Evaluating Emerging Technologies: Uncertainty and Responsibility in Regulatory Science

David Demortain

Evaluating Emerging Technologies: Uncertainty and Responsibility in Regulatory Science

Oct. 3, 2019
12–1 p.m.

A number of scientific disciplines dedicate to the testing and characterization of properties of existing or emerging technologies. The label that is sometimes used to refer to these particular sciences - regulatory science - conveys a deceptive sense of objectivity and accuracy: all technologies have uncertain and unpredictable effects, that only materialize over time and at a larger use scale. Testing, simulating these effects ex-ante is by definition a limited knowledge effort. The current talk about industry capture and conflicts of interest in science reflect a growing opinion that scientists involved in the evaluation of technologies neglect this structural uncertainty, and fail to assume their societal responsibility to characterize the benefits and risks of technologies transparently and in the public interest. In this talk, I will present ongoing research about the norms, networks and power of regulatory toxicologists, in an attempt to elucidate the problem of regulatory capture.

David Demortain, is a senior sociologist with the French Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire Sciences Innovations Sociétés (LISIS: Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Science Innovation and Society), a center dedicated to research on science and innovation policy, and science and technology studies founded in 2015. He has circa fifteen years of experience studying the politics of expertise in the regulation of technologies and risks, with research looking at food safety, pesticides, chemicals or medicines in the European Union and in the United States. He has looked at the interplay between science and policy from various perspectives: the power of transnational expert communities to construct international safety standards; the design of science-based bureaucracies by specialists of rational decision-making; and the development and use of data-analytics and predictive techniques in policy. His work has appeared in Science and Public Policy, Science, Technology and Human Values or Minerva. He has published Scientists and the Regulation of Risk in 2011. His second book, The Science of Bureaucracy. Risk Decision-Making and the US Environmental Protection Agency, will be published at the end of this year by MIT Press.