Epistemic Interactions Within and Outside Scientific Communities: Different or Analogous Processes?
Analysis of the gap between scientists and the public has generated a field of research and action—usually referred to as Public Understanding of Science (PUS) or, more recently, Public Engagement with Science and Technology (PEST)—whose evolution since the 1990s has been marked by controversies around different ways of understanding the nature of the problem and, as a consequence, of the most efficient practices directed to solve it. Amongst other contentious issues, the debate about laypeople’s so-called cognitive deficit has become trite and repetitive. The aim of this chapter is to propose an approach based on certain trends in social epistemology that seeks to overcome this virtually sterile discussion. It will be argued that the socio-epistemic interaction through which knowledge circulates among agents at imbalanced cognitive positions—experts and laypeople—does not substantially differ from those set with the same purpose in the innermost circle of specialized communities. In both contexts, the dialogue embraces a very similar thread of epistemic and extra-epistemic factors—such as the role of credit and authority attribution, the assessment of the informants’ reliability and trustworthiness, the adoption of a stance of trust and an attitude of epistemic deference—which shapes its dynamic and results. From this viewpoint, it is possible to work out the nature of the social circulation and appropriation of scientific knowledge by taking advantage of the approaches developed to explain what occurs in the circulation and appropriation of knowledge among experts.
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