Monday, April 28, 2014
Diane Ring (Boston College), The Influence of Experts (Jotwell) (reviewing Mai’a K. Davis Cross, Rethinking Epistemic Communities Twenty Years Later, 39 Rev. Int’l Studies 137 (2013)):
Why do certain ideas gain traction in policy debates? Regardless of one’s field of study, this question cannot be ignored. The challenge is where to look for answers. The 2013 article by political scientist Mai’a Davis Cross, Rethinking Epistemic Communities Twenty Years Later, is one new and relevant resource in this quest. For more than a decade international tax scholars have drawn on the work of international relations (IR) theory and scholarship. In part, this attention by the tax community was out of necessity. Although it was apparent that international tax policy was subject to and the product of the same basic forces animating the classic subjects of IR study (e.g., military, trade, and environmental policy) tax policy formation traditionally has received scant attention from this branch of political science research. Yet the ideas being developed in IR theory would prove important to a serious and sophisticated understanding of “international tax relations.” Thus, international tax scholars began looking across the divide of research fields to consider the value added from the IR theory work of political scientists such as Cross. ...
For readers already familiar with the topic, the article provides a great contemporary snapshot of the current debates and a thoughtful consideration of next steps. For those newer to the ideas of epistemic communities, the article offers a concise but contextualized overview that goes beyond mere definition and example to offer perspective on the role and value of continued exploration of these issues. And finally, for all readers Cross clarifies some enduring misconceptions (e.g., epistemic communities were never envisioned as exclusively the domain of science; expert influence is not synonymous with ideal policy recommendations) and presents a valuable compilation of the significant scholarship on epistemic communities of the past decade. Every scholar should be concerned with the origin of influential ideas and policy recommendations in the global arena even if these questions do not take center stage on the research agenda. Cross’s article proves a useful entry point into the current study of epistemic communities.