Scientific ignorance and the temporality of non-knowledge in political decision-making on COVID-19

Activity: Talk or presentationPublic talk


During the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, most public authorities and politicians turned to scientific advisors and experts to gain relevant knowledge and support for their decisions. Paradoxically, knowledge held by scientific experts was highly partial, insecure and incomplete which is called here ‘scientific ignorance’. In this paper, we discuss how scientific ignorance and nonknowing have governed decision-making processes in the corona crisis and the kinds of practices policymakers resorted to when trying to manage epistemic conditions on nonknowing in decision-making. Drawing on insights from social epistemology and the emerging interdisciplinary field of ignorance studies, we provide evidence that the temporality of non-knowing and its intersection with knowing is a force that leads political decision-making during a crisis. In illustrating our epistemic discussion with actions taken by press conferences (PCs) of the Finnish government, this paper proposes that a crisis situation, itself, seems to demand from political decision-makers dynamic action while simultaneously knowing little (‘non-knowing’) about the different fronts of tackling the pandemic. We conclude that non-knowing must be recognized explicitly as an enduring and central condition in decision-making.
Period26 Nov 2021
Degree of RecognitionInternational