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Genomics Forum · Events

David Mercer - Science, Legitimacy, and "Folk Epistemology" in Medicine and Law

Seminar   09.06.2010






Assoc Prof David Mercer, Science & Technoogy Studies, University of Wollongong

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ESRC Genomics Policy and Research ForumThe University of EdinburghCollege of Humanities and Social ScienceSt John's LandHolyrood RoadEdinburgh EH8 8AQ

Event details

Title: Science, Legitimacy, and "Folk Epistemology" in Medicine and Law: Parallels between Legal Reforms to the Admissibility of Expert Evidence and Evidence-Based MedicineDavid MercerWednesday 9 June, 2010, 11.00-12.30 at the Genomics ForumAbstract:This paper explores some of the important parallels between reforms to legal rules for the admissibility of scientific and expert evidence, exemplified by the US Supreme Court's decision in Daubert v Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in 1993, and similar calls for reforms to medical practice, that emerged around the same time as part of the Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM) movement. Similarities between the "movements" can be observed in that both emerged from a historical context where the quality of medicine and legal approaches to science were being subjected to growing criticism, and in the ways that proponents of both movements have used appeals to "folk epistemologies" of science to help legitimate their reform aspirations. The term folk epistemology is used to describe the weaving together of formal and informal images of scientific method with normative and pragmatic concerns such as eradicating "junk science", and promoting medical best practice. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the unfocused breadth of these aspirations the implications of these "reforms" for medical and legal practice have not been straightforward, although they do represent an important new set of rhetorical resources to critique and or legitimate expertise in medical and legal domains.Biog details:David Mercer is Associate Professor in Science and Technology Studies at the University of Wollongong, Australia. He has published widely on areas in relation to science/expertise and law/regulation. His work has focussed on the political, ethical and epistemological issues raised by the way legal and regulatory demands influence the shape of various fields of science and expertise. Related to this are broader questions of the lay/expert divide, the public understanding of science, public participation in science, and the bureaucratization of expertise. Case studies used to investigate these themes have included, Bendectin (pharmaceutical safety), Electric and Magnetic Fields (safety of powerlines/mobile telephones/telecommunications technology), Creation Science (problems of fringe science/ and science education),Daubert (evidence jurisprudence/ role of expert witnesses), Asbestos (theories of causation in Toxic Torts), Evidence Based Medicine (bureaucratization of expertise), Synthetic Biology (new norms of science). Other research interests include the social history communications technology, where he published a volume in the Greenwood Press Technography series, 'The Telephone: The Life Story of a Technology', in 2006.

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