Epistemic responsibility in the face of a pandemic

Neil Levy*, Julian Savulescu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
19 Downloads (Pure)


Should non-experts defer to epidemiologists with regard to the response to the coronavirus pandemic? We argue that deference is required with regard to settled science: non-experts (that is, people who may possess expertise of their own but whose expertise is not relevant to a particular question) ought to defer with regard to climate science and the efficacy of vaccines. However, we suggest that this deference is warranted because these questions have been appropriately probed many times by many different kinds of people. While non-experts should defer to epidemiologists with regard to matters within the sphere of epidemiology specifically, responding to the pandemic requires expertise from many fields. We best build a consensus worth deferring to by contributing our expertise now. Ethicists and philosophers are not epistemically arrogant if they question policy responses. Rather, they play a responsible role in building a reliable consensus.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberlsaa033
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Law and the Biosciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • deference
  • knowledge
  • responsibility
  • testimony


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