Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States

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Overview

Biology and politics have converged today across much of the industrialized world. Debates about genetically modified organisms, cloning, stem cells, animal patenting, and new reproductive technologies crowd media headlines and policy agendas. Less noticed, but no less important, are the rifts that have appeared among leading Western nations about the right way to govern innovation in genetics and biotechnology. These significant differences in law and policy, and in ethical analysis, may in a globalizing world act as obstacles to free trade, scientific inquiry, and shared understandings of human dignity.

In this magisterial look at some twenty-five years of scientific and social development, Sheila Jasanoff compares the politics and policy of the life sciences in Britain, Germany, the United States, and in the European Union as a whole. She shows how public and private actors in each setting evaluated new manifestations of biotechnology and tried to reassure themselves about their safety.

Three main themes emerge. First, core concepts of democratic theory, such as citizenship, deliberation, and accountability, cannot be understood satisfactorily without taking on board the politics of science and technology. Second, in all three countries, policies for the life sciences have been incorporated into "nation-building" projects that seek to reimagine what the nation stands for. Third, political culture influences democratic politics, and it works through the institutionalized ways in which citizens understand and evaluate public knowledge. These three aspects of contemporary politics, Jasanoff argues, help account not only for policy divergences but also for the perceived legitimacy of state actions.

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Editorial Reviews

Environment and Planning

[Jasanoff's] contribution to the science and technology studies literature is undeniable. . . . Designs on Nature will be key reading for anyone interested in the geographies of science, a burgeoning area of study that has much to offer our understanding of international political and knowledge regimes.
— Kerry Holden
Science - Julian Kinderlerer
The book is worth reading. . . . Jasanoff's fascinating descriptions and explanations of the different interpretations and understandings of biotechnology regulation . . . provide an interesting perspective on the decisions for patenting higher life forms that have been made in each of the jurisdictions during the last 25 years.
Nature - Mark Cantley
Sheila Jasanoff has written a carefully structured, ambitious and timely book . . . about the evolution of public policy on biotechnology over the past three decades in the United States, Germany, Britain and the European Union (EU). . . . She marshals her information carefully, using a comparative approach to illustrate how similar challenges to public policy-makers in these countries were handled differently, in ways that reflect long-standing differences in their political cultures.
Issues in Science & Technology - Erik Millstone
Sheila Jasanoff provides a refined and subtle comparative analysis of the ways in which policy decisions about red and green biotechnologies have been made in the United States, the EU, the United Kingdom, and Germany. She shows, with her mastery of detail and structure that the ways in which decisions are made about the pursuit of particular scientific research agendas and the development of types of technologies depend profoundly on the political cultures within which those decisions are made. . . . The analysis provided by Jasanoff in this scholarly and lucid study suggests that whatever the eventual outcome of the WTO dispute, the probability of institutional and policy convergence is slight, and that diversity may well be sustainable or even unavoidable.
Financial Times - James Wilsdon
Designs on Nature manages to communicate the results of sustained scholarship in a lively and engaging style, and should be required reading for anyone interested in the social dynamics of innovation.
Nature Cell Biology - Alan Irwin and Kevin Jones
In Designs on Nature, Sheila Jasanoff presents an erudite challenge to the usual attempts to separate science from politics. . . . Scientists, as well as political decision makers, will find Designs on Nature an excellent introduction to the politics of science and technology. . . . The old idea that science and politics can be kept apart may still linger, but Jasanoff's account has removed any academic credibility for such a claim.
Quarterly Review of Biology - Elof Axel Carlson
Jasanoff's book is well worth reading for any scientist involved in the emerging fields of biotechnology.
Australian Review of Public Affairs - Betsi Beem
Jasonoff's book is an important and timely work, both substantively and theoretically. Those interested in biotechnology policies in any of the countries examined in this book will find an engaging and complete account of how they emerged and developed.
Science Studies - Monika Kurath
What makes the book worthwhile reading is . . . its diverse, comparative, and analytical viewpoint, elaborately and deeply embedded in an STS context. . . . Jasanoff's particular ability to establish comprehensive ties and link multiple levels and sites of science, technology, politics, and culture using strong argumentation might elevate Designs on Nature to a classic.
Scientists for Global Responsibility Newsletter - Anne Chapman
Overall this book provides a generally readable, interesting account of the divergent ways in which the three countries considered have responded to developments in biotechnology.
Environment & Planning - Kerry Holden
[Jasanoff's] contribution to the science and technology studies literature is undeniable. . . . Designs on Nature will be key reading for anyone interested in the geographies of science, a burgeoning area of study that has much to offer our understanding of international political and knowledge regimes.
BioScience - Carol Auer
Readers interested in the concept of framing and its effects on international public debate and biotechnology regulation should read Sheila Jasanoff's Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States.
From the Publisher
"The book is worth reading. . . . Jasanoff's fascinating descriptions and explanations of the different interpretations and understandings of biotechnology regulation . . . provide an interesting perspective on the decisions for patenting higher life forms that have been made in each of the jurisdictions during the last 25 years."—Julian Kinderlerer, Science

