All Knowledge is Equal but Some Knowledge is More Equal than Others?

by Beck Collins

I get very annoyed when people talk about scientific knowledge as though it was just another opinion to be heard down the pub.  Scientific knowledge is different.  From the stage of fledgling academics working through their PhDs, scientists are trained to be rigorous in their research practice.  They must be conversant with the debates in their area, they must follow meticulous procedures while gathering and analysing data, and they must demonstrate where their work contributes to current understanding.  They must be able to defend themselves at every turn.  In this way scientific knowledge can be ‘trusted’.

Quote Blog 12I have a lot of respect for this approach.  However, knowledge which comes from this rigorous process of inquiry is not the only type.  I realised this recently while reading planning journal papers about how local people sometimes reject the ‘rational knowledge’ and resultant solutions that are presented to them by planners.  In these cases, people favour their own knowledge of their local areas generated through their everyday experience.  How could I reconcile these two understandings of knowledge?  Does one have precedence over the other?  I went on to think about BCU’s accredited courses; where students gain knowledge through professionally standardised training.  Accredited courses have a stamp of approval; the relevant body has said that this is what you need to know; this is how we market our courses to new students after all!  Is that the end of it then?  What about tacit knowledge which is important to the smooth running of professional life; knowledge that people have that is difficult to articulate and is based on experience (such as tendering skills built up from past experience)?  How does that fit in?  There’s also Dreyfus and Dreyfus’s understanding of experts’ knowledge; according to Flyvbjerg (2011) their great experience gives them such a holistic understanding that they intuitively know what to do.  So I should trust them, they’re experts?  That sounds fishy!  And are all ‘experts’ quite so worthy of this description? [Read more…]