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no 64. Researchers at the hub of scientific expertise

November 2012 – Coordinated by Laura Maxim and Gérard Arnold

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Hermès 64, Les chercheurs au cœur de l'expertise


In situations of uncertainty, scientific expertise can provide arguments for decision-makers to help them define their positions. This the reason why scientific expertise is frequently makes the headlines in topical areas such as GM issues, environmental standards, public health, the management of chemical risks and so on. A “government of experts” was recently established Italy, experts are often key characters in television series, etc.

The controversies around health or environmental issues raise the question of the tensions between academic science and expertise. It may seem paradoxical to say that each of these activities obeys a logic of its own – since the legitimacy of scientific expertise is supposed to be based on the legitimacy of science. But although experts are indeed usually scientists, their work is not governed by the same rules.

When called on as experts, scientists produce scientific knowledge for a wider audience than their research community: they interact with the worlds of business, politics, the media and activism, whose goals differ from their own. Inevitably, the different contexts and uses of knowledge influence the process of knowledge production and the impact of knowledge on society.

This issue of Hermès illustrates the changing relationships between academic research and scientific expertise and attempts to cast light on various grey areas. How are experts selected? Should civil society have a role in the expertise process? Who evaluates the expert evaluators? Underlying these questions, in this entire issue, is the burning question of conflicts of interest.


Laura Maxim and Gérard Arnold
From academic research to scientific expertise: different worlds of research

Jean-Luc Bouillon
Scientific expertise in society, from the point of view of communication

Pierre-Benoît Joly
How expert scientific knowledge is produced: the contribution of STS

Selected bibliography

I. Criteria and financial issues in the selection of experts

Marie-Odile Bertella-Geffroy
Researchers as expert witnesses: understanding the issues

Christophe Bonneuil and Les Levidow
Free trade as a science? How the WTO brings scientific expertise into trade disputes

Laura Maxim and Gérard Arnold
How conflicts of interest can influence research results

Yves Matillon, Hervé Maisonneuve and Élisabeth Féry-Lemonnier
Scientific expertise in medicine

II. Institutionalised expertise

Laura Maxim, Gérard Arnold and Pascal Dayez-Burgeon
Adapting the National Charter for Expert Studies at the CNRS

Ève Feinblatt-Mélèze
Assessing perchlorate risks: a comparison between the United States and France

Pascale Mansier
A field survey on collective expert studies at INSERM

Benoit Vergriette
Social access to expert studies and the role of the social sciences at ANSES (box)

Jacques Arnould and Michel Avignon
CNES expertise, and expert studies at the CNES (box)

Jeanne Étiemble
A history of collective expert studies at INSERM and current issues

Sylvain Robert
Collective expert studies at the IRD: a brief presentation (box)

Yves Dessaux
Collective expert scientific studies on “herbicide-tolerant varieties”: feedback from experience

Claire Sabbagh
Expert scientific studies at INRA: understanding the issues underlying requests

Marie-Hélène Tusseau-Vuillemin, Benoît Beliaeff and Philippe Goulletquer
Scientific expert support to resolve crises in oyster farming (box)

The CEA and the “expert” system (box)

Didier Houssin
The role of expert appraisals in AERES assessments

III. Expert studies: a battleground for democracy

Janine Kievitz
When beekeepers rub shoulders with experts

Peppino Ortoleva
What is a government of experts? The Italian example

David Rochefort
The TED conferences: when knowledge takes the stage (box)

Pascal Dayez-Burgeon
Think tanks and expertise (box)

Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay and Laura Maxim
Inadequacy of the right to environmental information in the case of chemical risks

Stéphane Foucart
Expertise, an inconvenient topic in journalism (box)

Jean Foyer
Militant biodiversity experts, a global network at the heart of socio-technical controversies

Pascal Dayez-Burgeon
Expertise, the art of performance and society (box)

Jeroen P. van der Sluijs, Arthur C. Petersen, Peter H. M. Janssen, James S. Risbey and Jérôme R. Ravetz
Establishing the quality of evidence used in making complex and disputed policy decisions


Nicolas Moinet
Arrogance and the interplay of un-communication and strategic deception

Faloukou Dosso
From the consensus of the heart to the consensus of argument: the concept of democracy in the works of Rousseau and Habermas


Élinor Ostrom
(by Hervé Le Crosnier)

Roland Moreno
(by Alain Lelu)


Mathieu TRICLOT, Philosophie des jeux vidéo (Philosophy and video games), Paris, Zones, 2011, 247 p.
(by Alexandre Coutant)

