The Role of Science and Technology in Future Design
by Jerome Karle
1985 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
The role of science and technology in future design will be discussed from the perspective of someone who has lived all his life in the United States and whose scientific experience has spanned the years since the late 1930s. It is likely that the reader will find in my discussion characteristics that apply to many developed countries and developing ones. Inasmuch as scientific progress is highly dependent on financial support and, in modern times, on general societal support, it is appropriate to discuss the interaction of science and society. Using the United States as an example, some of the topics to be discussed are the views of public officials who influence the distribution of research funds, the response of funding agencies and the views of scientists. Finally, we shall look at the co-evolution of science and society and attempt to draw some conclusions concerning their related future and the implications for the future of technology.
Views of Public Officials
Public officials who are involved in setting or influencing science policy have expressed opinions that indicate that they intend to change the basis for supporting research and development. They speak in terms of a "paradigm shift" based on some new perception of the role of science in society. The word paradigm has several meanings, but in the way it is used here the words "pattern" or "model" may be good substitutes. In other words, the public officials wish to alter somewhat the pattern of funding for science. Their motivation is to orient research more toward programs that, for example, ensure a stronger economy and improvements in the environment. It is becoming increasingly apparent that those public officials who control public funds, will be reluctant to fund research programs that they consider unrelated to national needs.
An example of priority-setting by public officials was the vote in the House of Representatives against further construction of the high energy accelerator known as the superconducting super collider. This shift in spending priorities implies that nuclear physics may receive less support in the future if it continues to be viewed as less related to the new national priorities than other scientific disciplines.
Views of Funding Agencies
The effect of the intention of federal officials to shift public research funds toward research programs that serve the national priorities has already affected the nature of the funding available at the funding agencies. For example, at the National Science Foundation, a small increase in funding for the chemistry division is directed toward so-called strategic research initiatives that involve, for example, advanced materials and processing, biotechnology, environmental chemistry and high-performance computing. It is likely that this trend will continue. The Federal Coordinating Council on Science, Engineering and Technology identified the current national priority areas as high-performance computing, advanced materials, manufacturing research and education, biotechnology and global change. The expressed intention is to get more effort into those areas, but not to have them be entirely exclusive.
Views of Scientists
Many questions arose in the scientific community as a consequence of the use of words such as "new paradigm," "strategic areas", "priorities," and "national competitiveness" in statements concerning the future funding of science. The questions concerned many aspects of the support of science, such as, is the paradigm really new, who decides which areas are strategic and who sets the priorities, and are the important contributions of curiosity-driven basic research to be largely sacrificed.
The indications so far are quite clear that the government expects to shift publicly funded research activity into the areas that are deemed strategic. Is this a new paradigm or merely a shift in emphasis? Quite apparently there has been over the years heavy funding and much research in the strategic (priority) areas. There also has been in the United States, a major Industry-University cooperative research program conducted by the National Science Foundation. It celebrated its 20th year of operation in January, 1994. An account of this very successful and extensive program has been presented in the January 24, 1994 issue of Chemical and Engineering News published by the American Chemical Society. The motivation of this cooperative program is to develop and transfer industrially relevant technologies from the university into practice. There are currently more than 50 active centers involving about 1,000 faculty members, about 1,000 graduate students and 78 universities. More than 700 organizations sponsor the centers, including government agencies, national laboratories and about 500 industrial firms. A table in the article lists 55 research topics covering a broad array of technologies. It is pointed out that the success rate is very high, namely only 6% of the centers have failed. Major investments have been made by sponsor organizations, based on center technologies. There are also many other industry-university collaborations that are not part of the National Science Foundation program.
Do we really have a "new paradigm" and, if so, what is it? Performing research in the interest of national needs is not new. Cooperating with industry is not new. Setting priorities is not new. What could be new? It is indicated that what is new is that by control of public funds curiosity driven research is to be curtailed to some unspecified degree in favor of research perceived to be in the national interest. This, I believe is the source of the apprehension among scientists. The major developments in science and technology generally derive from curiosity driven research and these developments have had over time great impact on the national interest, enriching the country with whole new industries and making contributions to the health, welfare, comfort and security of society. Is curtailing curiosity driven research in the national interest?
The Impact of Curiosity Driven Basic Research
Many scientific groups have produced literature that describes, in terms of many examples, how curiosity driven research has led to important developments in the interest of society. The October, 1993 issue of Physics Today celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the journal, Physical Review. A major part of this issue was devoted to the matter of basic research. An article by Robert K. Adair and Ernest M. Henley pointed out that "a century of fundamental physics research has appeared in the Physical Review. Such research is the seed corn of the technological harvest that sustains modern society." In an article on the laser, Nicolaas Bloembergen points out that "the first paper reporting an operating laser was rejected by Physical Review Letters in 1960. Now lasers are a huge and growing industry, but the pioneers' chief motivation was the physics." In an article on fiber optics, Alister M. Glass notes that "fundamental research in glass science, optics and quantum mechanics has matured into a technology that is now driving a communications revolution." In an article on superconductivity, Theodore H. Geballe states that "it took half a century to understand Kamerlingh Onnes' discovery, and another quarter-century to make it useful. Presumably we won't have to wait that long to make practical use of the new high-temperature superconductors." Other articles concerned nuclear magnetic resonance, semiconductors, nanostructures and medical cyclotrons, all subjects of great technological and medical importance that originated in basic physical research.
