Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles, Energy Policy, and the Ethics of Expertise



Relatively few thinkers have attempted to develop a systematic ‘ethics of expertise’ (EOE) that can guide scientists and other technical experts in providing information to the public. This paper argues that the prima facie duty to disseminate information in a manner that does not damage the self-determination of decision makers could fruitfully serve as one of the core principles of an EOE. Moreover, this duty can be fleshed out in promising ways by drawing on the concept of informed consent, which guides medical clinicians in preserving the self-determination of their patients. The paper applies the resulting ethical framework to recent policy discussions about hydrogen fuel-cell (HFC) vehicles, both because they have received a good deal of research funding and because their merits have been hotly debated. It concludes that technical experts providing information about HFC vehicles should be especially cognizant of three issues: (1) important alternatives to hydrogen technology that need to be addressed, (2) major false beliefs that should be prevented or corrected, and (3) significant framing effects that could influence the recipients of information.