"Sheila Jasanoff has written a carefully structured, ambitious and timely book . . . about the evolution of public policy on biotechnology over the past three decades in the United States, Germany, Britain and the European Union (EU). . . . She marshals her information carefully, using a comparative approach to illustrate how similar challenges to public policy-makers in these countries were handled differently, in ways that reflect long-standing differences in their political cultures."—Mark Cantley, Nature

"Sheila Jasanoff provides a refined and subtle comparative analysis of the ways in which policy decisions about red and green biotechnologies have been made in the United States, the EU, the United Kingdom, and Germany. She shows, with her mastery of detail and structure that the ways in which decisions are made about the pursuit of particular scientific research agendas and the development of types of technologies depend profoundly on the political cultures within which those decisions are made. . . . The analysis provided by Jasanoff in this scholarly and lucid study suggests that whatever the eventual outcome of the WTO dispute, the probability of institutional and policy convergence is slight, and that diversity may well be sustainable or even unavoidable."—Erik Millstone, Issues in Science & Technology

"Designs on Nature manages to communicate the results of sustained scholarship in a lively and engaging style, and should be required reading for anyone interested in the social dynamics of innovation."—James Wilsdon, Financial Times

"In Designs on Nature, Sheila Jasanoff presents an erudite challenge to the usual attempts to separate science from politics. . . . Scientists, as well as political decision makers, will find Designs on Nature an excellent introduction to the politics of science and technology. . . . The old idea that science and politics can be kept apart may still linger, but Jasanoff's account has removed any academic credibility for such a claim."—Alan Irwin and Kevin Jones, Nature Cell Biology

"Jasanoff offers her latest opus, a timely and welcome study that examines how the US, British, and German governments and people are struggling with several high-profile biotechnological innovations. . . . An engaging, well-referenced work."—Choice

"Jasanoff's book is well worth reading for any scientist involved in the emerging fields of biotechnology."—Elof Axel Carlson, Quarterly Review of Biology

"Jasonoff's book is an important and timely work, both substantively and theoretically. Those interested in biotechnology policies in any of the countries examined in this book will find an engaging and complete account of how they emerged and developed."—Betsi Beem, Australian Review of Public Affairs

"What makes the book worthwhile reading is . . . its diverse, comparative, and analytical viewpoint, elaborately and deeply embedded in an STS context. . . . Jasanoff's particular ability to establish comprehensive ties and link multiple levels and sites of science, technology, politics, and culture using strong argumentation might elevate Designs on Nature to a classic."—Monika Kurath, Science Studies

"Overall this book provides a generally readable, interesting account of the divergent ways in which the three countries considered have responded to developments in biotechnology."—Anne Chapman, Scientists for Global Responsibility Newsletter
"[Jasanoff's] contribution to the science and technology studies literature is undeniable. . . . Designs on Nature will be key reading for anyone interested in the geographies of science, a burgeoning area of study that has much to offer our understanding of international political and knowledge regimes."—Kerry Holden, Environment and Planning

"Readers interested in the concept of framing and its effects on international public debate and biotechnology regulation should read Sheila Jasanoff's Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States."—Carol Auer, BioScience

