Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jasanoff's "Essential Parallel Between Science and Democracy"

I came across a very interesting article in Seed Magazine call "The Essential Parallel Between Science and Democracy" by Sheila Jasanoff. Jasanoff is Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a very well respected researcher on the role of science and technology in the law, politics, and public policy of modern democracies.

Making note of US President Obama's nod to science, Jasanoff queries: "So the question for thoughtful Americans, interested in the future of science and technology and reflecting on President Barack Obama's historic inaugural address, is not, What is science's rightful place?, but rather, What do the president and his administration see as science's rightful place? And, as critical consumers of both science and democracy, is it a vision that we, the people, can comfortably embrace?"

Jasanoff notes that Obama routinely indicates in his speeches that "science and technology will feature in his administration as both instruments and objects of public policy." And many prominent scientists and engineers have been named to key posts, including Nobel Laureate Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy. But she also observes that we must also understand the link between science and democracy. "The very virtues that make democracy work are also those that make science work: a commitment to reason and transparency, an openness to critical scrutiny, a skepticism toward claims that too neatly support reigning values, a willingness to listen to countervailing opinions, a readiness to admit uncertainty and ignorance, and a respect for evidence gathered according to the sanctioned best practices of the moment," says Jasanoff.

This short blog can't do the article justice and I highly recommend people read the entire article here.

And while you're there, check out Seed's The Right Place Project to see how you can contribute to linking science and democracy.

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