Panel 15

Boundary struggles: truth, interest and epistemic authority in a changing world

Organizers: Luigi Pellizzoni (1); Giuseppe Tipaldo (2); Barbara Sena (3)

1: University of Pisa, Italy; 2: University of Turin, Italy; 3: Unitelma Sapienza, Italy

Topics: The value of science, technology, innovation and research practices

Keywords: boundary struggles, truth, epistemic authority, technoscientific conflict, conflicts of interest

Although debated for a long time, the demarcation between expert knowledge and common sense has seen an evolution linked to social and technological changes in recent years.

The tension between conflicting dynamics of i) evidence-based policy making, ii) digital platformization of everyday life and news consumption and iii) the progressive loss of relevance of factual evidence in both public opinion forming and decision-making processes [a reconstruction of a quite turbulent debate is provided by Pellizzoni 2019] not only (re)brings to the fore the debate on the demarcation of epistemic authority [Gieryn 1983], but also requires that the issue be addressed taking into account the changing political, technological and social context.

The topic of health protection in emergency conditions, for instance, has become an issue on which ordinary citizens now feel they can actively intervene, making a useful contribution [Collins e Evans 2002: 236]. From another point of view, the increasing production of Big Data in medicine and science is transforming global healthcare and patient participation, by replacing the traditional expert knowledge with impersonal “expert systems [Dash et al. 2019]. It should also be noted how the “positioned” nature of “expert” viewpoints, not only outside, but also within so-called “official” or “orthodox” science, has become increasingly salient. Some of the most recent conflictual instances of public relevance – not only the Covid-19 pandemic, but also the conflict in Ukraine and the climate emergency – have in fact made evident that the (un?)deliberate confusion between the figure of the scientist (generalisable but perfectible knowledge) and that of the expert (contextual but effective knowledge with respect to the problem) creates insidious short-circuits between the request for reliance and the discharge of responsibility.

Even though the topic of “post-truth” seems to have lost momentum, what the expression implies has by no means waned in importance, with a shift from the classic “archetypal” conception of “truth” to a “prototypical” conception [Nordmann 2017].

Given the context above, submissions are solicited on, among others, the following themes:

  1. epistemic struggles as conflicts of interests and boundary demarcation within the «orthodox» scientific community or between «official» scientific knowledge and alternatives;
  2. relevant discoveries in the construction of the “expert” and “counter-expert”;
  3. the symmetry postulate: its potentialities, and possible side effects (e.g. false balance, relativism, science-related populism, etc.).
  4. truth, post-truth and competing understandings of truth in the debate over the societal diffusion of technoscience, and its unintended and unpredicted socio-ecological “side effects”;
  5. the contrast between “expert” and Big Data knowledge in determining citizens and patients decision-making process in science related issues.


Collins, Evans, 2002  3rd wave of science studies, in «Social studies of science», 32

Dash, Shakyawar, Sharma, Kaushik, 2019   Big data in healthcare, in «Journal of Big Data», 6

Gieryn, 1983    Boundary-work and the demarcation of science from non-science, in «American sociological review»

Nordmann, 2017    Vanishing friction events and the inverted Platonism of technoscience, Routledge

Pellizzoni, 2019  Innocent, Guilty or Reluctant Midwife? On the Reciprocal Relevance of STS and Post-truth, in «TECNOSCIENZA», 10