws and governmental actions from consolidated scientific assessments. I reply point-by-point to his brief but thoughtful comments.
      Summary: I have replaced “preliminary warning” with “preliminary caveat”.
      Section I.1.3: While I share almost completely the commentator’s opinion, I think that his remarks are too specialised to be included in my book, in which I briefly discuss the “GMO” blunder just to give an example of a composite powerful lobby (a bunch of so-called “green” groups – quite a dubious label) which is different from those normally considered by the public and the press, i.e. economic-financial-industrial powerhouses. Just for the record, I point out here that the European Commission (some members of it) and many scientific societies, which would like to amend the EU laws in the field of agronomy and related genomics, should not define the current regulation as “precautionary”, because it is falsely based on a strongly distorted interpretation of the Precautionary Principle (see Tagliabue 2016, The Precautionary principle: Its misunderstandings and misuses in relation to “GMOs”).
      Section I.1.4: I have replaced the wrong acronym.
      Section II.1 and II.15.2.: I will take advantage of the comment, clarifying this point in the book.
      Section II.15.2: The problem with the European Food Safety Authority, whose scientific work is impressive, is just what Kleter has explained: its high-level Panels are composed of the best experts in their fields, but the scope of the EFSA is confined to risk assessment, while risk management (the actual laws and regulations) is completely political: decision-makers and ministers can proceed ignoring the EFSA’s science-based studies and reports – and they happily do so on most occasions. In this sense, the EFSA is just a half-independent agency: other authorities/commissions, in various areas and countries, share the same sad destiny which is the predicament of the Science Speaks to Power paradigm; others are more fortunate, being able to actually regulate their fields, taking advantage of scientific information – more or less unharmed by politicking on the part of parliaments and governments. The aim of REDemo is to design a possible quantum leap as regards the use of science in politics/policies.

  • Ian Boyd

    • 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.

      Ian Boyd
      University of St Andrews

  • John Christian Laursen

  • Maria Chiara Pievatolo

  • nino palumbo

    • Comments on the REDemo project – “Rationalized and Extended Democracy”: Inserting public scientists into the legislative/executive framework, reinforcing citizens’ participation, by Giovanni Molteni Tagliabue

      Antonino Palumbo
      August 2022

      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.

  • Richard French

    • Giovanni Tagliabue thinks democracy is broken and there is lots of evidence that he has a point. He also thinks that science – or rather, scientists – can fix it without discarding the legitimacy which the popular vote confers. The mechanism is to be a bicameral system, one chamber of which, if I am not mistaken, will look more or less like our current legislatures, and the other of which will be composed of scientists and academics, elected by their peers. Legislation would require reconciliation between the two chambers; if the differences turn out to be insuperable, the people would choose in a referendum.
      His exposition of this idea is supported by great erudition and extensive reference to the literature. His argument will be highly controversial, as no one else has ever gone to quite as much effort to document the case as practice, nor has been quite as optimistic about the political culture and role of experts, who are portrayed as more or less immune to the many pathologies of democratic representation. His challenge to the conventional wisdom is extensive and thorough-going. Whether his vision is viable or not, the issues he raises merit our attention and concern, and he is to be congratulated for his dedication to raising them.

