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Discerning ExpertsThe Practices of Scientific Assessment for Environmental Policy$
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Michael Oppenheimer, Naomi Oreskes, Dale Jamieson, Keynyn Brysse, Jessica O'Reilly, Matthew Shindell, and Milena Wazeck

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226601960

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226602158.001.0001

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The Need for Expert Judgment

The Need for Expert Judgment

(p.1) Chapter One The Need for Expert Judgment
Discerning Experts

Michael Oppenheimer

Naomi Oreskes

Dale Jamieson

Keynyn Brysse

Jessica O’Reilly

Matthew Shindell

Milena Wazeck

University of Chicago Press

Consensus reports emerged in the mid-twentieth century as a means for scientists to give advice to governments. For the scientists involved, the goal of consensus reflects a belief in the power of univocality: that a single, consistent message would be more likely to be influential than alternatives, such as expressing majority and minority views. Scientists in the mid-twentieth century perhaps intuitively perceived what social science research has since demonstrated: that expert disagreement, or even the appearance of it, can undermine public confidence in experts and the science they are trying to communicate. However, the concept of consensus as displayed in the three cases studied here is not easily reducible to simple univocality; consensus appears to have taken multiple forms in various institutional contexts. There is no singular established definition of consensus at work within assessments, nor a universally accepted set of rules by which it should be achieved. Modern assessments are distinguished by their large scale and institutionalization; consensus is often a key element, but assessments also introduce scientists to policy concerns, help to guide research in policy-relevant directions, and provide scientists and policymakers with an area of overlapping concern.

Keywords:   univocality, consensus, expert judgment, disagreement, science–policy boundary

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