Epistemic monopoly may let the bad guys get away

December 20, 2008

by Roger Koppl

The Chicago Tribune gives us another example of the trouble with epistemic monopolies.  They uncovered a case in which the police in the Chicago area city of Harvey, Illinois ignored a DNA match in a rape case.  In two other rape cases they did not submit the rape kit for analysis. 

Madison expressed the liberal dilemma in Federalist 51: “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”  We should count the risks of epistemic monopoly among the dangers poised by the police powers of the state.  Short of full anarchy, which I don’t personally accept anyway, how could we introduce epistemic competition to municipal policing?

2 Responses to “Epistemic monopoly may let the bad guys get away”

  1. chidemkurdas Says:

    Very apt question, as anyone living in NYC, for instance, knows from the news. It’s great that you study this age-old quandary in the context of today’s municipal police procedures, Roger. But wouldn’t it apply more broadly as well, to prosececutors at state and federal levels?

  2. Roger Koppl Says:

    I think so, Chidem. Indeed, the issue of epistemic competition applies all over the place, including all sorts of government policy issues such as financial regulation, food inspection, and standard setting of all sorts.

    As you know, I think I’ve made quite a bit of progress on how to introduce epistemic competition to forensic science testing. I don’t know how to apply the idea in other areas, but I feel sure it can be done.


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