Monday, 9 December 2013

Is Science Possible? Exploring the Transformation of Science and Society

Edward J. Hackett

On one level the answer is “of course!”  Science is proven possible every day by the existence of scientific journals and societies, by the professional activities and employment of scientists, and by the ongoing process of scientific education and apprenticeship.  But on another level science is a complicated and fragile enterprise whose existence depends on a constellation of distinctive cultural circumstances (abstraction, reason, empiricism, curiosity), organizational patterns (work settings, access to instruments and data, journals, professional societies), institutional arrangements (communication, peer review, recognition, potential replication), and resource commitments (investments in education, facilities, inquiry).  While much attention has been given to the rise of science in the 17th century and to the application of scientific knowledge for human wellbeing and national advantage, less attention has been devoted to changes in the organization and conduct of science, and in its relationship to other social institutions and the public at large. Nearly a century after Max Weber described the perils and joys of science as a vocation, exploring its contributions to society and the human quest for meaning, we are compelled to ask if the conditions that make science possible are eroding, why, and what can be done about it.

Edward J. Hackett is Professor and Associate Director of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University and editor of “Science, Technology & Human Values”. His research focuses on how the social organization and conduct of science influence the knowledge that is produced. He has written about collaboration, leadership, peer review, environmental justice, and other topics. At the National Science Foundation he has directed the Division of Social and Economic Sciences (2006-08) and the Science and Technology Studies Program (1996-98). In December 2013 he is a guest Professor of the Science Policy Studies Research Group at WZB.