Democracy and distrust after the pandemic

11 March 2022, 5:30pm


The 2022 Dr Seng Tee Lee Lecture was delivered by Professor Shelia Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Harvard Kennedy School

Friday 11 March 2022, Fisher Building, St John's College, Cambridge

Democracy and Distrust after the Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic brought into sharp focus the strengths and weaknesses of the links between science, technology and society. Vaccines were widely lauded as scientific miracles, repaying decades of investment in research. At the same time, virulent opposition to vaccination in many societies signaled citizens’ unwillingness to trust the experts and follow the mandates prescribed by public health professionals and political leaders.

To watch the seminar back, please click on the link below:

In this lecture, Professor Shelia Jasanoff situated the opposition to vaccines, masks, and other public health mandates within a framework of constitutional theory that recognises, and acknowledges, how political choice has been delegated to experts without adequate infrastructures of accountability. She argued that building better after the pandemic will require an explicit engagement with the tacit rules of delegation and deliberation that underpin modern democracies. Those rules will need to be revitalised to meet 21st century expectations of sovereignty and citizenship if governments are to retain public confidence in times of crisis.

Professor Jasanoff's work explores the role of science and technology in the law, politics, and policy of modern democracies, with particular attention to the nature of public reason. She was founding chair of the Science & Technology Studies Department at Cornell University and has held numerous distinguished visiting appointments in the US, Europe, and Japan. Jasanoff served on the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and as President of the Society for Social Studies of Science.

About S T Lee Public Policy Lectures

The S T Lee Public Policy lectures were established in 2003 thanks to a benefaction from Seng Tee Lee, Singaporean business executive, philanthropist and Honarary Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge. Each lecture considers aspects of scientific, medical or technological research and developments that are likely to have significant implications for public policy over the next decade.

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Dr Rob Doubleday

Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge

Professor Sheila Jasanoff

Harvard Kennedy School

Professor Diane Coyle

Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS), University of Cambridge

Laura Sayer

Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge