In today’s world, open science and open government matter. When combined, many agree, they strengthen science and democracy. Yet opening up ­– whether in the name of open science, open data, open source or open government – is rarely straightforward. This essay explores the curious alliances, novel tensions and surprising paradoxes that contemporary practices of openness entail. It dwells on two controversies in particular: Climategate and The Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017. These examples show that the grounds on which expertise and science for government work are shifting; and how difficult it can be to defend established scientific practices, which are increasingly cast as secretive, suspect and morally untenable. While pundits routinely take both examples as evidence of a populist, right-wing assault on science, the essay suggests that the recent push for openness and transparency itself contributes substantially to the challenges science for government faces. Familiar stories about a post-truth, anti-science Right that operates in the shadows, and a truthful, pro-science Left that does not, have limited explanatory value. Ultimately the essay aims to expand our thinking on the knotty entanglements of science and liberal democratic governance in the twenty-first century.

This chapter was first outlined at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. A pre-publication version is available here; the published version appears in Words and Worlds: A Lexicon for Dark Times (eds) Veena Das and Didier Fassin. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2021.