In a preface for a publication of the American Chemical Society, Science and Serendipity, the President of the ACS in 1992, Ernest L. Eliel, writes about "The Importance of Basic Research." He writes that "many people believe - having read about the life of Thomas Edison - that useful products are the result of targeted research, that is, of research specifically designed to produce a desired product. But the examples given in this booklet show that progress is often made in a different way. Like the princes of Serendip, researchers often find different, sometimes greater, riches than the ones they are seeking. For example, the tetrafluoroethylene cylinder that gave rise to Teflon was meant to be used in the preparation of new refrigerants. And the anti-AIDS drug AZT was designed as a remedy for cancer." He goes on to say that "most research stories are of a different kind, however. The investigators were interested in some natural phenomenon, sometimes evident, sometimes conjectured, sometimes predicted by theory. Thus, Rosenberg's research on the potential effects of electric fields on cell division led to the discovery of an important cancer drug; Kendall's work on the hormones of the adrenal gland led to an anti-inflammatory substance; Carothers' work on giant molecules led to the invention of Nylon; Bloch and Purcell's fundamental work in the absorption of radio frequency by atomic nuclei in a magnetic field led to MRI. Development of gene splicing by Cohen and Boyer produced, among other products, better insulin. Haagen-Smit's work on air pollutants spawned the catalytic converter. Reinitzer's discovery of liquid crystals is about to revolutionize computer and flat-panel television screens, and the discovery of the laser - initially a laboratory curiosity - is used in such diverse applications as the reattachment of a detached retina and the reading of barcodes in supermarkets. All of these discoveries are detailed in this booklet (Science and Serendipity). Ernest Eliel goes on to point, out that "the road from fundamental discovery to practical application is often quite long, ranging from about 10 years in the example of Nylon to some 80 years in the case of liquid crystals." He concludes that "if we stop doing fundamental research now, the 'well' that supplies the applications will eventually run dry. In other words, without continuing fundamental research, the opportunities for new technology are eventually going to shrink."
Some of the other topics in the brochure on Science and Serendipity, that were included to document further the importance of basic research, concerned several examples of the impact of chemistry on medicine. There are, in fact, countless such examples. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) in their Newsletter of May, 1993 considered basic biomedical research and its benefits to society. I quote from the FASEB Public Affairs Bulletin of May, 1993. "There have been recent suggestions that tighter linkage between basic research and national goals should become a criterion for research support. Concerns also have been raised that science is being practiced for its own sake, and that it would be better for the nation if research were oriented more toward specific industrial applications." They go on to point out that "the available evidence, however, clearly indicates that the desired linkage already exists. Indeed, a majority of scientists are intimately involved in the study and treatment of common human diseases and collaborate closely with clinical scientists. Industries involved in biomedical development have been remarkably efficient in commercial application of treatment modalities based on discoveries resulting from fundamental research funded primarily by the federal government.
"A critical factor in sustaining the competitive position of biomedical-based industries is for basic research to continue to provide a stream of ideas and discoveries that can be translated into new products. It is essential to provide adequate federal support for a broad base of fundamental research, rather than shifting to a major emphasis on directed research, because the paths to success are unpredictable and subject to rapid change.
"History has repeatedly demonstrated that it is not possible to predict which efforts in fundamental research will lead to critical insights about how to prevent and treat disease; it is therefore essential to support a sufficient number of meritorious projects in basic research so that opportunities do not go unrealized. Although its primary aim is to fill the gaps in our understanding of how life processes work, basic research has borne enormous fruit in terms of its practical applications. We recognize that during a time when resources are constrained, it may be tempting to direct funding to projects that appear likely to provide early practical returns, but we emphasize that support for a wide-ranging portfolio of untargeted research has proven to be the better investment. This provides the broader base of knowledge from which all new medical applications arise. Decisions regarding what research to fund must be based on informed judgments about which projects represent the most meritorious ideas."
FASEB continues with a discussion of economic benefits and a number of examples of basic research-driven medical breakthroughs. "Society reaps substantial benefit from basic research. Technologies derived from basic research have saved millions of lives and billions of dollars in health care costs. According to an estimate by the National Institutes of Health on the economic benefits of 26 recent advances in the diagnosis and treatment of disease, some $6 billion in medical costs are saved annually by those innovations alone. The significance of these basic research-derived developments, however, transcends the lowering of medical costs: the lives of children as well as adults are saved, and our citizens are spared prolonged illness or permanent disability. Fuller, more productive lives impact positively on the nation's economic and social progress."
FASEB continues with thirteen examples of contributions by basic research to the diagnosis and treatment of numerous diseases, most of them very serious. Also noted in this Public Affairs Bulletin is that "our ability to know in advance all that is relevant is very poor" (Robert Frosch) and that, in suggesting new ideas for the management of funding for science, never considered were "the serious consequences of harming the system."
Up to this point, we have been concerned with basic science and its support by government funds in a modern society. Although there is also some support by private institutions established for that purpose and also some industrial investment in generally product-oriented basic research, the greatest amount of support by far comes from public funds. One of the ways that the public is repaid for their support is through the technology that fundamental research generates. I suspect that the economic return from technology alone more than compensates for the monies expended for the entire basic research effort. I have no estimate, however, of whether my suspicion is true or not. It should be noted that the public gains much more than the economic value of technology. It gains culture, comfort, convenience, security, recreation, health and the extension of life. What monetary value can be put on the triumphs of health over debilitating or fatal disease? The monetary value has to be higher than the purely economic savings that were noted above in the 26 examples referred to in the FASEB Bulletin.
