Workshop: Misinformation, Expertise and Challenges to Democracy

Workshop: Misinformation, Expertise and Challenges to Democracy

Manchester Centre for Political Theory, 7-9 September

Panel at The Manchester Centre for Political Theory (MANCEPT) Workshops 2022 organised by Jonathan Benson, Carline Klijnman and Lucas Dijker in association with the Hallsworth Fellowship Fund and PERITIA. See Conference Website for more information.

Arthur Lewis Building G.035 (in person)

It is now common in both academic and public debates to talk of democracy’s epistemic problems. The 2016 election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote, for instance, spread many concerns for the impact of misinformation on democratic debate. The seeming rise of fake news and conspiracy theories in contemporary politics presents empirical questions about the root causes of such phenomena, but also normative questions concerning their impacts on democratic values and appropriate policy responses. The Covid-19 pandemic has similarly highlighted problems of misinformation, but also the inescapable role of scientific expertise in democratic politics. While expert testimony is often crucial to policy issues as diverse as climate change and internet regulation, public discourse appears to be increasingly polarised so that even scientific reporting becomes the subject of partisan hostility, prompting questions regarding the nature and stability of public trust in science. Questions are therefore raised about the appropriate role of knowledge and expertise in a democratic society, and whether potential epistemic dysfunctions threaten to undermine core democratic values.

While misinformation and expertise often take centre stage in discussions of democracy’s epistemic challenges, such concerns extend also to issues of testimony and epistemic injustice, political polarisation, populism and technocracy, voter ignorance, and developments in media and communication technology. All these issues raise instrumental concerns about the effectiveness of democratic decision-making and its ability to produce desirable outcomes, but also procedural concerns for mutual respect, the equal standing of citizens, and the quality of democratic deliberation and public justification.

This workshop invites discussion of these epistemic challenges and the wider normative questions they provoke about the role of knowledge and expertise in democratic politics. Topics of interest to the workshop include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • How prevalent are issues of political misinformation and what are their normative implications (if any) for democracy?
  • What desirable solutions may exist for issues of fake news, conspiracy theory, and political misinformation?
  • What is the appropriate/legitimate role for expertise in a democracy, and what challenges affect the relationship between experts and citizens?
  • What factors (should) influence trust in experts and expert testimony, and what challenges may a dependence on such trust pose?
  • What problems may epistemic injustice pose in democratic debate and deliberation?
  • Does polarisation and partisanship influence the epistemic quality of democracy?
  • How has social media and other information technologies benefited/undermined the spreading of information in contemporary democracies?
  • What are the epistemic limits of democracy in comparison to its alternatives (e.g. epistocracy, political meritocracy, free-markets etc.)?

Programme

Wednesday 7th September

11:00-12:30 Registration

12:30-13:30 Lunch

13:30-14:00 Welcome Speech

14:00-16:00 Session 1: Considering Consequences beyond Misinformation

Nikolas Kirby (Harvard Kennedy School): Polarization, Misinformation and Distrust (Online)

Carline Klijnman (University of Genoa): Public Credibility Dysfunction and Epistemic Democracy

16:00-16:30 Tea and Coffee Break

16:30-17:30 Session 1: Considering Consequences beyond Misinformation (continued)

Gloria Origgi (Institut Jean Nicod): The Gap between Experts and Non-Experts. Where Misinformation Becomes Dangerous (Online)

17:45-19:00 Wine Reception

19:30 Conference Dinner

Thursday 8th September

9:30-11:30 Session 2: Attitudes to Science in Public Discourse

Lucas Dijker (University College Dublin): Populism and Epistemic Injustice: Wronging and Being Wronged?

Luzia Sievi (Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen): The Relationship of Right-Wing Discourse to Science Is Not Antagonistic, It Is Hybrid

11:30-12:00 Tea and Coffee Break

12:00-13:00 Session 2: Attitudes to Science in Public Discourse (continued)

Cristobal Bellolio Badiola (Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez): Epistemic Populism and the Challenge to Public Reason Liberalism

13:00-14:00 Lunch

14:00-16:00 Session 3: Polarisation and Exclusion in Public Discourse

Jonathan Benson (University of Manchester): Democracy and the Epistemic Problems of Polarisation

Jonathan Weid (Northwestern University): Information Systems and Hermeneutical Injustice: Propaganda, Fascism and Fake News (Online)

16:00-16:30 Tea and Coffee Break

16:30-17:30 Session 3: Polarisation and Exclusion in Public Discourse (continued)

Leonie Smith (University of Cardiff): Nostalgic Attention, Epistemic Injustice and Working-Class Political Recognition

Friday 9th September

9:30-11:30 Session 4: (Epistemic) Risks and Responsibilities in Democracy

Solmu Anttila (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam): Do Citizens Have a Responsibility to Be Informed?

Rod Dacombe (King’s College London): Truth, Conspiracy Theories and the Limits of Deliberative Democracy

11:30-12:00 Tea and Coffee Break

12:00-13:00 Session 4: (Epistemic) Risks and Responsibilities in Democracy (continued)

Cathrine Holst (University of Oslo): Leave it to experts? Expertise, Policy Making and Democracy (Online)

13:00-14:00 Lunch

14.00 End of Workshop