Science
The book is worth reading. . . . Jasanoff's fascinating descriptions and explanations of the different interpretations and understandings of biotechnology regulation . . . provide an interesting perspective on the decisions for patenting higher life forms that have been made in each of the jurisdictions during the last 25 years.
— Julian Kinderlerer
Nature
Sheila Jasanoff has written a carefully structured, ambitious and timely book . . . about the evolution of public policy on biotechnology over the past three decades in the United States, Germany, Britain and the European Union (EU). . . . She marshals her information carefully, using a comparative approach to illustrate how similar challenges to public policy-makers in these countries were handled differently, in ways that reflect long-standing differences in their political cultures.
— Mark Cantley
Issues in Science & Technology
Sheila Jasanoff provides a refined and subtle comparative analysis of the ways in which policy decisions about red and green biotechnologies have been made in the United States, the EU, the United Kingdom, and Germany. She shows, with her mastery of detail and structure that the ways in which decisions are made about the pursuit of particular scientific research agendas and the development of types of technologies depend profoundly on the political cultures within which those decisions are made. . . . The analysis provided by Jasanoff in this scholarly and lucid study suggests that whatever the eventual outcome of the WTO dispute, the probability of institutional and policy convergence is slight, and that diversity may well be sustainable or even unavoidable.
— Erik Millstone
Financial Times
Designs on Nature manages to communicate the results of sustained scholarship in a lively and engaging style, and should be required reading for anyone interested in the social dynamics of innovation.
— James Wilsdon
Nature Cell Biology
In Designs on Nature, Sheila Jasanoff presents an erudite challenge to the usual attempts to separate science from politics. . . . Scientists, as well as political decision makers, will find Designs on Nature an excellent introduction to the politics of science and technology. . . . The old idea that science and politics can be kept apart may still linger, but Jasanoff's account has removed any academic credibility for such a claim.
— Alan Irwin and Kevin Jones
Choice
Jasanoff offers her latest opus, a timely and welcome study that examines how the US, British, and German governments and people are struggling with several high-profile biotechnological innovations. . . . An engaging, well-referenced work.
Quarterly Review of Biology
Jasanoff's book is well worth reading for any scientist involved in the emerging fields of biotechnology.
— Elof Axel Carlson
Australian Review of Public Affairs
Jasonoff's book is an important and timely work, both substantively and theoretically. Those interested in biotechnology policies in any of the countries examined in this book will find an engaging and complete account of how they emerged and developed.
— Betsi Beem
Science Studies
What makes the book worthwhile reading is . . . its diverse, comparative, and analytical viewpoint, elaborately and deeply embedded in an STS context. . . . Jasanoff's particular ability to establish comprehensive ties and link multiple levels and sites of science, technology, politics, and culture using strong argumentation might elevate Designs on Nature to a classic.
— Monika Kurath
Scientists for Global Responsibility Newsletter
Overall this book provides a generally readable, interesting account of the divergent ways in which the three countries considered have responded to developments in biotechnology.
— Anne Chapman
Environment & Planning
[Jasanoff's] contribution to the science and technology studies literature is undeniable. . . . Designs on Nature will be key reading for anyone interested in the geographies of science, a burgeoning area of study that has much to offer our understanding of international political and knowledge regimes.
— Kerry Holden
BioScience
Readers interested in the concept of framing and its effects on international public debate and biotechnology regulation should read Sheila Jasanoff's Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States.
— Carol Auer
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691118116
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 5/9/2005
  • Pages: 392
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.44 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

Sheila Jasanoff is Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Trained in law at Harvard Law School, she is the author of many books on the role of science and technology in the politics of modern democratic societies, including "Science at the Bar, The Fifth Branch, and Risk Management and Political Culture".

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Read an Excerpt

Designs on Nature

Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States
By Sheila Jasanoff

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2005 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.




Chapter One

WHY COMPARE?

Biotechnology politics and policy are situated at the intersection of two profoundly destabilizing changes in the way we view the world: one cognitive, the other political. This unique position makes the project of using the life sciences to improve the human condition anything but straightforward. It also makes biotechnology a particularly apposite lens through which to compare the triumphs and tribulations of late capitalistic technological democracies.

