Silencing trust: confidence and familiarity in re-engineering knowledge infrastructures

Rune Nydal, Gaymon Bennett, Martin Kuiper, Astrid Lægreid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


In this paper, we tell the story of efforts currently underway, on diverse fronts, to build digital knowledge repositories (‘knowledge-bases’) to support research in the life sciences. If successful, knowledge bases will be part of a new knowledge infrastructure—capable of facilitating ever-more comprehensive, computational models of biological systems. Such an infrastructure would, however, represent a sea-change in the technological management and manipulation of complex data, inducing a generational shift in how questions are asked and answered and results published and circulated. Integrating such knowledge bases into the daily workflow of the lab thus destabilizes a number of well-established habits which biologists rely on to ensure the quality of the knowledge they produce, evaluate, communicate and exploit. As the story we tell here shows, such destabilization introduces a situation of unfamiliarity, one that carries with it epistemic risks. It should elicit—to use Niklas Luhmann’s terms—the question of trust: a shared recognition that the reliability of research practices is being risked, but that such a risk is worth taking in view of what may be gained. And yet, the problem of trust is being unexpectedly silenced. How that silencing has come about, why it matters, and what might yet be done forms the heart of this paper.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)471-484
Number of pages14
JournalMedicine, Health Care and Philosophy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Domesticating futures
  • Familiarity
  • Knowledge bases
  • Knowledge infrastructures
  • Moral habitus
  • Systems biology
  • Trust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Education
  • Health Policy


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