CFP: Expertise and Uncertainty

Spontaneous Generations, a scholarly journal published by the graduate students of the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto, invites contributions to its 11th volume.

Experts occupy an increasingly contested space in our society. Politicians challenge the expertise of public health officials amidst the COVID-19 pandemic; climate change deniers that of climatologists; creationists that of evolutionary biologists and geologists. Even the rotundity of the Earth has not escaped renewed public scrutiny. While many regard this growing tide of resistance to experts with anxiety or alarm, even their most stalwart defenders acknowledge the risks inherent in excessive deference to experts. After all, experts are only human. They can make mistakes of fact or ethical judgment. They can fall prey to the temptations of conformity. They can be corrupted by corporate or state patronage. A technologically sophisticated society can hardly function without experts, but neither can a democratic one exempt them from scrutiny.

Early career scholars involved in the study of science, technology, medicine, and mathematics are well-positioned to explore the pressing issues surrounding expertise. Their efforts to establish their own expertise, as experts who study other experts, gives them a valuable point of view. The editors of Spontaneous Generations welcome contributions which explore these themes from an anthropological, historical, philosophical, sociological, or interdisciplinary point of view. Questions which contributors might take up include, but are not limited to:

  • What epistemological challenges arise from the practice and communication of expertise? How can non-experts evaluate expert testimony in a principled, reasonable way?
  • How can the rights of marginalized individuals or communities be protected against the potential abuse of expertise? How can those of a democratic society?
  • Has a particular historical episode especially illuminated the risks & opportunities inherent in expertise?
  • What public good results from your expertise? How would you fruitfully engage with a politician, layperson, or administrator who expressed skepticism about it?
  • How has studying the expertise of others informed your own perspective and identity?

In short, we invite second-order reflections on the challenges, opportunities, and social-situatedness of expertise, whether your own or that of the experts you study. We especially welcome contributions in the form of focus essays: 2-3,000 words in length. Research articles and book reviews which speak to the theme of expertise, more or less directly, are also welcome. Contributions should follow the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition; be formatted in MS Word; and be received no later than December 20th, 2020. We will also be happy to review abstracts before that time, if you have an idea for a submission and are considering whether or not to go forward. Please send abstracts, inquiries, and contributions (along with your institutional and departmental affiliation) to Daniel Halverson at

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