Borrowed Truths: Exploring transfers of exepertise & evidence across science, justice and politics

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Participants Organisations

Funding

  • Welsh Crucible: £7,415.00

Funder Project Reference(s)

unknown
Effective start/end date01 Dec 201528 Feb 2017

Description

This interdisciplinary, stakeholder-integrating project explores opportunities and challenges in transfers of expertise and evidence across the fields of science, justice and politics.
Science, justice and politics (especially evidence-based policymaking) share the basic assumption that fact-based truths about reality can be established through evidencing methods. Moreover, these processes are viewed as essential to these fields’ work, as they provide the basis upon which to act. How exactly ‘truth’ is established differs from field to field, and it is these specifics that experts draw their authority from in their interactions with other fields (e.g., rigor/objectivity in science; impartiality/procedures in the justice sector). Within each field, however, ways of knowing and questions of whether and how objective truth can be established are highly contested.
These disputes notwithstanding, there are high exchange levels of truth-seeking methods, findings and authorities across fields. E.g., the justice system draws on medical, psychology or neuroscience experts to give memory-related evidence in court, and UN Commissions of Inquiry use forensic expertise to reconstruct mass violence. These ‘borrowed truths’ may be problematic in two ways. First, they tend to be given undue weight because of the expert authority associated with them, while doubts and limits of each field’s ways of knowing are glossed over (e.g., neuroscience’s insights into false memory), with sometimes disastrous results (e.g., conviction based on wrong medical witness  see Sally Clark case). Second, since there are usually several experts competing over the truth about a problem, the decisions and judgments arrived at on the basis of ‘borrowed truths’ always carry the shadow of a doubt.
Collaborating closely with justice and policy practitioners, the team will analyse practices of ‘borrowing truths’ at the science—justice—politics nexus in order to understand the limitations/distortions beleaguering transfers of expertise, raise awareness about their implications, and explore potential mitigation measures.

Collaborative partners

  • Aberystwyth University (lead)
  • Prifysgol Caerdydd | Cardiff University
  • Prifysgol De Cymru | University of South Wales
  • Prifysgol Bangor | Bangor University
  • Prifysgol Abertawe | Swansea University