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A scientist’s opinion : Interview with Prof. Maria Baghramian about PEriTiA

Maria Baghramian, acrylic researcher who thinks of scientific experiments

Interview with Maria Baghramian, PEriTiA’s project coordinator

Prof Maria Baghramian, MRIA (UCD) is Professor of American Philosophy in the School of Philosophy at University College Dublin and co-director of the Postgraduate Programme in Cognitive Science at UCD, which she co-founded in 2000. She has also held visiting posts at Harvard, MIT, University of Yerevan, Institut Jean Nicod, École normale supérieure, Paris and various universities in China. She is also an active participant of the working groups dealing with science and policy with ALLEA and SAPEA. She has authored and edited 9 books, most recently From Trust to Trustworthiness (Routledge, 2018) and Relativism: New Problems of Philosophy (Routledge, 2019) with Analisa Coliva.

The PEriTiA project aims to explore the conditions under which people trust the expertise that shapes public policy. Why do we need PEriTiA?

To do their job well, policy makers, in both the public and the private sector have to rely on specialised knowledge, good data and well-informed projections. Reliable information is the currency that makes the wheels of policymaking turn smoothly and experts are the source of such information. This is one place where the question of trust comes in. Which of the different claims to expertise should policy makers listen to, how far should they go in implementing their recommendations, how should they find a balance between conflicting demands of differing social goods and priorities? In addition, without trust from the general public effective governance, particularly in democratic systems, is not possible. But how is the public to judge the trustworthiness of the experts and the policy advice they provide? We hope that our project will shed light on the complexities and tensions inherent is these features of public decision making.

PEriTiA aims to clarify the reasons that have led to this situation, but how can those insights be transformed into actions inspiring change?

The project is carried out in three phases, the first two – theoretical followed by empirical, – aim to clarify the nature and conditions of trust, distrust and trustworthiness of expert opinion. The final stage, what we call the “ameliorative phase’, specifically aims to find ways to improve the relationship of trust between experts, policy makers and the general public. We hope to achieve this end through so-called mini-publics – face to face discussions between experts, policy makers and representative groups of the general public. The idea is that structured but open discussions between these stakeholders will enhance mutual understanding and create optimal conditions for warranted judgements concerning the trustworthiness of expert advice.

The project has just started, (it will continue until 2023) and it involves many stakeholders: philosophers, social and natural scientists, policy experts, ethicists, psychologists, media specialists and civil society organisations. As a project coordinator, do you expect (m)any challenges?

I feel extremely privileged to be working with so many wonderful people from different countries and across varied specialisations. One strength of the project is that many of us, including the advisory board members, have already collaborated in similar projects over the past three years. Furthermore, we share the conviction that the project is addressing genuinely important questions at a crucial moment of our history. So, there is a great deal of trust both in the abilities and the commitment of the members of the group. What of course was unexpected and will have some impact on the work of the project is the restrictions on movement imposed by the COVID-19, which will have some impact on our conferences, deadlines, etc. But the challenges to the project have highlighted its relevance to the wider difficulties we are facing. So, we have taken on some additional research tasks specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic and are making our findings available to the public through a designated section of the project webpage.

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