Trust in Numbers: Regulatory Science, Trans-science and the Crisis of Expertise

Open hybrid lecture with Professor Gil Eyal, Columbia University.

NB! Gil Eyal will hold his lecture via Zoom and will not be present in person.


The crisis of expertise, especially as it manifests during the covid-19 pandemic, appears as a crisis of trust in regulatory science.

Man with glasses and shirt, portrayed in front of book shelf.
Professor Gil Eyal at Columbia University. Photo: Private

The temporal structure of the facts produced by regulatory science differs from Kuhnian “normal science,” while they also contain profound distributional implications. As a result, they suffer from a set of congenital problems that provoke mistrust in a way that normal science facts do not.

While “expertise” is often offered as an answer to these problems, I'll argue that the historical pragmatics of this term indicate that its relatively recent appearance is a symptom of the malaise, reflecting a situation where it is no longer clear how to decide between competing claims to authority as experts. The current mistrust in experts and regulatory science during the pandemic, therefore, is part of a longer and systemic crisis of expertise provoked and sustained by multiple factors.

I will then move from discussing what is being mistrusted - regulatory science, expertise - to the nature of trust itself, and I offer an unsystematic set of rules of method to observe when addressing the thorny issues involving trust and mistrust:

  1. trust is not a subjective attitude that can be measured by a survey;
  2. mistrust is not the opposite of trust;
  3. trust is a social skill involving a set of ethnomethods for distinguishing between responsible and “blind” trust;
  4. attention to temporal framing is key to these methods;
  5. disruption of this temporal framing – as routinely happens with regulatory facts, and especially during the pandemic – destroys trust.

Visit Professor Gil Eyal's webpage (Columbia University)


Sign up here before May 6.

The lecture is open to everyone. It is given as part of the PhD course "Knowledge Utilization and Transfer in Education Policy".

Published Apr. 29, 2022 1:13 PM - Last modified May 4, 2022 5:07 PM