Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard|
Workshops and Panels
The Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard Kennedy School regularly hosts workshops, seminars, and panels. Below is a list of upcoming and recent panels. Some events have their own web pages that can be accessed by clicking on their titles. Contact the program if you have any questions.
There is no value-free science. There is no algorithm that writes itself.” - President Drew Faust, Harvard University The potential of information technology and artificial intelligence has been much-discussed by policymakers. The ability to access and analyze data to inform government decisions is unprecedented and represents an exciting opportunity to improve the impact of existing policies and identify new opportunities for public action and collaboration. Concurrently, discussions of bias and discrimination have taken on a renewed sense of urgency, from the classrooms of Harvard Yard to the presidential election. Yet despite the importance and timeliness of these two topics, a discussion of how bias will interact with emerging technologies has been slow to form. Machine learning tools are often positioned as fair and objective. However, algorithms are often based on both historical precedent, frequently reflecting the majority. As technology becomes increasingly complex and ubiquitous, this bias becomes further obscured while continuing to scale. The algorithms are neither accessible nor transparent, and as a result, are ripe with unintended consequences. This can create a destructive feedback loop that support a narrow interpretation of identity. The event will be live-streamed and recorded. You can watch here.
Presented by the Institute of Politics, The Program on Science, Technology and Society, The Future Society at HKS "AI Initiative" and the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy.
In 1954 French philosopher of technology Jacques Ellul proclaimed that technology was “l'enjeu du siècle” (‘the stake of the century’). The diagnosis still holds true, but we might agree that there is even more at stake in regard to technology here in the beginning of the 21th century. The ubiquitous presence of technology and innovation in society and human life reflects an increasing urge to control, plan and optimize the future. When Apple launched the third version of their cherished iPhone, the telling marketing slogan went “Solving Life’s Dilemmas One App at a Time”; an apt slogan indeed, not only applying to the iPhone, but also to the prevalent attitude of the present as such. Accordingly, if we wish to understand today’s society and human life, we need to genuinely think about technology, not as a universal answer, solving present and future problems, but as a question in itself. Needless to say, life’s dilemmas didn’t disappear with the iPhone 3, nor will they with the upcoming iPhone 8, and nor will they with any other future technologies, which means that there is still plenty of room for questioning and thinking amidst all the zealous solvers and ardent fixers. For many years the fields of Philosophy of Technology and Science, Technology and Society (STS) have persistently questioned technology. When the tech-industry and politicians have answered with technology, Philosophy of Technology and STS have responded with questions and studies of the complex ways, by which humans and societies interpret, imagine and relate to technology. At this event, Sheila Jasanoff and Alfred Nordmann will discuss the differences and similarities between Philosophy of Technology and STS as well as how the two fields might compliment each other. The discussion will be focused around Nordmann’s concept “hermeneutics of the future” and Jasanoff ‘s concept of “sociotechnical imaginaries. ”
Recent analyses of public debates on nanotechnology, GMOs and other environmental impasses have unearthed powerful, yet submerged, driving ‘narratives of despair. Their religious resonances (e.g. ‘Pandora’s Box’, ‘Sacred Nature’) suggest a search for countering ‘narratives of hope’ within theological sources. A close reading of the ancient Book of Job, alert to resonances with natural philosophy, recasts ‘science’ as a deeply human, social and ancient. Job has spawned a rich literature of environmental commentary; we attempt to shape a deeper story of purpose in engaging nature, through classical, patristic, medieval, and early modern sources into a framework for late modern technologies. The resulting reconciliatory ‘Theology of Science’ meets the narratives of despair head-on. It suggests a transformation of the way political discussions of 'troubled technologies' are framed, and pathway to mobilising religious communities in support of a healthier public debate
Book Description: Cycles of Invention and Discovery offers an in-depth look at the real-world practice of science and engineering. It shows how the standard categories of “basic” and “applied” have become a hindrance to the organization of the U.S. science and technology enterprise. Tracing the history of these problematic categories, Venkatesh Narayanamurti and Toluwalogo Odumosu document how historical views of policy makers and scientists have led to the construction of science as a pure ideal on the one hand and of engineering as a practical (and inherently less prestigious) activity on the other. Even today, this erroneous but still widespread distinction forces these two endeavors into separate silos, misdirects billions of dollars, and thwarts progress in science and engineering research. The authors contrast this outmoded perspective with the lived experiences of researchers at major research laboratories. Using such Nobel Prize–winning examples as magnetic resonance imaging, the transistor, and the laser, they explore the daily micro-practices of research, showing how distinctions between the search for knowledge and creative problem solving break down when one pays attention to the ways in which pathbreaking research actually happens. By studying key contemporary research institutions, the authors highlight the importance of integrated research practices, contrasting these with models of research in the classic but still-influential report Science the Endless Frontier. Narayanamurti and Odumosu’s new model of the research ecosystem underscores that discovery and invention are often two sides of the same coin that moves innovation forward.
