Philosophy of Evidence and Expertise
Course infoSchedule
Course moduleNWI-FFIL220
Credits (ECTS)3
CategoryMA (Master)
Language of instructionEnglish
Offered byRadboud University; Faculty of Science; Institute for Science, Innovation and Society;
dr. S. Lohse
Other course modules lecturer
dr. S. Lohse
Other course modules lecturer
Contactperson for the course
dr. S. Lohse
Other course modules lecturer
dr. S. Lohse
Other course modules lecturer
Academic year2022
KW1  (05/09/2022 to 06/11/2022)
Starting block
Course mode
Registration using OSIRISYes
Course open to students from other facultiesYes
Waiting listNo
Placement procedure-
At the end of the course, students will:

- be able to provide a basic overview of selected normative issues at the interface of science and society;
- be able to give basic explanations of key problems in relation to evidence/expertise and their use in different societal contexts;
- be able to develop and defend their own position on some of the issues discussed;
- have improved their ability to understand complex arguments and texts;
- be able to reflect on their role and responsibilities as scientists in (and for) society on an advanced level.
“Medical experts should inform public health interventions.” –  “In the courtroom, we should always use the best available evidence.” – “Climate journalism must be based on scientific facts.” These demands seem reasonable – and trivial at the same time. What are the alternatives? Yet, there are many intricate questions regarding the role that evidence and expertise - in particular scientific evidence and expertise - can and should play in different areas of society: In what ways is scientific expertise special? Are certain types of evidence better than others and in all contexts? How can we decide how much evidence is enough for a given societal purpose and in light of economic constrains? Is it really a good idea to “follow the science”, or does this imply that we would live in some kind of expertocracy? What non-scientific forms of evidence and expertise are relevant in democratic societies?

In this course, we will attempt to understand and analyse these and related questions through the lens of empirical philosophy of science and with a focus on the societal life of scientific evidence and expertise in different contexts. We will scrutinise the concept of evidence, discuss various roles that experts and facts can and should play at different societal sites (e.g. in healthcare and the courtroom), examine methodological problems of science-based regulation, and reflect about the responsibilities of scientist as stakeholders in society. Moreover, we will assess the role that the sciences played in the COVID-19 crisis and learn about challenges for communicating scientific results to the public in the age of “post-truth”. The selection of course topics will be shaped by background knowledge of and interest expressed by the students.

Forms of tuition:

Lectures and discussions.
MSc students (entry requirement: BSc).
Presumed foreknowledge
Basic knowledge in philosophy and/or ethics of science is useful, but not required.
Test information
Essay with a combination of individual and group contributions (80% - graded).
Contribution to mini assignments (20% - pass/fail).
Minimum score for essay: 5.0.

Indicative reading: Little, A., & Backus, M. (2020, August 7). Confidence Tricks. Aeon, https://aeon.co/essays/real-experts-know-what-they-dont-know-and-we-should-value-it

Readings will be made available via Brightspace.
Instructional modes
Attendance MandatoryYes

Test weight4
Test typeEssay
OpportunitiesBlock KW1, Block KW2

Test weight1
Test typeAssignment
OpportunitiesBlock KW1, Block KW2