Session 14 Abstracts

Politics of expertise

  • 10:30–11:00 Adam Lucas – Connecting covert networks to lobbying, donations and the revolving door in energy policy
  • 11:00–11:30 Cobi Calyx - Changing positions regarding synthetic biology
  • 11:30–12:00 Darrin Durant – Are (Pandemic) Experts Control Freaks?

Adam Lucas 

University of Wollongong

Connecting covert networks to lobbying, donations and the revolving door in energy policy

The lack of regulation and transparency relating to political donations, lobbying and ‘jobs for the boys’ in Australia presents ample opportunities for structural biases in government decision-making which enable ‘soft corruption’. This paper draws upon two databases containing the governance and employment histories of 160 former Australian politicians, bureaucrats and political staffers with clear employment links to the fossil fuel and resource extraction industries over the last fourteen years. In order to demonstrate how fossil-fuelled interests continue to win a wide range of political favours from state and federal governments, the paper focuses on discernible financial and employment relationships between individuals and organizations, including political parties, bureaucracies, corporations and industry peak bodies. The employment relationships are documented in graphic representations of the data pertaining to political party affiliations, portfolio responsibilities and pre- and post-political employment for the individuals concerned. It then correlates that data with the levels of disclosed and undisclosed political donations and lobbying expenditure from the same companies employing former public officials, and the tax concessions which those companies and sectors have received. Nitzan and Bichler’s capital as power theory provides a useful heuristic to account for these relationships, which I argue indicate state capture by the fossil fuel and resource extraction industries.

Adam Lucas is president and treasurer of AAHPSSS and a senior lecturer in science and technology studies at the University of Wollongong (UOW). His research focuses on the history and sociology of early modern and premodern machine technology, and contemporary climate change and energy policy. He is also a series editor for Brill’s Technology and Change in History book series and a founding member of Academics for Public Universities <>.

Cobi Calyx 

University of New South Wales

Changing positions regarding synthetic biology

This presentation reflects on a decade of synthetic biology as emerging technoscience in Australia, from the first documented public dialogue in 2010 through to release of Australian yoghurt marketed as “synbio” enhanced for consumer health a decade later. Drawing on transcripts from the historical public dialogue and firsthand experiences of early career researcher opportunities in Australia and abroad, reflections will be linked to ongoing inequities regarding diversity in positions of leadership across Australian science, business, and politics. Experiments with breastmilk, kombucha and sourdough will be related to fermenting changes.

Lessons learned will be shared, including reflecting on the impossibility of meeting demands for generating and addressing demands in the current system.

Cobi Calyx has more than a decade of experience working in disaster response, science communication, health promotion and environmental governance. Her disaster response work has ranged from state government to the United Nations. She has worked on Australian Aid projects in Asia and the Pacific, including with the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact. She grew up by the beach surfing and is a trained SCUBA diver, though has done neither since becoming a mother to 2 under 4. Cobi graduated from her PhD in science communication from Australian National University in 2018 and has other postgraduate qualifications in health promotion and education. She is a Research Fellow in Science Communication with the Centre for Social Impact at UNSW Sydney, based remotely in Adelaide. During her PhD she was a Visiting Scholar at Melbourne Law School and taught in Masters courses at the University of Melbourne on interdisciplinarity, environment and global governance.

Darrin Durant 

University of Melbourne

Are (Pandemic) Experts Control Freaks?

In this talk I critically analyze Stephen Hilgartner’s argument that it is unhelpful to claim there was some ‘pandemic playbook’ that Trump neglected to open, and this avoidance of plans accounts for the woeful pre-Biden US response to the pandemic. My point is not to lob another grenade into Trumpland. Trump and his cronies trash their own credibility. Instead, I ask what Hilgartner’s vision of medical expertise, and authoritative advice more generally, does in the world? Hilgarter had asked what expert authority does to the world, and he suggested expert authority ‘imagines’ citizens as docile objects to be managed, seeks to control and dominate publics, and aims to reassure citizens by attributing failure to components. I ask very simply: is this a boneheaded way to extend the insights of STS or what? I show that Hilgartner mischaracterizes the nature of medical judgements about collective social action, leading to a general view of expert authority that would delegitimate the very idea of trying to plan for anything. Hilgartner’s STS commits us to guidance as unfreedom and deference as anathema to autonomy; also known as neoliberal hogwash. I further show that Hilgartner misapplies disaster theory, thinking that disaster theory establishes that complex catastrophes are always system not component failures. I suggest Hilgartner’s turning of blame and responsibility into topics, not resources, ignores the recreancy concept within disaster theory and renders social actors immune from critical analysis. STS can and should do better.

Darrin Durant is a Senior Lecturer in STS at the University of Melbourne. Dr Durant has published widely on the problem of integrating expert and citizen input into deliberation and governance, and on energy politics (including nuclear waste disposal and nuclear power, climate change politics, and environmental governance). Recent works include the book Experts and the Will of the People (2020), and a series of book chapters on how not to ignore experts (The Third Wave in Science and Technology Studies (2019), experts within democracies (Oxford Handbook of Expertise (2021), and post-truth (Post-Truth Imaginations (2021).