Recent advances in biological and computational technologies are changing the way we imagine race, gender, kinship, citizenship, and disease risk. Existing taxonomies may be displaced or reconfigured, impacting the ways in which people are governed, how lives are lived, how groups are known, and how power is exercised. Drawing upon the tools and expertise from multiple disciplines and geographical regions, and with specific attention to the material and lived dimensions of these developments, this symposium interrogates the complex ways in which the molecular realm is an emerging site for constituting human identities in the 21st century.
With generous support from: The Israel Institute; Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Department of Anthropology, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Political Anthropology Group, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations; The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Tel Aviv University; and MIT Anthropology.
Book Description: A World of Struggle reveals the role of expert knowledge in our political and economic life. As politicians, citizens, and experts engage one another on a technocratic terrain of irresolvable argument and uncertain knowledge, a world of astonishing inequality and injustice is born. In this provocative book, David Kennedy draws on his experience working with international lawyers, human rights advocates, policy professionals, economic development specialists, military lawyers, and humanitarian strategists to provide a unique insider's perspective on the complexities of global governance. He describes the conflicts, unexamined assumptions, and assertions of power and entitlement that lie at the center of expert rule. Kennedy explores the history of intellectual innovation by which experts developed a sophisticated legal vocabulary for global management strangely detached from its distributive consequences. At the center of expert rule is struggle: myriad everyday disputes in which expertise drifts free of its moorings in analytic rigor and observable fact. He proposes tools to model and contest expert work and concludes with an in-depth examination of modern law in warfare as an example of sophisticated expertise in action. Charting a major new direction in global governance at a moment when the international order is ready for change, this critically important book explains how we can harness expert knowledge to remake an unjust world. This event is a book launch followed by a reception.
This event is a book launch followed by a reception
Organized by Paulo Fonseca, Zara Mirmalek, Zoe Nyssa, Aleksandar Rankovic and Matthew Sample Science and engineering often set aside some problems as uniquely theirs, from conserving biodiversity to addressing physical disability. At the same time, they tend to define the public as the recipient of their promises of progress. As science and its ramifications grow to influence virtually all the aspects of human lives, the question of scientific accountability towards the public becomes a central issue, increasingly recognized by scientists and engineers themselves. However, as we reveal the complex network-like character of science and engineering, their reciprocal dependence on social and political realities, responsibility seems to have no grip. As agency becomes distributed throughout socio-technical networks – individual scientists, universities, participants in experiments, public agencies, the private sector etc. – the challenge is to understand how accountability is or ought to be distributed. In this workshop, we will discuss new approaches, distributed through socio-technical networks, of scientific accountability towards the public(s). Based on five dialogues between scientists and STS fellows, the workshop proposes to explore the following questions in different settings of science, technology and society: - How is the public defined by different fields of science and technology? - What is the role of the public in framing and addressing the problems that science and technology want to tackle? - How are science and technology accountable to "their publics", and through which mechanisms is this accountability assured? - Are there accountability issues that are unique to particular technoscientific fields and "their publics"?
This talk aims to provide an empirical take on what the Anthropocene means for the people who are first and most affected by environmental changes. If the Anthropocene represents the period in history when humans are the main agents of change on Earth, it also represents, for many, a time when the transformations of the Earth are main agents of change in their daily lives. Drawing from case-studies in small island states, in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina or in Japan after the Fukushima disaster, this seminar seeks to highlight how Western normative perceptions of agency, vulnerability and responsibility continues to reproduce the patterns of inequality that led to the Anthropocene.
