You cannot be serious! Public Understanding of Technology with special reference to `Hawk-Eye.’
Harry Collins and Robert Evans
An edited version of this paper will be published by Public Understanding of Science 17, 3, July 2008.
Public understanding of science, though it approaches the specialist knowledge of experts only in rare circumstances, can be enhanced more broadly in respect of the processes of science and technology. The public understanding of measurement errors and confidence intervals could be enhanced if `sports-decision aids’, such as the Hawk-Eye system, were to present their results in a different way. There is a danger that Hawk-Eye as used could inadvertently cause naïve viewers to overestimate the ability of technological devices to resolve disagreement among humans because measurement errors are not made salient. For example, virtual reconstructions can easily be taken to show `exactly what really happened’. Suggestions are made for how confidence levels might be measured and represented and `health warnings’ attached to reconstructions. A general principle for the use of sports decision aids is put forward. A set of open questions about Hawk-Eye is presented which, if answered, could help inform discussions of its use and accuracy.
Keywords: Sports decision aids; Hawk-Eye; public understanding of technology; simulations; cricket; tennis
At the heart of the debate about public understanding of science is the relationship between esoteric knowledge and ubiquitous knowledge. The debate turns on the extent to which the ubiquitous knowledge alone is enough to make judgements that touch on esoteric knowledge. The discredited `deficit model’ held that public discomfort with science and technology was caused by a lack of specialist knowledge: if only the public could share in the specialist knowledge of science then their values – in respect of such things as the desirability of new technologies – would align with those of the scientific community. This was obviously incorrect since, apart from the difficulty of making the esoteric knowledge of specialists available to non-specialists, scientists themselves – who, by definition, understand more science than anyone – disagree about both truth and values. Social studies of science showed that science was itself shot through with ordinary thinking and decision-making: science is not an automatic procedure for generating either truth or uniform opinions – ordinary human judgment lies at its heart. For the kind of science that is likely to cause debates in the public domain, this means that ordinary people’s judgment is not dissimilar to scientists’ judgment in some respects.
This finding has given rise to a widespread tendency in contemporary science and technology studies (STS) to treat the public as more or less continuous with experts when it comes to technological decision-making in the public domain.[i] More recently this approach has been subject to a new challenge, concentrating on differentials, not in access to the truth, but in expertise and experience (Collins and Evans 2002, 2007).
This paper takes the position on public understanding that has been put forward in books such as The Golem series (Collins and Pinch, 1993, 1998, 2005). The position is that, first, there is a deficit in public understanding of the technicalities of science and, second, there is a deficit in understanding the processes of science; while not much can be done about the former, the latter can be, to some extent, remedied. The Golem series was intended to improve public understanding of scientific processes.
Understanding the degree of certainty that attends any finding or claim is part of understanding the process of science. Thus The Golem at Large (Collins and Pinch 1998) pointed to the uncertainty surrounding...