This paper aims to clarify the political nature of parliamentary technology assessment (PTA) by reflecting on PTA's relationship with democratic policy making. This issue is raised in a political climate that is regularly portrayed as a ‘post-truth era’ and influenced by the rise of radical right populism. Democratic policy making is described in terms of problem structuring that depends on powering, scientific puzzling, participation and deliberation. Regulative democratic ideals, like political equality, truth, citizen participation, and ideal communication, are identified that drive these processes. These concepts are used to clarify the political nature of PTA in two ways. First the kind of political support for PTA within countries where PTA is or was institutionalized is explored. A typology of seven levels of political support to PTA is discerned. These degrees of support depend on whether PTA is performed by MPs or by TA experts, and to what extent MPs allow PTA to play a role in the scientific puzzling process and/or organize participation-cum-deliberation processes. To further clarify the political nature of PTA, three political attitudes towards the regulative democratic ideals are distinguished: affirmative, indifferent, and adverse. It is shown that processes of powering, scientific puzzling and participation-cum-deliberation can be used in ways that are guided by regulative democratic ideals (affirmative), ignore those ideals (indifferent) or undermine them (adverse). In political contexts in which indifferent or adverse attitudes prevail political support for PTA of any kind is very unlikely. It is argued that PTA can strengthen democratic policy making, when it fully acknowledges the political nature, and strengths and weaknesses of both scientific puzzling and participation-cum-deliberation. In this way PTA can connect to democratic forms of populism, and is well-positioned to counteract anti-scientism, anti-intellectualism, and anti-democratic forms of populism.
- Parliamentary technology assessment
- Regulative ideals
- Technology assessment