Geoengineering, a suite of technologies aimed at mitigating the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change through deliberate human intervention, has attracted wide attention and given rise to sharply polarized debate. Proponents argue that prudence calls for these technologies to be rapidly developed, through appropriate forms of research and experimentation; opponents point to the troublesome ethical and political implications of imposing uncertain solutions on a culturally heterogeneous and economically and technologically unequal planet. Despite their global implications, geoengineering debates have remained sequestered in relatively few European and North American centers, and serious cross-disciplinary conversation is still in its infancy. This workshop brings together scholars from different regions and from fields including science and technology studies, political science, law and engineering to address the following major questions:
Co-sponsored by the Program on Science, Technology and Society and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Developments in the biosciences in the last half-century have posed novel challenges for governance. These have emerged as biological knowledge becomes more central to matters of safety, health and welfare; as biology is called upon to address moral uncertainty around ideas of human nature, identity and dignity; and as biology plays an increasingly central role in the technological alteration of human bodies, non-human entities and environments. Governance challenges have unfolded across several domains: internally within the research enterprise itself; externally where the biosciences are called upon to address social problems; and in moments of ethical doubt, for example, when institutions of governance are called upon to distinguish bioengineered artifacts from entities with human dignity. Scholarship in Science and Technology Studies (STS) has developed varied approaches and techniques for examining such phenomena, and drawing theoretically grounded generalizations from site-specific studies. This summer school will introduce participants to major approaches, and explore new research frontiers and possible directions for synthesis and innovation. It will emphasize engagement with theoretical issues in STS, with particular attention to moments of friction between science and institutions of democratic governance.
With recent advances in the biosciences, such as second-generation genomic sequencing, advanced techniques in assisted conception, and the prediction of inheritable diseases, many aspects of individual identities— from ethnicity to genealogy to disease susceptibility— have been problematized. DNA is now being “read” by scientists to articulate a molecular basis for many historical and social phenomena, such as individuals’ membership in ethnic or national groups, as well as renewing older concerns about social control of populations through genetics. But what do these new kinds of genetic readings do for states and their citizens? To what extent have the genetic sciences expanded or circumscribed the ways of authorizing ethnic and national belonging? How has research in population genetics and human biogeography affected legal and political rights to citizenship, and territorial disputes? Are biological sciences, technologies, and society entangled to the point of being co-produced, and if so in what ways? This symposium tackles these questions from a global perspective, with the hope of fostering dialogue across disciplinary divides and geographical regions.
Program on Science, Technology and Society at the Kennedy School of Government; Weatherhead Center for International Affairs; Committee on African Studies; Center for Middle Eastern Studies; Department of Anthropology; Department of African and African-American Studies; Department of the History of Science
Traditional understandings of conservative political thought emphasize its diverse premises and divergent theoretical commitments (e.g., libertarian versus traditionalist versus neoconservative), which, from the vantage point of ideas, render the movement’s strength and longevity a singular accomplishment and puzzle. In recent work, Kersch has sought to demonstrate the ways in which modern American conservatism’s cultivation of a core set of symbolic commitments (e.g., the U.S. Constitution) and historical narratives (e.g., about the meanings of the Founding, the Civil War, and the Progressive Era) bridge these divides, unifying and motivating the movement in ways missed by political theory’s standard analytic frames. In this talk, he considers the possibility that critiques of, and stories about, science and experts and their role in the modern regulatory/administrative/social welfare state – what others have variously called the “statutory,” “legislative,” or “policy” state – have been a critical component of this set of unifying narratives and symbols. He will survey contemporary conservative thinking from diverse theoretical starting points -- Neo-liberal (including Public Choice economics and Hayek), Traditionalist (including Evangelical Christian, the Catholic Right, and Straussian), and Neoconservative – about the nature and purpose of law, implicating fundamental questions of the role of science and expertise within U.S. constitutional government.
Co-sponsored by the Program on Science, Technology and Society and the Institute for Global Law and Policy at Harvard Law School
This workshop draws together several strands of current research on sociotechnical imaginaries in the STS Program at Harvard. Through multiple engagements with new, emerging, and reemerging technologies, the workshop explores the material, discursive, and political resources with which societies create shared visions of what they want, or do not want, from advances in technology. Of primary interest throughout is the connection of remembered technoscientific pasts to the threats and promises of imagined futures.
Kenneth R Feinberg will offer personal reflections on how he became the expert in unique catastrophes and the principled ways in which he has learned to respond. He will tackle the difficulty issue of achieving a sense of justice in the aftermath of tragedy through the administration of victims' funds.
Co-sponsored by the Program on Science, Technology and Society and the Institute on Global Law and Policy.