Jacqueline DEGUISE-LE ROY, Les Solidarités à l’épreuve de la pauvreté (When solidarity comes face to face with poverty), Paris, L’Harmattan, coll. « Logiques sociales », 2012, 248 p. Préface de Bernard Valade.
(by Éric Dacheux)

Florence MILLERAND, Serge PROULX and Julien RUEFF (dir.), Web social. Mutation de la communication (Social websites and the transformation of communication), Québec, Presses de l’Université du Québec, 2009, 374 p.
(by Manuel Boutet)

Bertrand RICHET (dir.), Le Tour du monde d’Astérix (Round the world with Astérix), Paris, Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2011, 313 p.
(by Éric Dacheux)

Béatrice GALINON-MÉLÉNEC (dir.), L’Homme trace, perspectives anthropologiques des traces contemporaines (Human beings as traces: anthropological perspectives on the traces of contemporary life) Paris, CNRS éditions, 2011, 410 p.
(by Anne-Marie Laulan)

Jérôme MAUCOURANT, Avez-vous lu Polanyi ? (Have you read Polyani?), Paris, Flammarion, coll. « Champs Essais », 2011, 257 p.
(par Éric Dacheux)






Scientific expertise in society, from the point of view of communication

The question of relationships between scientific expertise, society and politics fundamentally revolves around communication. Though often presented as unequivocal and indisputable, expert scientific opinions do not put an end to controversy. They are developed in the context of relationships that are always uncertain, involve many different stakeholders with an interest in the object of the controversy and exist in a social situation. The resulting knowledge shapes narratives that can be interpreted and framed in many different ways, each reflecting different reasons for action, conflicting economic and political interests, tensions or disputes. This process takes place in close conjunction with the activities of the media and networks, through which expert conclusions are broadcast and increasingly debated.

Keywords: expert position, mediation, narratives on expertise, institutions, expert knowledge.

Pierre-Benoît JOLY
Understanding how expert scientific knowledge is produced : the contribution of STS

This article analyses the contribution of Science and Technology Studies to our understanding of the way expert knowledge is produced. The originality of STS lies in its central assumption that independence and integrity are not intrinsic properties of scientific activity but the result of a process of delimitation which is inherent to scientific practice and its institutional systems, and which therefore makes STS particularly well placed to analyse expertise as a “technology of power”. This is their first contribution, but the article also addresses the contribution of STS to the democratisation of expert knowledge, and attempts to shed light on a debate that is often raised in terms that are overcaricatured.

Keywords: scientific expertise, STS, technology of power, credibility, democracy of expert knowledge.

The choice and role of expert witnesses

Expert appraisals are often crucial in legal proceedings concerning liability in matters of public health. Experts are required to reconstruct facts or to appraise the work of colleagues who act in an advisory capacity to policy-makers, in order to establish whether the quality of the expert studies and advice provided have been adequate to the importance of the health issues. In France, expert witnesses have an official status subject to a regulated procedure that includes specific and regular audits. Although this procedure clearly identifies the competences of court-appointed experts, it is far too lengthy and cumbersome for researchers to gain access to this status. Clearer procedures capable of distinguishing expert appraisals from lobbying also need to be established.

Keywords: expert witness, public health, public health disaster.

Christophe BONNEUIL and Les LEVIDOW
A science of free trade? How the WTO brings scientific expertise into trade disputes

The high-profile WTO trade dispute on GMOs brought in scientific expertise in somewhat novel ways. From the outset, the Panel placed the dispute under the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement by drawing on a new legal ontology. The Panel brought scientific expertise into play in specific ways that defined how experts were questioned, the answers they would give, their specific role in the legal arena, and the way their statements would complement the Panel’s findings. Furthermore, the Panel created a procedural turning point in WTO jurisprudence by representing its findings as a purely legal and administrative assessment of whether the EC’s regulatory procedures violated the SPS Agreement, with its own assessments on substantive risk issues remaining implicit.

Keywords: World Trade Organisation (WTO), Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement, agrobiotech, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), legal epistemology, co-production, expertise, risks.

Laura MAXIM and Gérard ARNOLD
How conflicts of interest can influence research results

In the field of biomedicine, which is the main object addressed in this article, the literature shows a direct correlation between industrial funding for research and the communication of results that are favourable to the industry. This effect, known as the “ funding effect”, has been persistenly found since the 1990s. It can also affect other fields such as agri-foods or environmental and health risk assessments.
Conflicts of interest can influence research subconsciously or deliberately. In this article, we analyse the various ways in which conflicts of interest can influence the way scientific activities proceed, as well as the effectiveness of the different solutions put forward to manage the influence exerted.

Keywords: conflicts of interest, research funding, industry,
public health.