The word "technology" means industrial science and is usually associated with major activities such as manufacturing, transportation and communication. Technology has been, in fact, closely associated with the evolution of man starting with tools, clothing, fire, shelter and various other basic survival items. The co-evolution persists and, since basic science is now very much a part of developing technologies, the term co-evolution of science and society which is used at times very much implies the co-evolution of both basic science and industrial science with society. Advances in technology are generally accompanied by social changes as a consequence of changing economies and ways of carrying out life's various activities. An important question arises concerning how basic scientific discoveries eventually lead to new technologies and what that may mean to the rational support of basic research and the future of science and technology in the developed and developing world.
There are great uncertainties in the process that starts with basic research and ends with an economically successful technology. The successful discovery of a new development in research that appears to have technological significance does not ensure the economic success of technologies that may be based on it.
Nathan Rosenberg of Stanford University, in a speech, "Uncertainty and Technological Change", before the National Academy of Sciences (April, 1994), pointed out that there are great uncertainties regarding economic success even in research that is generally directed toward a specific technological goal. He notes that uncertainties derive from many sources, for example, failure to appreciate the extent to which a market may expand from future improvement of the technology, the fact that technologies arise with characteristics that are not immediately appreciated, and failure to comprehend the significance of improvements in complementary inventions, that is inventions that enhance the potential of the original technology. Rosenberg also points out that many new technological regimes take many years before they replace an established technology and that technological revolutions are never completed overnight. They require a long gestation period. Initially it is very difficult to conceptualize the nature of entirely new systems that develop by evolving over time. Rosenberg goes on to note that major or "breakthrough" innovations induce other innovations and their "ultimate impact depends on identifying certain specific categories of human needs and catering to them in novel or more cost effective ways. New technologies need to pass an economic test, not just a technological one."
What does this mean with regard to government managed research? I quote from Rosenberg's speech.
"I become distinctly nervous when I hear it urged upon the research community that it should unfurl the flag of 'relevance' to social and economic needs. The burden of much of what I said is that we frequently simply do not know what new findings may turn out to be relevant, or to what particular realm of human activity that relevance may eventually apply. Indeed, I have been staking the broad claim that a pervasive uncertainty characterizes, not just basic research, where it is generally acknowledged, but the realm of product design and new product development as well - i.e., the D of R&D. Consequently, early precommitment to any specific, large-scale technology project, as opposed to a more limited, sequential decision-making approach, is likely to be hazardous - i.e., unnecessarily costly. Evidence for this assertion abounds in such fields as weapons procurement, the space program, research on the development of an artificial heart, and synthetic fuels.
"The pervasiveness of uncertainty suggests that the government should ordinarily resist the temptation to play the role of a champion of any one technological alternative, such as nuclear power, or any narrowly concentrated focus of research support, such as the War on Cancer. Rather, it would seem to make a great deal of sense to manage a deliberately diversified research portfolio, a portfolio that will illuminate a range of alternatives in the event of a reordering of social or economic priorities. My criticism of the federal government's postwar energy policy is not that it made a major commitment to nuclear power that subsequently turned out to be problem-ridden. Rather, the criticism is aimed at the single-mindedness of the focus on nuclear power that led to a comparative neglect of many other alternatives, including not only alternative energy sources but improvements in the efficiency of energy utilization."
To these words, I add those (noted by FASEB) of Bruce Ferguson, Executive Vice President of Orbital Sciences Corporation, a space technology firm. Ferguson said, "The federal government should focus its research and development spending on those areas for which the benefits are diffuse and likely to be realized over many years, rather than areas for which benefits are concentrated on particular products or firms over a few years. These areas are not well covered by corporate investment, yet are vital to the long-term economic strength of the country."
Some reactions to "strategic" research are recounted in an article in Nature of February 10, 1994 (Vol. 367, pp. 495-496) from which I quote some passages. The concept of strategic research "is not an unfamiliar cry, witness last year's debate in Britain about harnessing of research to 'wealth creation.' Nor, of course, is the objective in any way disreputable; what scientist would not be cheered to know that his or her research won practical benefits for the wider world as well as a modicum of understanding? The difficulties are those of telling in advance which particular pieces of research will lead to 'new technologies' and then to 'jobs'.
"The recent past is littered with examples of adventurous goal-directed programmes of research and development which have failed for intrinsic reasons or which, alternatively, have been technically successful, but unusable for economic or other reasons."
The article goes on to say that the affection for strategic research in the United States may prove short-lived. "In Britain, much the same seems to be happening. Having pinned its reorganization of research on the doctrine of science for wealth-creation, the government appears now to be more conscious of the problems it has undertaken to solve. Indeed, the prime minister, John Major, seemed to be suggesting in a speech last week that the British part of the research enterprise deserves respect of the kind accorded to other social institutions at the heart of his 'back to basics' rhetoric. After more than a decade of needless damage-doing, that would be only prudent."
As a final remark, the article ends with the statement: "On the grander questions, on both sides of the Atlantic, it seems likely that the first flush of enthusiasm for turning research into prosperity will be abated by the reality of the difficulties of doing so. When governments discover in the course of seeking radical reorganization that the best they can do with their parts of the research enterprise is to cherish them, the lessons are likely to be remembered. If the outcome in the research community is a more vivid awareness of how much the world at large looks to research for its improvement, so much the better."
The Future of Science, Technology and Society
In discussing the future of science (including industrial science) and society, it is valuable to recount some of the important points that emerged from the previous discussion.
1. As a consequence of recognizing the economic benefits that derive from the development of novel, successful technologies, governments have been attempting to direct research, supported with public funds, toward subjects that are perceived as national priorities. This contrasts with broad-based "curiosity" oriented basic research.
2. The views of scientists, a distinguished economist, some industrial leaders and an editorial comment in a distinguished science journal provide very strong indications that governmental management of goal-oriented research is replete with uncertainties and pitfalls and, although well-motivated, may cause serious damage to the scientific culture. This, of course, would defeat the original purpose, since the co-evolution of science and society is a very-well documented and irrefutable phenomenon.
3. Strong arguments are presented in this article by individuals and groups that support the current system of governmental funding of a very broad range of scientific efforts as probably being as close to optimal with regard to national priorities as is possible. No one can predict with any certainty what the most successful inventions and technologies will be in the future. The economic return on federally supported funding was the subject of a report by the Council of Economic Advisors to President Clinton. This report was released in November 1995. It documents high returns to the economy and the importance of governmental involvement. 1
4. By any measure, basic scientific research has made monumental contributions to technology and national priorities. The bond between basic research and the development of both novel and current technologies has been and is well in place.
There is no question that science and society will continue to co-evolve. The nature of this evolution will certainly be affected by the extent to which governments set funding priorities. Societies whose governments recognize the dependence of the development of successful novel technologies on broadly supported basic research are more likely to be healthier and economically prosperous in the future than those that do not. Because of the unpredictability of the details of the new science and technology that will evolve, the details of social evolution are also unpredictable.
1. The CEA Report on Economic Returns from R&D is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.whitehouse.gov.
First published 29 June 2000
To cite this page
MLA style: "The Role of Science and Technology in Future Design". Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 11 Mar 2018. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/themes/chemistry/karle/>
See also: Technology and society
Science, technology and society studies, or science and technology studies (both abbreviated STS) is the study of how society, politics, and culture affect scientific research and technological innovation, and how these, in turn, affect society, politics and culture.
Like most interdisciplinary programs, STS emerged from the confluence of a variety of disciplines and disciplinary subfields, all of which had developed an interest—typically, during the 1960s or 1970s—in viewing science and technology as socially embedded enterprises. The key disciplinary components of STS took shape independently, beginning in the 1960s, and developed in isolation from each other well into the 1980s, although Ludwik Fleck's (1935) monograph Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact anticipated many of STS's key themes. In the 1970s Elting E. Morison founded the STS program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which served as a model. By 2011, 111 STS research centres and academic programs were counted worldwide.
- History of technology, that examines technology in its social and historical context. Starting in the 1960s, some historians questioned technological determinism, a doctrine that can induce public passivity to technologic and scientific "natural" development. At the same time, some historians began to develop similarly contextual approaches to the history of medicine.
- History and philosophy of science (1960s). After the publication of Thomas Kuhn's well-known The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), which attributed changes in scientific theories to changes in underlying intellectual paradigms, programs were founded at the University of California, Berkeley and elsewhere that brought historians of science and philosophers together in unified programs.
- Science, technology, and society. In the mid- to late-1960s, student and faculty social movements in the U.S., UK, and European universities helped to launch a range of new interdisciplinary fields (such as women's studies) that were seen to address relevant topics that the traditional curriculum ignored. One such development was the rise of "science, technology, and society" programs, which are also—confusingly—known by the STS acronym. Drawn from a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, history, political science, and sociology, scholars in these programs created undergraduate curricula devoted to exploring the issues raised by science and technology. Unlike scholars in science studies, history of technology, or the history and philosophy of science, they were and are more likely to see themselves as activists working for change rather than dispassionate, "ivory tower" researchers. As an example of the activist impulse, feminist scholars in this and other emerging STS areas addressed themselves to the exclusion of women from science and engineering.
- Science, engineering, and public policy studies emerged in the 1970s from the same concerns that motivated the founders of the science, technology, and society movement: A sense that science and technology were developing in ways that were increasingly at odds with the public's best interests.[according to whom?] The science, technology, and society movement tried to humanize those who would make tomorrow's science and technology, but this discipline took a different approach: It would train students with the professional skills needed to become players in science and technology policy. Some programs came to emphasize quantitative methodologies, and most of these were eventually absorbed into systems engineering. Others emphasized sociological and qualitative approaches, and found that their closest kin could be found among scholars in science, technology, and society departments.
During the 1970s and 1980s, leading universities in the US, UK, and Europe began drawing these various components together in new, interdisciplinary programs. For example, in the 1970s, Cornell University developed a new program that united science studies and policy-oriented scholars with historians and philosophers of science and technology. Each of these programs developed unique identities due to variation in the components that were drawn together, as well as their location within the various universities. For example, the University of Virginia's STS program united scholars drawn from a variety of fields (with particular strength in the history of technology); however, the program's teaching responsibilities—it is located within an engineering school and teaches ethics to undergraduate engineering students—means that all of its faculty share a strong interest in engineering ethics.
The "turn to technology" (and beyond)
See also: Social construction of technology
A decisive moment in the development of STS was the mid-1980s addition of technology studies to the range of interests reflected in science. During that decade, two works appeared en seriatim that signaled what Steve Woolgar was to call the "turn to technology": Social Shaping of Technology (MacKenzie and Wajcman, 1985) and The Social Construction of Technological Systems (Bijker, Hughes and Pinch, 1987). MacKenzie and Wajcman primed the pump by publishing a collection of articles attesting to the influence of society on technological design. In a seminal article, Trevor Pinch and Wiebe Bijker attached all the legitimacy of the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge to this development by showing how the sociology of technology could proceed along precisely the theoretical and methodological lines established by the sociology of scientific knowledge. This was the intellectual foundation of the field they called the social construction of technology.
The "turn to technology" helped to cement an already growing awareness of underlying unity among the various emerging STS programs. More recently, there has been an associated turn to ecology, nature, and materiality in general, whereby the socio-technical and natural/material co-produce each other. This is especially evident in work in STS analyses of biomedicine (such as Carl May, Annemarie Mol, Nelly Oudshoorn, and Andrew Webster) and ecological interventions (such as Bruno Latour, Sheila Jasanoff, Matthias Gross, S. Lochlann Jain, and Jens Lachmund).
The subject has several professional associations.
Founded in 1975, the Society for Social Studies of Science, initially provided scholarly communication facilities, including a journal (Science, Technology, and Human Values) and annual meetings that were mainly attended by science studies scholars. The society has since grown into the most important professional association of science and technology studies scholars worldwide. The Society for Social Studies of Science members also include government and industry officials concerned with research and development as well as science and technology policy; scientists and engineers who wish to better understand the social embeddedness of their professional practice; and citizens concerned about the impact of science and technology in their lives. Proposals have been made to add the word "technology" to the association's name, thereby reflecting its stature as the leading STS professional society, but there seems to be widespread sentiment[according to whom?] that the name is long enough as it is.
In Europe, the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) was founded in 1981 to "stimulate communication, exchange and collaboration in the field of studies of science and technology". Similarly, the European Inter-University Association on Society, Science and Technology (ESST) researches and studies science and technology in society, in both historical and contemporary perspectives.
In Asia several STS associations exist. In Japan, the Japanese Society for Science and Technology Studies (JSSTS) was founded in 2001. The Asia Pacific Science Technology & Society Network (APSTSN) primarily has members from Australasia, Southeast and East Asia and Oceania.
In Latin America ESOCITE (Estudios Sociales de la Ciencia y la Tecnología) is the biggest association of Science and Technology studies. The study of STS (CyT in Spanish, CTS in Portuguese) here was shaped by authors like Amílcar Herrera and Jorge Sabato y Oscar Varsavsky in Argentina, José Leite Lopes in Brazil, Miguel Wionczek in Mexico, Francisco Sagasti in Peru, Máximo Halty Carrere in Uruguay and Marcel Roche in Venezuela.
Founded in 1958, the Society for the History of Technology initially attracted members from the history profession who had interests in the contextual history of technology. After the "turn to technology" in the mid-1980s, the society's well-regarded journal (Technology and Culture) and its annual meetings began to attract considerable interest from non-historians with technology studies interests.
Less identified with STS, but also of importance to many STS scholars in the US, are the History of Science Society, the Philosophy of Science Association, and the American Association for the History of Medicine.
Additionally, within the US there are significant STS-oriented special interest groups within major disciplinary associations, including the American Anthropological Association, the American Political Science Association, the National Women's Studies Association, and the American Sociological Association.
Notable peer-reviewed journals in STS include: Social Studies of Science; Science, Technology & Human Values; Science & Technology Studies; Engaging Science, Technology, and Society; Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience; Technology in Society; Research Policy; Minerva: A Journal of Science, Learning and Policy; Science, Technology and Society; Science as Culture; IEEE Technology and Society Magazine; Technology and Culture; and Science and Public Policy.
Student journals in STS include: Intersect: the Stanford Journal of Science, Technology, and Society at Stanford; DEMESCI: International Journal of Deliberative Mechanisms in Science; and Synthesis: An Undergraduate Journal of the History of Science at Harvard.
STS social construction
Main article: Social construction of technology
Social constructions are human created ideas, objects, or events created by a series of choices and interactions. These interactions have consequences that change the perception that different groups of people have on these constructs. Some examples of social construction include class, race, money, and citizenship.
The following also alludes to the notion that not everything is set, a circumstance or result could potentially be one way or the other. According to the article "What is Social Construction?" by Laura Flores, "Social construction work is critical of the status quo. Social constructionists about X tend to hold that:
- X need not have existed, or need not be at all as it is. X, or X as it is at present, is not determined by the nature of things; it is not inevitable
Very often they go further, and urge that:
- X is quite as bad as it is.
- We would be much better off if X were done away with, or at least radically transformed."
In the past, there have been viewpoints that were widely regarded as fact until being called to question due to the introduction of new knowledge. Such viewpoints include the past concept of a correlation between intelligence and the nature of a human's ethnicity or race (X may not be at all as it is).
An example of the evolution and interaction of various social constructions within science and technology can be found in the development of both the high-wheel bicycle, or velocipede, and then of the bicycle. The velocipede was widely used in the latter half of the 19th century. In the latter half of the 19th century, a social need was first recognized for a more efficient and rapid means of transportation. Consequently the velocipede was first developed, which was able to reach higher translational velocities than the smaller non-geared bicycles of the day, by replacing the front wheel with a larger radius wheel. One notable trade-off was a certain decreased stability leading to a greater risk of falling. This trade-off resulted in many riders getting into accidents by losing balance while riding the bicycle or being thrown over the handle bars.
The first "social construction" or progress of the velocipede caused the need for a newer "social construction" to be recognized and developed into a safer bicycle design. Consequently the velocipede was then developed into what is now commonly known as the "bicycle" to fit within society's newer "social construction," the newer standards of higher vehicle safety. Thus the popularity of the modern geared bicycle design came as a response to the first social construction, the original need for greater speed, which had caused the high-wheel bicycle to be designed in the first place. The popularity of the modern geared bicycle design ultimately ended the widespread use of the velocipede itself, as eventually it was found to best accomplish the social-needs/ social-constructions of both greater speed and of greater safety.
Main article: Technoscience
Technoscience is a subset of Science, Technology, and Society studies that focuses on the inseparable connection between science and technology. It states that fields are linked and grow together, and scientific knowledge requires an infrastructure of technology in order to remain stationary or move forward. Both technological development and scientific discovery drive one another towards more advancement. Technoscience excels at shaping human thought and behavior by opening up new possibilities that gradually or quickly come to be perceived as necessities.
"Technological action is a social process." Social factors and technology are intertwined so that they are dependent upon each other. This includes the aspect that social, political, and economic factors are inherent in technology and that social structure influences what technologies are pursued. In other words, "technoscientific phenomena combined inextricably with social/political/ economic/psychological phenomena, so 'technology' includes a spectrum of artifacts, techniques, organizations, and systems." Winner expands on this idea by saying "in the late twentieth century technology and society, technology and culture, technology and politics are by no means separate."
- Ford Pinto – Ford Motor Company sold and produced the Pinto during the 1970s. A flaw in the automobile design of the rear gas tank caused a fiery explosion upon impact. The exploding fuel tank killed and injured hundreds of people. Internal documents of test results, proved Ford CEO Lee Iacocca and engineers were aware of the flaw. The company decided to ignore improving their technology because of profit-driven motives, strict internal control, and competition from foreign competitors such as Volkswagen. Ford Motor Company conducted a cost-benefit analysis to determine if altering the Ford Pinto model was feasible. An analysis conducted by Ford employees argued against a new design because of increased cost. Employees were also under tight control by the CEO who rushed the Pinto through production lines to increase profits. Ford finally changed after public scrutiny. Safety organizations later influenced this technology by requiring stricter safety standards for motor vehicles.
- DDT/toxins – DDT was a common and highly effective insecticide used during the 1940s until its ban in the early 1970s. It was utilized during World War 2 to combat insect-borne human disease that plagued military members and civilian populations. People and companies soon realized other benefits of DDT for agricultural purposes. Rachel Carson became worried of wide spread use on public health and the environment. Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring left an imprint on the industry by claiming linkage of DDT to many serious illness such as cancer. Carson's book drew criticism from chemical companies who felt their reputation and business threatened by such claims.. DDT was eventually banned by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after a long and arduous process of research on the chemical substance. The main cause for the removal of DDT was the public deciding that any benefits outweighed the potential health risk.
- Autopilots/computer aided tasks (CATs) – From a security point of view the effects of making a task more computer driven is in the favor of technological advance because there is less reaction time required and computational error than a human pilot. Due to reduced error and reaction times flights on average, using autopilot, have been shown to be safer. Thus the technology has a direct impact on people by increasing their safety, and society affects the technology because people want to be safer so they are constantly trying to improve the autopilot systems.
- Cell phones – Cell phone technology emerged in the early 1920s after advancements were made in radio technology. Engineers at Bell Laboratories, the research and development division of AT&T discovered that cell towers can transmit and receive signals to and from many directions. The discovery by Bell Labs revolutionized the capabilities and outcomes of cellular technology. Technology only improved once mobile phone users could communicate outside of a designated area. First generation mobile phones were first created and sold by Motorola. Their phone was only intended for use in cars. Second generation mobile phone capabilities continued to improve because of the switch to digital. Phones were faster which enhanced communication capabilities of customers. They were also sleeker and weighed less than bulky first generation technology. Technologically advances boosted customer satisfaction and broadened cell phone companies customer base. Third generation technology changed the way people interact with other. Now customers had access to wifi, texting and other applications. Mobile phones are now entering into the fourth generations. Cellular and mobile phones revolutionized the way people socialize and communicate in order to establish modern social structure. People have affected the development of this technology by demanding features such as larger screens, touch capabilities, and internet accessibility.
- Internet – The internet arose because of extensive research on ARPANET between various university, corporations, and ARPA (Advanced Research Project Agency), an agency of the Department of Defense. Scientist theorized a network of computers connected to each other. Computing capabilities contributed to developments and the creation of the modern day computer or laptop. The internet has become a normal part of life and business, to such a degree that the United Nations views it as a basic human right. The internet is becoming larger, one way is that more things are being moved into the digital world due to demand, for example online banking. It has drastically changed the way most people go about daily habits.