      Richard French
      University of Ottawa

  • rob

  • Sara Mollicchi

    • Nel paragrafo 4. si afferma che la «prepotenza normativa» dei principi sui quali dovrebbe fondarsi una buona società «è tanto più forte quanto meno risulta sostenuta da un resoconto dell’uomo che sia coerente con essi». Questo passaggio riprende l’idea, più volte presentata nell’articolo, che quanto più i principi etici e politici risultano privi di una fondazione nella natura umana, tanto più i moderni sentono in qualche modo di dover supplire a questa incompletezza accentuandone la natura imperativa e potenzialmente manipolatrice nei confronti della realtà. Qui potrebbe forse essere utile apportare dei chiarimenti sul significato del termine «fondazione». In molti passaggi mi sembra che esso si riferisca alla possibilità di giustificare razionalmente i principi e le norme alle quali si aderisce, tanto che, venuta meno la fondazione, si cade nella loro invocazione retorica, in un atteggiamento decisionistico, o nell’illusione di poter fabbricare i propri valori. D’altra parte la «fondazione», in termini metafisici, si identifica anche con la presenza nella realtà di quelle condizioni che rendono possibile la realizzazione concreta dei principi etici e politici. In linea di principio, credo che si possano distinguere le due letture del tema della fondazione: un conto è essere in grado di mostrare che alcuni principi dovrebbero essere perseguiti anche se potrebbe essere difficile farlo, un altro è indicare le ragioni in base alle quali si può avere fiducia che, in un giorno anche molto lontano, i principi in questione informino la realtà. Ora, è possibile che la «prepotenza normativa» dei principi etico-politici, in linea di principio, scaturisca più facilmente dall’eliminazione dell’idea di «fondazione» nel secondo senso, piuttosto che nel primo. Probabilmente Machiavelli non riesce ‒ anzi, come viene sottolineato, neanche ci prova ‒ a offrirci delle ragioni per le quali dovremmo essere retti e coraggiosi come i Romani, né Rousseau riesce spiegarci cosa ci sia di sbagliato nel sottometterci a leggi che non abbiamo noi stessi deciso. Ma il fatto che si debbano escogitare continui stratagemmi per far agire correttamente uomini «rei» e che la figura semi-divina del Legislatore debba intervenire a trasformare la «moltitudine» in un «popolo» dipende da questo? Si può immaginare di sapere in cosa consiste la virtù politica e di saper offrire ottime ragioni a suo sostegno: ad esempio, una ricostruzione di come sia adeguato alla natura umana cercare di realizzare questa virtù. Eppure chi ascolta, o anche chi parla, può in concreto essere incapace di incarnare questa virtù. La reazione a questo problema che, seppure in maniera molto generica, credo di poter rintracciare nella metafisica greca consiste nel negare la sua esistenza, o, almeno, la sua rilevanza . Questa, se non sbaglio, è la ragione per la quale le due nozioni che ho indicato possono saldarsi e sostenersi a vicenda nella metafisica antica. Operando una (forse troppo) forte semplificazione, possiamo riassumere lo schema di ragionamento in questo modo: se abbiamo buone ragioni da offrire in favore della virtù, esse funzioneranno nel convincere le persone a comportarsi in maniera virtuosa, perché le persone sono tali che per natura tendono a comportarsi secondo ragione ‒ anche se non sempre  ci riescono; se è proprio della natura della quale siamo parte seguire un ordine razionale, possiamo avere la ragionevole speranza di trovare una descrizione appropriata di quest’ordine ‒ anche se in questo momento non sappiamo quale sia, o forse ci sono alcuni aspetti di esso che ci sfuggono. Una delle ragioni per le quali il pensiero moderno non accetta questo modo di ragionare, credo, è il colpo molto potente che la descrizione dell’interiorità umana offerta dai primi cristiani ‒ e non solo ‒ ha assestato a questa concezione del senso morale e della motivazione morale.

  • Vincenzo Aglieri

    • A margine di commenti più autorevoli che sono già stati formulati circa questo articolo, mi permetto di inserire un breve pensiero, cogliendo l’occasione per ringraziare gli editori che curano questo progetto veramente “open” e il prof. F. Scotognella per gli interessantissimi spunti di riflessione che ha offerto.

      L’articolo “L’affermazione di una teoria nella comunità scientifica: lo scienziato-parresiasta, il collettivo di pensiero e il mutuo appoggio” propone al lettore la figura del parresiasta anarchico in grado di imporsi contro il potere scientifico costituito, mettendo a rischio la propria carriera nel mondo già precario della scienza, pur di propugnare una teoria/modello scientifico che secondo questi può portare a nuovi sviluppi. Come risultato del suo operato, il parresiasta fa emergere il meccanismo di “mutuo appoggio” fra scienziati, che ha come risultato un processo di auto-critica che la scienza si impone mediante i suoi collaborativi celebranti, grazie al quale si giunge a scienza nuova.

      Una delle parole chiave in questo articolo è: anarchia. Sebbene la spinta alla sfida dei collettivi di pensiero che in un dato momento tengono le fila del clero scientifico sia di chiaro stampo anarchico, la chiosa sembra allontanarsi alquanto da una tale prospettiva. La scienza è uno strumento che deve permettere uno studio quanto più accurato possibile della natura; non ci sono alternative. Se il modello/teoria scientifica usato fino ad un certo momento storico non riesce a spiegare nuovi eventi naturali (la cui spiegazione si richiede ad esempio per necessità, come la cura del cancro, ma anche per influenze politiche, militari e culturali o per banale evidenza nelle osservazioni), bisogna a fortiori optare per un nuovo modello che sia in grado di farlo. Se il modello funziona, deve essere accettato – pena un continuo susseguirsi di risultati errati. Pare quindi, piuttosto che anarchia, una dittatura che la natura sordamente esercita sui teorici della scienza e sui loro modelli/teorie, e che a sua volta il parresiasta impone alla comunità scientifica, che lo voglia o meno (tutti i cigni sono bianchi, fino a quando non se ne trova uno nero).

      Secondo questa conclusione mi chiedo se la figura del parresiasta, che è indiscutibilmente difficilissima da sostenere da un punto di vista professionale, personale e sociale, non percorra una strada già tracciata: se infatti la teoria che propone è in grado di gettar luce su un insieme di fenomeni più ampio o di maggior interesse rispetto al precedente, non può che uscirne vittorioso, quasi indipendentemente dal “mutuo appoggio” attivato che al più ne verifica la validità o la fallibilità. Si può quindi parlare ancora di anarchia? Gli scienziati sono mossi dalla volontà di trovare la teoria migliore o sono costretti a farlo?

Source: https://commentbfp.sp.unipi.it/comments-by-commenter/