Fifty years ago, Michael Polanyi wrote his classic essay in defence of the autonomy of scientific enquiry: The Republic of Science: its political and economic theory. Contrasting with this vision, the past 30 years have seen the proliferation of Global Environmental Assessments (GEAs) which are explicitly associated with societal goals. The most recent example is the Intergovernmental science- policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) which has been officially established in April 2012 and aims at tackling the “biodiversity crisis”. In this paper, we provide some context regarding the multiplication of GEAs and highlight their key characteristics (drawing upon concepts from science studies). After reviewing briefly some of the lessons that have been learned regarding the effectiveness of GEAs, we argue that the main tensions affecting the authority of GEAs can either be related to their horizontal dimension – that is between science and policy – or their vertical dimension – between different scales (local/global). Building on results from science studies and political science, we show that the tensions arising from these two dimensions can be associated with their geographical sensitivity and the fact that “place matters”. A spatial understanding of authority is needed to describe how place, or locality, affects the epistemic and political dimensions of expertise.
Borie, M. and Hulme, M. (2013). The authority of expertise in Global Environmental Assessments: IPBES and the challenge of placefulness. 3S Working Paper 2013-18. Norwich: Science, Society and Sustainability Research Group.