Deliberative democracy is a reform of representative or direct democracies which mandates discussion and debate of popular topics which affect society. Deliberative Democracy is a tool for making decisions. Deliberative democracy can be traced back all the way to Aristotle’s writings. More recently, the term was coined by Joseph Bessette in his 1980 work Deliberative Democracy: The Majority Principle in Republican Government, where he uses the idea in opposition to the elitist interpretations of the United States Constitution with emphasis on public discussion.
Deliberative Democracy can lead to more legitimate, credible, and trustworthy outcomes. Deliberative Democracy allows for "a wider range of public knowledge," and it has been argued that this can lead to "more socially intelligent and robust" science. One major shortcoming of deliberative democracy is that many models insufficiently ensure critical interaction.
According to Ryfe, there are five mechanisms that stand out as critical to the successful design of deliberative democracy:
- Rules of equality, civility, and inclusivity may prompt deliberation even when our first impulse is to avoid it.
- Stories anchor reality by organizing experience and instilling a normative commitment to civic identities and values, and function as a medium for framing discussions.
- Leadership provides important cues to individuals in deliberative settings, and can keep groups on a deliberative track when their members slip into routine and habit.
- Individuals are more likely to sustain deliberative reasoning when they have a stake in the outcomes.
- Apprenticeship teaches citizens to deliberate well. We might do well to imagine education as a form of apprenticeship learning, in which individuals learn to deliberate by doing it in concert with others more skilled in the activity.
Importance of deliberative democracy in STS
Recently,[when?] there has been a movement towards greater transparency in the fields of policy and technology. Jasanoff comes to the conclusion that there is no longer a question of if there needs to be increased public participation in making decisions about science and technology, but now there needs to be ways to make a more meaningful conversation between the public and those developing the technology.
Deliberative democracy in practice
Ackerman and Fishkin offer an example of a reform in their paper "Deliberation Day." The deliberation is to enhance public understanding of popular, complex, and controversial issues, through devices such as Fishkin’s Deliberative Polling. Although implementation of these reforms is unlikely in a large government situation such as the United States Federal Government. However, things similar to this have been implemented in small, local, governments like New England towns and villages. New England town hall meetings are a good example of deliberative democracy in a realistic setting.
An ideal Deliberative Democracy balances the voice and influence of all participants. While the main aim is to reach consensus, a deliberative democracy should encourage the voices of those with opposing viewpoints, concerns due to uncertainties, and questions about assumptions made by other participants. It should take its time and ensure that those participating understand the topics on which they debate. Independent managers of debates should also have substantial grasp of the concepts discussed, but must "[remain] independent and impartial as to the outcomes of the process."
Tragedy of the commons
See also: Tragedy of the commons
In 1968, Garrett Hardin popularised the phrase "tragedy of the commons." It is an economic theory where rational people act against the best interest of the group by consuming a common resource. Since then, the tragedy of the commons has been used to symbolize the degradation of the environment whenever many individuals use a common resource. Although Garrett Hardin was not an STS scholar, the concept of tragedy of the commons still applies to science, technology and society.
In a contemporary setting, the Internet acts as an example of the tragedy of the commons through the exploitation of digital resources and private information. Data and internet passwords can be stolen much more easily than physical documents. Virtual spying is almost free compared to the costs of physical spying. Additionally, net neutrality can be seen as an example of tragedy of the commons in an STS context. The movement for net neutrality argues that the Internet should not be a resource that is dominated by one particular group, specifically those with more money to spend on Internet access.
A counterexample to the tragedy of the commons is offered by Andrew Kahrl. Privatization can be a way to deal with the tragedy of the commons. However, Kahrl suggests that the privatization of beaches on Long Island, in an attempt to combat overuse of Long Island beaches, made the residents of Long Island more susceptible to flood damage from Hurricane Sandy. The privatization of these beaches took away from the protection offered by the natural landscape. Tidal lands that offer natural protection were drained and developed. This attempt to combat the tragedy of the commons by privatization was counter-productive. Privatization actually destroyed the public good of natural protection from the landscape.
Alternative modernity is a conceptual tool conventionally used to represent the state of present western society. Modernity represents the political and social structures of the society, the sum of interpersonal discourse, and ultimately a snapshot of society's direction at a point in time. Unfortunately conventional modernity is incapable of modeling alternative directions for further growth within our society. Also, this concept is ineffective at analyzing similar but unique modern societies such as those found in the diverse cultures of the developing world. Problems can be summarized into two elements: inward failure to analyze growth potentials of a given society, and outward failure to model different cultures and social structures and predict their growth potentials.
Previously, modernity carried a connotation of the current state of being modern, and its evolution through European colonialism. The process of becoming "modern" is believed to occur in a linear, pre-determined way, and is seen by Philip Brey as a way of to interpret and evaluate social and cultural formations. This thought ties in with modernization theory, the thought that societies progress from "pre-modern" to "modern" societies.
Within the field of science and technology, there are two main lenses with which to view modernity. The first is as a way for society to quantify what it wants to move towards. In effect, we can discuss the notion of "alternative modernity" (as described by Andrew Feenberg) and which of these we would like to move towards. Alternatively, modernity can be used to analyze the differences in interactions between cultures and individuals. From this perspective, alternative modernities exist simultaneously, based on differing cultural and societal expectations of how a society (or an individual within society) should function. Because of different types of interactions across different cultures, each culture will have a different modernity.