Scientific expertise in medicine

The goal of quality in the health-care system is common to professionals, policy-makers and users. Assessments of medical technologies and formalised expressions of the state of the art of medical knowledge both aim to improve decision-making for the public authorities and for health care professionals and users. Innovation should not be brought into question by the assessment procedure itself or by the various interested connections of working group members, including experts : the quality of expert scientific assessments in medicine must rely on the education of all those involved, including teachers and decision-makers.

Keywords: assessment, medical technologies, medicines, health-care system, professional recommendations, quality approach.

CNRS adaptation of the National Charter on Expert Studies

The CNRS governing board adopted its internal Charter on Expert Studies on 23 June 2011, which adapts the National Charter on Expert Studies to the specific features of CNRS activities. The internal CNRS Charter rests on the principle of efficient striving to address two major issues concerning scientific expert studies : the credibility of experts and the quality of expert study processes and output.

Keywords: competence, conflict of interest, scientific expertise, objectivity, transparency.

Assessing perchlorate risks : a comparison between the United States and France

This article illustrates the differences between expert assessment procedures in France and the United States by comparing their respective procedures for the risks raised by perchlorate, an environmental contaminant detected in drinking water and food. This example highlights the contrast between the two models, one based on confrontation and stakeholder involvement, the other on consensus and the centralisation of experience. The main differences lie in the way interactions between the various bodies responsible for the assessments and the other stakeholders are formalised, in the procedures governing audits of the risk assessments, and in the role of researchers in the production of these assessments. After describing the differences, the article describes the advantages and drawbacks of the two systems and concludes with a proposal for the development of an intermediate method for EU institutional expert appraisals, combining a centralising approach with pluralist and collegial principles.

Keywords: expert appraisal, risk assessment, external audit, stakeholders, researchers.

A field survey on collective expert studies at INSERM

This article reports on a field survey conducted in 2010 and 2011 among those involved in the expert studies conducted collectively at Inserm (members of the Inserm expert studies department, experts and journalists). The survey aimed to test the assumption that the factors that arouse public controversy are inherent to the process of producing expert studies, regardless of the topic they address.

Keywords: collective expert studies, health, behavioural disorders, publicising science.

A history of collective expert studies at INSERM and current issues

In response to demand from the institutions involved in public health, Inserm has taken its research mission further by becoming involved in knowledge sharing and dissemination and in discussions on the implications of its research for society. Now working as a member of the Public Health Institute (one of France’s 10 multi-organisation Institutes) through the National Alliance for Life and Health Sciences (Alliance nationale pour les sciences de la vie et de la santé or Aviesan), INSERM’s collective expert studies are contributing to its strategic plan for 2010-2015: “the experience gained in collectively developed expert studies will be strengthened to serve an active policy for delivering available knowledge to support decision-making in the public health system and citizens’ information”.

Keywords: public health, collective expert studies, decision support, multi-disciplinarity, social implications of research.

Collective expert scientific studies on “herbicide-tolerant varieties” : feedback from experience

These collective expert scientific studies on “herbicide-tolerant varieties” involved some twenty experts from very different disciplines in a “sensitive” topic. This article describes how the experts were chosen, how they interacted with their ministerial clients, how the group of experts functioned and the outcomes of its assessments. It investigates the way minority opinions were handled by the expert group, as well as the crucial question of recognition of the work of the scientists who took part, in relation to expectations among the research organisations.

Keywords: collective expert scientific studies, herbicides, clients, expert group, recognition, research organisations.

Expert scientific studies at Inra : understanding the issues underlying requests

In 2002, Inra included collective expert scientific studies in its areas of competence – agriculture, environment and food – in response to public policy issues mainly arising in the Ministries of Agriculture and Ecology. The governing principles of the exercise, set out in Inra’s Charter on expert scientific studies, were formulated on the basis of prior experience, as were the procedures built up to guarantee the quality of the studies. This article describes on the first phase of the process, which is decisive in terms of the relevance of the work undertaken. For the experts, the task requires an understanding of the context, the issues and the reasons for the request, while the decision-makers have to understand what they can expect from an approach that sets out to analyse and compile knowledge within the time allotted to the exercise.

Keywords: collective expert scientific study, public decision-making, public policy.

The role of expert appraisals in AERES assessments

In higher education and research, four areas are subject to assessments of expertise : research units, training programmes, research organisations and higher education and research establishments, and staff assessment procedures. In turn, expert appraisal is central to the assessment methods implemented by AERES in the field of higher education and research.

Keywords: expertise assessment, expert appraisal of assessments, higher education and research assessment agency.

When beekeepers rub shoulders with experts

Beehives across Europe and other continents have been affected by abnormal mortality for the last twenty years. Since these problems first appeared, suspicion has fallen on a new type of insecticide, which is used to treat seeds. The legislation prescribes environmental risk assessments of any insecticide substance before it reaches the market, and beekeepers therefore decided to consult the files concerning the suspect molecules. As a result, they became involved in critically reviewing and developing assessment rules, and thus came to rub shoulders with experts in bee toxicology.

Keywords: expertise, bees, toxicology, pesticide, risk assessment.

What is a government of experts? The Italian example

Mario Monti’s government, which took office in Italy in November 2011, is undoubtedly a “government of experts”, since all its members are specialists. However, their legitimacy is based not so much on their areas of competence as on their difference (in style especially) compared to the previous “political class”, and on the fact that they are seen as responsible for applying decisions that the laws of economics have made inevitable. A “government of objectivity” after
twenty years of personalisation.

Keywords: government, expert, legitimacy, sobriety, objectivity, personalisation, impersonal, ostentation in the public sphere, inevitable, emergence, neoliberalism, tears, generations.

Ineffectiveness of the right of access to environmental information concerning chemical risks

Under the regulations governing marketing authorisation for chemical substances, information on chemical risks to health and the environment generally has to be produced by the industries concerned for submission to the health agencies. Public access to this information is governed by international, European and national legal provisions, and based on the principles of transparency and the freedom to access and re-use the information. However, various factors are restricting the effectiveness of this right to information and, consequently, restricting democratic and scientific oversight of risk assessments. The relevant legal texts are split between environmental legislation and legislation on access to public data. The right of access can be legally limited on grounds of confidentiality and protection of trade secrets, under provisions that allow businesses to protect their commercial interests but which can be interpreted arbitrarily by the health agencies. Finally, on the practical level, the lack of clarity of the format, the language used and the interfaces can be an obstacle to effective access and re-use of the data.

Keywords: chemical risk, right to information, access to environmental information, public health, confidentiality.

Militant biodiversity experts, a global network at the heart of socio-technical controversies

This article analyses the main characteristics of a network of civil society organisations involved in biodiversity advocacy. It investigates the discourse on biodiversity produced by these NGOs, the formation of a structured network, its specific activities in the production and dissemination of information and its hybrid position combining expertise and activism.

Keywords: experts, militants, biodiversity, network, technical democracy, controversy.

Jeroen P. VAN DER SLUIJS, Arthur C. PETERSEN, Peter H. M. JANSSEN, James S. RISBEY and Jerome R. RAVETZ
Establishing the quality of evidence used in making complex and disputed policy decisions

Policy decisions on complex environmental risks often involve disputed science. Typically, there are no “ facts” to support a single unequivocally correct policy. The evidence provided in scientific studies for policy-making decisions requires high-quality assessment. In 2003, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency adopted a standardized method, referred to as “guidelines”, whereby key quality aspects of knowledge production and use are presented in the form of a checklist for uncertainty assessments and communication. In this article, we present the outcomes of applying the guidelines in controversies on the risks of ambient particulate matter. In the policy–advisory context, active deliberation on uncertainty produces a common learning process for advisors and policy makers, which leads to a deeper understanding and increased awareness of the phenomenon of uncertainty and its policy implications.

Keywords: evidence, controversies, uncertainty, risk assessment, knowledge quality assessment, policy advice, scientific policy, health risks, particulate matter.

Nicolas MOINET
Arrogance and the interplay of un-communication and strategic deception

Although the word is often used in media discourse, “arrogance” in itself has rarely been studied. Our analysis of discourses taken from a press review highlights the mechanisms of arrogance and the interplay of un-communication and strategic deception, which must therefore be considered together. By negating this interplay and by interweaving misconception and contempt, arrogance negatively highlights the powerful link between information, communication and strategy.

Keywords: arrogance, un-communication, strategic deception, misconception, contempt.

Faloukou DOSSO
From the consensus of the heart to the consensus of argument : the concept of democracy in the works of Rousseau and Habermas

The thinking of Rousseau and Habermas, as social theorists, confirms the understanding of democracy as a revolutionary political system, by considering it as the rational form of consensual management of public affairs in a human society. In putting forward their concept of democracy, these thinkers advocate particular forms of consensus. For Rousseau, democracy promotes a consensus of the heart by allowing citizens to be citizen-magistrates in the process of democratization of society. Habermas, however, advocates a consensus of argument in a democracy. Participation in deliberations, when based on informal logic or argumentation theory, is certainly what gives radical democracy its credibility.

Keywords: arguments, decision, radical democracy, legitimacy, participation.