On the cognitive front, the shift is from a realist to a constructivist view of knowledge. Years of work on the social construction of science and technology, and the contingency of similarity and difference judgments, have taught us to be skeptical of absolutist claims concerning objectivity and progress. Scientific knowledge, it is now widely accepted, does not simply accumulate, nor does technology invariably advance benign human interests. Changes in both happen within social parameters that have already been laid down, often long in advance. In the field of environmental regulation, for example, concepts of risk and safety, methods of compiling and validating data, ideas of causation and blame, and (crucially for biotechnology) even the boundary between "nature" and "culture" have all been shown to reflect deep-seated social assumptions thatrob them of universal validity. The methods with which policymakers carry on their business similarly cannot be taken as neutral, but must be seen as the result of political compromise and careful boundary maintenance, favoring some voices and viewpoints at others' expense. The criteria by which one measures policy success or failure are likewise products of negotiation; in applying them, one implicitly adopts contingent, locally specific standards of reliability and validity. The special authority of scientific claims is in competition with other representations of reality diffused through the global media, and scientific expertise is subject to appropriation by multiple, diffracted social identities and interests. Any attempt to compare the performance of national policy systems today must take these complexities into account.

On the political front, the shift is toward a fracturing of the authority of nation-states, with consequent pressures to rethink the forms of democratic governance. State sovereignty is eroding under the onslaught of environmental change, financial and labor mobility, increased communication, the global transfer of technical skills and scientific knowledge, and the rise of transnational organizations, multinational corporations, and social movements. Supranational concerns, such as the demand for free trade or globally sustainable development, are gaining political salience, but they are at the same time encountering resistance from tendencies toward greater local autonomy based on particularities of culture and place. As a result, the "old" politics of modernity-with its core values of rationality, objectivity, universalism, centralization, and efficiency-is confronting, and possibly yielding to, a "new" politics of pluralism, localism, irreducible ambiguity, and aestheticism in matters of lifestyle and taste.

These flows and movements have attenuated the connections between states and citizens, calling into question the capacity of national governments to discern and meet their citizens' needs. Yet we live in a time when knowledgeable citizens are more than ever demanding meaningful control over the technological changes that affect their welfare and prosperity. Many therefore see this epoch as a proving ground for new political orders whose success will depend, in part, on our learning to live wisely with our growing capacity to manipulate living things and our equally growing uncertainty about the consequences of doing so.

There is little question that genetic engineering, along with the cognitive, social, and material adjustments made to accommodate it, will form an essential part of the politics of the twenty-first century, just as it did of the political history of the preceding three decades. Attempts to deploy biotechnology for the public good, and to ensure democratic control over it, touch the political and cultural nerve centers of industrial nations in the global economy. These efforts are political in the sense that they centrally concern the production and distribution of societal benefits and risks; they are cultural in that, by intervening in nature, biotechnology forcefully impinges on social meanings, identities, and forms of life. Comparison among national and regional debates surrounding biotechnology should therefore help us identify and make sense of the wider political realignments that are taking place around us at this moment. Comparison may even help us decide which courses of action we wish to follow, as individuals or as political communities. But how should such a project be organized? What should we compare, using what methods, and with what ultimate hopes of illumination?

Comparison, particularly in the policy field, has historically been driven by a faith in the possibility of melioration through imitation. Analysts assumed that they could objectively evaluate which agency, nation, or political system was "doing better" at implementing particular policy goals; such findings then were supposed to assist policymakers elsewhere in deciding which course of action to follow. While one should not denigrate this practical ambition, one should likewise not take its feasibility for granted. With growing awareness of the culturally embedded character of both knowledge and policy, there are reasons to be skeptical of unproblematic learning from others' experiences. The insights gained from comparative analysis suggest, indeed, that neglecting cultural specificities in policymaking may be an invitation to failure within any political community's own terms of reference. Comparative studies of science and technology policy today need a different justification than simply the propagation of improved managerial techniques. Rather than prescribing decontextualized best practices for an imagined global administrative elite, comparison should be seen as a means of investigating the interactions between science and politics, with far-reaching implications for governance in advanced industrial democracies.

