The Special Role of Science in Liberal Democracy

International Conference on The Special Role of Science in Liberal Democracy

November 21-22, 2013 University of Copenhagen, Denmark.


James Bohman (Saint Louis University), Heather Douglas (University of Waterloo), Harold Kincaid (University of Cape Town), Martin Kusch (Vienna University), Eleonora Montuschi (London School of Economics) and Erik Weber (Ghent University). 


It often assumed that natural science has a certain, indeed fundamental, role in democratic decision making in liberal democracies. There should be a distinctive division of cognitive and deliberative labour according science the role of neutral supplier of relevant factual knowledge, whereas democratic decision processes should retain the task of deciding policies. While natural and widely accepted, this model raises a number of questions.

Is the model defensible and applicable at all? Many voices, in academia as well as outside it, question the legitimacy of according this special epistemic authority to science. Sociologists of science stress as illusory or plain false that science can be neutral in the ways that according science this role may seem to require. According to these views, science is replete with values, and this makes the picture of science as a neutral arbiter of facts naive at best. Others deny that science and politics can be disentangled in our actual scientific and bureaucratic practices, again putting the idea of a division of roles under pressure. Even if feasible in the case of the natural sciences, one may wonder whether the model is applicable to the social sciences and the humanities, where issues about entanglement arguably are more pressing than in the natural science. Are there other roles that fit the humanities or the social science better?

While the conference will cover all parts of science and academia, we welcome, in particular, contributions that offer a perspective on the social sciences and humanities.


Hanne Andersen (Aarhus University), James Bohman (Saint Louis), Heather Douglas (University of Waterloo), Harold Kincaid (University of Cape Town), Martin Kusch (Vienna University), Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen (Aarhus University), Eleonora Montuschi (London School of Economics), Peter Weingart (Bielefeldt University), Erik Weber (Ghent University).


The conference is organized by Julie Zahle and Klemens Kappel at the University of Copenhagen as part of the research project 'The Special Role of Science in Liberal Democracy' funded by the Carlsberg Foundation. For further inquiries about the conference, please contact Julie Zahle ( or Klemens Kappel (

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