THE LITTLE MONK: And do you not believe that the truth –
if it be the truth will triumph even without us?
GALILEO: No, no, no. Truth will triumph only in so far as we
triumph; the victory of reason can only be the victory of
(B. Brecht, Life of Galileo, Scene VIII)
While scientific expertise has been a key resource in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, its political use has triggered new interaction dynamics between powerholders and political challengers. In this regard, the resort to scientific expertise has proved to be a necessary - although not sufficient - condition to establish as well as to contest the legitimacy of anti-pandemic measures.
In this paper we offer a comparison of the interaction dynamics between social movements and the State in Italy and France during the Covid-19 crisis. The paper explains how the different links between scientific expertise and political resources affect not only the dynamics of contention but also its outcomes. While showing similar institutional responses to the crisis, the two cases differ in the quality and intensity of contentious dynamics between government and social movements. We show how the high resources of scientific actors and the high mobilisation potential in France favoured the emergence of a counter-expertise that triggered new scientific and political controversies over anti-contagion measures (e.g. Didier Raoult and the hypothesis on hydroxychloroquine). On the other hand, in Italy lower levels of political mobilisation and the local specificity of scientific networks didn't trigger any debate on novel scientific alternatives and the contestation remained into the realm of purely critical/oppositional claims. Our paper confirms the importance of organisational resources within the scientific field to explain the rise of novel forms of counter-expertise, while symmetrically showing how the organisational resources at the social level are crucial to explain their capacity to become politically relevant controversies.