But if deeper social and political understanding is our goal, what conceptual tools should we bring to the task of comparison, and how should these differ from past approaches? This chapter lays out the case for a new kind of comparative analysis-one that retains nation states as units of comparison but is organized around the dynamic concept of political culture, rather than the more static categories of political actors, interests, or institutions. My aim is to explore the links among knowledge, technology, and power within contemporary industrial democracies and to display these links from the standpoints of those situated within particular cultures of action and decision. This approach illuminates how political culture plays out in technological debates and decisions-most particularly how it affects the production of public knowledge, constituting what I call the civic epistemologies of modern nation states. The methods I adopt for this purpose owe as much to the history and sociology of knowledge and the anthropology of technological cultures as they do to comparative politics, policy studies, or law. Interpretive methods, I hope to show, are especially well suited to investigating the complex reception of novel science and technology into a nation's political life.

I begin the chapter with the theoretical considerations that will guide my comparison of biotechnology debates in Britain, Germany, and the United States. I then discuss the organization of the study, including the reasons for selecting these three countries as cases for comparison and biotechnology as the lens through which to compare them. I conclude with a brief outline of the remaining chapters.

Beyond State and Structure: Theoretical Considerations

Comparative analysis is a relative newcomer to the study of social engagements with science and technology. As little as twenty years ago, the comparison of national policies significantly implicating technical questions-on issues such as public health, pharmaceutical drug regulation, industrial and occupational safety, and environmental protection-was still in its infancy. Up to that point, cross-national research on the politics of science and technology was constrained by a number of unspoken assumptions that cast doubt on the utility of comparison.

Reasons for the initial neglect included, to begin with, a firm belief in the universality of science. Political systems might differ, but science was held to be everywhere the same. The influential American sociologist Robert K. Merton spoke for this viewpoint when he represented "universalism," or the invariability of knowledge across political and cultural domains, as one of the core norms of science. Also militating against expectations of cross-national variation was the widely accepted thesis of technological determinism, which holds that technology's inner logic, founded on its material characteristics, bends human institutions to suit its development trajectories. Economic determinism provided an analogous argument from the social sciences, suggesting that, even if national policies initially diverge, competitive pressures in an increasingly interdependent global marketplace will eventually overwhelm such differences.

These ideas resonated in the field of political science, where the dominant school of thought held that technically complex decision making takes its color more from the nature of the issues than from features of national culture or politics. Policymakers everywhere, so the reasoning went, would be compelled by the same scientific, technical, and economic considerations; policies would therefore converge, and little insight would be gained from comparing national approaches over time. These views are still represented in some contemporary political writing, but this book argues that, in its narrow focus on decision outcomes and its failure to problematize the foundations of knowledge, such work misses important differences and regularities among contemporary cultures of democratic politics.

Comparative analysis came into vogue in the 1980s as an instrument for advancing well-recognized and widely appreciated social objectives. In a world increasingly committed to economic and political integration, government and industry (if not always the noneconomic organs of civil society) shared an interest in lowering trade barriers by harmonizing regulations. Comparative research was seen as a useful aid to this project: as a means of highlighting areas where policies and values remain significantly divided, thus paving the way for negotiation and cross-national agreement. The capacity of policy institutions emerged as an important topic of comparison in studies of technically grounded regulatory fields such as environmental protection, where success depended on the will and ability of state authorities to monitor and enforce compliance with complex legal obligations. Comparative study, according to advocates of transnational capacity-building, provided helpful lessons in how to improve the effectiveness of administrative institutions.

In this first wave of comparative analysis, policies were assumed for methodological purposes to be discrete and singular, with ascertainable causes and determinate consequences. A great advantage of this method was that it offered built-in criteria for comparison and evaluation. The policy process could be parsed into separable stages (for example, agenda-setting, legitimation, implementation, evaluation, and revision) that followed each other in linear succession and could be compared from one political context to another. Since impacts were taken as clearly marked and objectively measurable, questions about the relative performance of states in meeting their goals also seemed unproblematic. States and citizens, at least within similar political systems, were presumed to want the same goods: health, safety, jobs, patents, new drugs, higher agricultural productivity, a cleaner environment, and so forth. In this intellectual framework there was nothing awkward about asking which political system produces the most responsive policies, affords the most protective standards, fosters the most innovation, fuels the most economic growth, or most effectively resolves political conflict. Only in the light of empirical research did these presumptions have to be reconsidered and sharply modified.