Pace of innovation
See also: Pace of innovation
Pace of Innovation is the speed at which technological innovation or advancement is occurring, with the most apparent instances being too slow or too rapid. Both these rates of innovation are extreme and therefore have effects on the people that get to use this technology.
No innovation without representation
Main article: No innovation without representation
"No innovation without representation" is a democratic ideal of ensuring that everyone involved gets a chance to be represented fairly in technological developments.
- Langdon Winner states that groups and social interests likely to be affected by a particular kind of technological change ought to be represented at an early stage in defining exactly what that technology will be. It is the idea that relevant parties have a say in technological developments and are not left in the dark.
- Spoken about by Massimiano Bucchi
- This ideal does not require the public to become experts on the topics of science and engineering, it only asks that the opinions and ideas be heard before making drastic decisions, as talked about by Steven L. Goldman.
Privileged positions of business and science
Main article: Privileged positions of business and science
The privileged positions of business and science refer to the unique authority that persons in these areas hold in economic, political, and technosocial affairs. Businesses have strong decision-making abilities in the function of society, essentially choosing what technological innovations to develop. Scientists and technologists have valuable knowledge, ability to pursue the technological innovations they want. They proceed largely without public scrutiny and as if they had the consent of those potentially affected by their discoveries and creations.
Legacy thinking is defined as an inherited method of thinking imposed from an external source without objection by the individual, due to the fact that it is already widely accepted by society.
Legacy thinking can impair the ability to drive technology for the betterment of society by blinding people to innovations that do not fit into their accepted model of how society works. By accepting ideas without questioning them, people often see all solutions that contradict these accepted ideas as impossible or impractical. Legacy thinking tends to advantage the wealthy, who have the means to project their ideas on the public. It may be used by the wealthy as a vehicle to drive technology in their favor rather than for the greater good. Examining the role of citizen participation and representation in politics provides an excellent example of legacy thinking in society. The belief that one can spend money freely to gain influence has been popularized, leading to public acceptance of corporate lobbying. As a result, a self-established role in politics has been cemented where the public does not exercise the power ensured to them by the Constitution to the fullest extent. This can become a barrier to political progress as corporations who have the capital to spend have the potential to wield great influence over policy. Legacy thinking however keeps the population from acting to change this, despite polls from Harris Interactive that report over 80% of Americans feel that big business holds too much power in government. Therefore, Americans are beginning to try to steer away this line of thought, rejecting legacy thinking, and demanding less corporate, and more public, participation in political decision making.
Additionally, an examination of net neutrality functions as a separate example of legacy thinking. Starting with dial-up, the internet has always been viewed as a private luxury good. Internet today is a vital part of modern-day society members. They use it in and out of life every day. Corporations are able to mislabel and greatly overcharge for their internet resources. Since the American public is so dependent upon internet there is little for them to do. Legacy thinking has kept this pattern on track despite growing movements arguing that the internet should be considered a utility. Legacy thinking prevents progress because it was widely accepted by others before us through advertising that the internet is a luxury and not a utility. Due to pressure from grassroots movements the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has redefined the requirements for broadband and internet in general as a utility. Now AT&T and other major internet providers are lobbying against this action and are in-large able to delay the onset of this movement due to legacy thinking’s grip on American culture and politics.
For example, those who cannot overcome the barrier of legacy thinking may not consider the privatization of clean drinking water as an issue. This is partially due to the fact that access to water has become such a given fact of the matter to them. For a person living in such circumstances, it may be widely accepted to not concern themselves with drinking water because they have not needed to be concerned with it in the past. Additionally, a person living within an area that does not need to worry about their water supply or the sanitation of their water supply is less likely to be concerned with the privatization of water.
This notion can be examined through the thought experiment of "veil of ignorance". Legacy thinking causes people to be particularly ignorant about the implications behind the "you get what you pay for" mentality applied to a life necessity. By utilizing the "veil of ignorance", one can overcome the barrier of legacy thinking as it requires a person to imagine that they are unaware of their own circumstances, allowing them to free themselves from externally imposed thoughts or widely accepted ideas.
- Technoscience – The perception that science and technology are intertwined and depend on each other.
- Technosociety – An industrially developed society with a reliance on technology.
- Technological utopianism – A positive outlook on the effect technology has on social welfare. Includes the perception that technology will one day enable society to reach a utopian state.
- Technosocial systems – people and technologies that combine to work as heterogeneous but functional wholes.
- Technological optimism – The opinion that technology has positive effects on society and should be used in order to improve the welfare of people.
- Technological pessimism – The opinion that technology has negative effects on society and should be discouraged from use.
- Technological neutrality – "maintains that a given technology has no systematic effects on society: individuals are perceived as ultimately responsible, for better or worse, because technologies are merely tools people use for their own ends."
- Technological determinism – "maintains that technologies are understood as simply and directly causing particular societal outcomes."
- Scientism – The belief in the total separation of facts and values.
- Technological progressivism – technology is a means to an end itself and an inherently positive pursuit.
STS programs around the world
STS is taught in several countries. According to the STS wiki, STS programs can be found in twenty countries, including 45 programs in the United States, three programs in India, and eleven programs in the UK. STS programs can be found in Israel,Malaysia, and Taiwan. Some examples of institutions offering STS programs are Harvard University, the University of Oxford,Mines ParisTech, and Bar-Ilan University.
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