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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

The Evidence of the Sciences


Dr Anne M. Dijkstra (University of Twente, NUCLEUS Partner) and Dr Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis (University of Twente, GKS Working Group Leader)

The authority of the sciences is under pressure in this day and age. The new challenges of our times are characterized by matters of risk that do not allow for unequivocal knowledge. The cogency of scientific evidence is increasingly disputed, even science as such is called in question. Trust in scientific knowledge is declining due to ambiguous, uncertain and complex risks which surround scientific evidence. Nuclear risks undermined physicist’s assurances; biotechnology caused heated public debates. The special status the sciences acquired in modernity has thus become insecure. This status was hard-won: in the early modern period great effort was made to obtain epistemic and societal meaning for empirical and exact ways of knowing. The likes of Bacon, Boyle and Newton successfully established the philosophical cogency of experimental and quantitative knowledge and thus its foundational nature for the sciences. The officials of the new states, from Colbert onwards, showed how such knowledge can be employed to organize governance and advance the commonweal.

In retrospect it looks like the Enlightenment project is coming to an end. The growing distrust in evidence of the sciences and their early modern rise are mirror images. In the wake of the 21st century the sciences have to re-establish their place in society. The new and emerging technologies of these days not only confront society but also the sciences. Researches are challenged to explicate the evidence of the sciences and engage in societal dynamics from a place within society. They need tools for responsible innovation.

This panel aims at a mutual enrichment between a long term view and an analytical deepening of the way scientists and the sciences give voice to their claims and foster public understanding and the dialogue between science and society. We invite papers from the broad spectrum of the sciences: on historical and on contemporary cases of the role evidence, or scientific knowledge and related concepts plays. These papers provide diverse analytical perspectives on, and the ways in which the sciences – then and now - acquire evidential value.

Outcomes can inform and inspire projects such as the Max Planck – Descartes ‘Global Knowledge Society’ project which investigates the early modern making of the knowledge society, as well as the EU-NUCLEUS project which analyses and implements ways of responsible research and innovation for universities and research institutes.