The First Wave Breaks: National Styles of Regulation

In the early 1980s several studies of health, safety, and environmental regulation in Western countries put to rest the notion that policy strategies and outcomes are uniquely determined by economic, scientific, or technological considerations. Regulation, it emerged, displayed distinctively national characteristics, leading to observable differences in the timing, priorities, forms, and stringency of interventions. Scientific evidence was shown to carry different weight in different policy environments, its interpretation conditioned by homegrown traditions of legal and political reasoning and habits of deference or skepticism toward expert authority. Cultural influences seeped into the very heart of technical analysis. Confronted by ostensibly the same research results, governmental agencies in one country concluded that a product or activity posed no risks to health or the environment, but in another held that it was unacceptably hazardous and should be banned or strictly regulated. When decisionmakers reached broadly similar policy endpoints, they often did so through different routes of reasoning and public justification. Patterns of interaction between regulators and regulated parties, as well as the reliance on particular policy procedures and discourses, appeared firm enough to warrant the label "national styles of regulation."

Contrasts between U.S. and European approaches to managing risk seemed especially pronounced. Researchers were struck by the open and adversarial processes of rulemaking in the United States, the frequent resort to litigation, and U.S. agencies' significantly greater reliance on formal, quantitative measures of risk, costs, and benefits. Such systematic divergences invited explanations based on differences in the structure of political institutions. Comparative studies, like much other political analysis of the period, initially looked to the state for explanations, and to the relatively fixed "opportunity structures" it provides for political action.

In the U.S. case, it took little prompting to see that the regulatory landscape is molded to an extraordinary degree by institutions that invite public expressions of skepticism and distrust. A constitutionally ordained separation of powers not only facilitates rivalry between Congress and the executive branch but also authorizes the courts to review the basis of administrative rules. Low entry barriers to the courts and an activist judiciary provide generous opportunities for interested parties to challenge decisions contrary to their immediate interests. Citizens' capacity to take issue with, and hence to deconstruct, claims made by the state is strengthened through laws that require open meetings and disclosure of relevant technical information. At the same time, the relative dearth of vertical hierarchies and horizontal networks of cooperation impedes the kinds of informal negotiation and consensus-building that are found in European (and, outside the Western tradition, Japanese) policy formation. All these entrenched attributes of politics heighten the vulnerability of U.S. policymakers, supplying plausible reasons for their distinctive approach to rationalizing policy decisions.

The argument from national political structure was particularly effective in explaining U.S. agencies' hankering for objectivity based on numerical calculations. Operating in a fishbowl of transparency, with significantly less protection from civil service traditions or legal insulation than their European counterparts, American regulators were not free to justify their actions by simply invoking delegated authority or superior expertise; they had to establish through explicit, principled argument that their actions fell within a zone of demonstrable rationality. Numerical assessments of risks, costs, and benefits provided compelling evidence. European regulators, by contrast, seemed generally better able to support their decisions in qualitative, even subjective terms. Expert judgment carried weight in and of itself as a basis for action, the more so when backed by negotiation among relevant parties; there was on the whole less need to refer to an exogenous method, model, or logic to support policy decisions.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Designs on Nature by Sheila Jasanoff Copyright © 2005 by Princeton University Press . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Why compare? 13
Ch. 2 Controlling narratives 42
Ch. 3 A question of Europe 68
Ch. 4 Unsettled settlements 94
Ch. 5 Food for thought 119
Ch. 6 Natural mothers and other kinds 146
Ch. 7 Ethical sense and sensibility 171
Ch. 8 Making something of life 203
Ch. 9 The new social contract 225
Ch. 10 Civic epistemology 247
Ch. 11 Republics of science 272
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