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*This is an in-person only event held at Bush House, SE Wing, King’s College London. Please RSVP here by obtaining your complimentary ticket. 

About the event:

This talk will analyze the inherently contradictory dynamics of the scientific advisory committee—a previously neglected political institution whose importance became clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. What I call “the paradox of scientific advice” consists in the fact that the two basic expectations from scientific advice—neutrality and usefulness—are inherently in tension. To be useful, advisers must help governments set and attain their goals. Judgments about values and ends are necessary for useful advice, as are subjective judgments in the face of uncertainty and disagreement. This puts the committee in a double bind: if it tries to be more useful, it compromises the neutrality that is the source of its authority and legitimacy; if it tries to remain neutral, it sacrifices usefulness. The paper argues that this dilemma cannot be solved within the committee but that broader democratic scrutiny could mitigate its force. Advisory committees, in turn, should be structured to facilitate this scrutiny. I trace the implications of this argument for the use of scientific advice during the COVID-19 pandemic, on issues such as masking advice, vaccine allocation, and responses to scientific disagreement.


Bush House South East Wing, Room 1.01. See map here for directions.

About the Speaker:

Zeynep Pamuk is Assistant Professor of Political Theory in the Department of Government, London School of Economics. She is the author of Politics and Expertise: How to Use Science in a Democratic Society (Princeton). Her research interests are in democratic theory, the role of expertise in politics, and the impact of artificial intelligence and automation on democracy.