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(Dis)Trust in Public-Sector Data, Technology, and Science - III: Census, Technology, and Numbers

Thu, October 7, 1:20 to 2:50pm EDT (1:20 to 2:50pm EDT), 4S 2021 Virtual, 7


STS scholarship on technopolitics typically examines the role that governments and state organizations play in producing, enabling, and leveraging data, technology, and science. Technocratic projects like conducting censuses, modeling weather, producing medicines, constructing computers or developing weapons serve both state and scientific masters. While the legitimacy of these investments are often intertwined with the legitimacy of state power, such power¬and legitimacy also relies upon scientific development and the sustained production of technoscientific imaginaries.

Yet recent years have witnessed a range of governmental actions around the world designed to purposefully delegitimize states’ technoscientific investments. Politicians work to dismantle state-funded scientific efforts, often under the guise of free-market commitments and austerity principles. The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the global cost of distrust in public-sector science, technology, and data. Even as scientists produced a vaccine with unprecedented speed, governments around the world failed to track the spread of the virus, let alone provide data to enable decision-making. In some countries, political leaders are propagated conspiracies and “fake science”, undermining public health and scientific development.

Just as governments can help advance science, technology, and data, they may also choose to strategically curb such pursuitsor actively undermine their legitimacy.
This panel examines how public-sector technoscientific efforts are made legitimate, and how that legitimacy is strategically undermined. We ask, how are state-sponsored science and technology projects legitimated? How can this legitimacy come undone? How can trust in public-sector technoscience be repaired?

This third of three panels focuses on population census and trust in numbers.


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