I work in a broad field, which encompasses sociological research on science, medicine, professions, intellectuals and knowledge, especially as these intersect with political and legal institutions. I call this the sociology of expertise, because this term does not prejudge who or what is included within the field. I am interested in what scientists and professionals do, but also in how ordinary people as “lay experts” put together novel forms of expertise. Focusing on “expertise” also means that in my research I am interested not only in who is considered an expert, but also in what is necessary to be in place for the expert performance of a task. Currently, I am especially interested in understanding the causes and dimensions of the contemporary mistrust of experts, including the attempts to cast doubt on the findings of climate science, the refusal of parents to vaccinates their children, or the dismissal of sober assessments by economic experts (e.g. at the time of the Brexit debate). While there is a lot of handwringing today about living in a “post-truth” world, I think that what we are witnessing now are symptoms of a recursive crisis, something that has happened before and will continue to happen. Put succinctly, the “scientization” of politics (namely the dependence of liberal democracies on expert knowledge for most tasks of governance) leads to the politicization of science, and the two processes constantly feed off and amplify one another. In future years, I will be co-directing a Mellon Seminar on “Trust and Mistrust of Science and Experts” aiming to involve a broad group of scholars, scientists and members of the public in an effort to take stock of the current crisis and how it may be mitigated. In another line of work, I am interested in the interrelations between basic science and medical practice, especially as they are transformed by what is now called “precision medicine”. I am co-directing Columbia’s nascent Precision Medicine & Society program, which fosters conversations and supports research on the social, economic, legal and ethical dimensions of Precision Medicine.
Ph.D., UCLA, 1997