This conference concerns the recent innovations and insights for the study of ontologies and socialities engendered through the “species turn” -- that is, the intellectual turn to, and reflection upon, life beyond the human species in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Emerging over the last few decades of the 20th century, the species turn developed (1) from a diverse array of analytical and theoretical formations concerned with aspects of the nonhuman (animate and inanimate), including actor-network theory, affect theory, animal studies, assemblage theory, the new materialism, and systems theory; and (2) in productive tension with a parallel intellectual development -- posthumanism -- articulated through such innovative theoretical work as Katherine Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman and Cary Wolfe’s What Is Posthumanism? While all approaches hold their own particular aims, objects, and methodologies, they urge us to consider that we, humans, are not alone. That is, we live in a world populated by and constituted through life forms and forms of life beyond the human. And as such, we must critically reconsider who “we” are in terms that challenge the limitations and dangers of anthropocentrism. Watch the keynotes here and here.
Co-sponsored by the Harvard Program on Science, Technology, and Society (STS), the Harvard Department of Anthropology, the MIT Department of Anthropology, the Harvard Political Ecology Working Group (PEWG), and the Harvard Divinity School.
Professor Mitchell will lead a discussion on the themes raised in his recent book Carbon Democracy. He will share his thoughts as they have developed after completing that book and will reflect on the forms of politics that may arise in tandem with future energy transitions.
Co-sponsored by the Institute for Global Law and Policy
Book discussion followed by a reception.
Co-sponsored by the Program on Science, Technology and Society and the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History
A symposium with John Carson (Michigan) and Baruch Fishhoff (Carnegie Mellon); comments from Elizabeth Lunbeck (Vanderbilt), Andrew Jewett (Harvard), Natasha Schüll (MIT), and Jennifer Lerner (Harvard).
Co-sponsored with the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard.
Recent developments in genomic and communication technologies are prompting shifts in the social, institutional and ethical architectures of biomedicine. Examples include direct-to-consumer genetic testing and crowd-sourced, “citizen-science” epidemiological research using smartphones and the web. These new architectures promise a gold rush of information and biospecimens that may provide a foundation for a more precise, personalized, and targeted medicine. They are also attracting new actors and new modes of participation that have the potential to enhance but also to destabilize established patterns of ethical, legal, and social responsibilities in biomedicine. How will these changing patterns of research and discovery affect citizens, consumers, donors, patients, physicians, researchers, and companies? This event, combining a public lecture and one-day workshop, explores these questions with a group of leaders spanning the biomedical sciences and engineering, social sciences, humanities, and industry.
Co-sponsored by the Harvard University Center for the Environment, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. :: www.architectures4life.com
This conference marks twenty years of development in Science and Technology Studies since substantial infusions of public funds increased the visibility and impact of the field. See the conference website for more details.
Sponsored by the Program on Science, Technology and Society at the Harvard Kennedy School.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the most powerful regulatory agency in the world. How did the FDA become so influential? And how exactly does it wield its extraordinary power? Reputation and Power traces the history of FDA regulation of pharmaceuticals, revealing how the agency's organizational reputation has been the primary source of its power, yet also one of its ultimate constraints. Daniel Carpenter describes how the FDA cultivated a reputation for competence and vigilance throughout the last century, and how this organizational image has enabled the agency to regulate an industry as powerful as American pharmaceuticals while resisting efforts to curb its own authority. Carpenter explains how the FDA's reputation and power have played out among committees in Congress, and with drug companies, advocacy groups, the media, research hospitals and universities, and governments in Europe and India. He shows how FDA regulatory power has influenced the way that business, medicine, and science are conducted in the United States and worldwide. Along the way, Carpenter offers new insights into the therapeutic revolution of the 1940s and 1950s; the 1980s AIDS crisis; the advent of oral contraceptives and cancer chemotherapy; the rise of antiregulatory conservatism; and the FDA's waning influence in drug regulation today. Reputation and Power demonstrates how reputation shapes the power and behavior of government agencies, and sheds new light on how that power is used and contested. More book information: Princeton University Press webpage
The blogosphere represents a new kind of deliberative space that is both enlarging and constraining public discourse in unprecedented ways. One key factor about this space, the issue this workshop seeks to explore, is its lack of norms. It is an unruly space in the sense that there are no well defined rules of entry, access, or conduct, except for extreme forms of behavior that are positively illegal. The consequences of this unruliness have been specially severe for scientific communication, which depends on high standards of truth-telling and civility for its progress. In turn, the erosion of scientific standards destabilizes the foundations of democratic deliberation. Can norms of discourse that would advance science and democracy be developed in the blogosphere? Can blogs induce deliberation or must they encourage fragmentation, extremism, and rage to the detriment of public reason? Is science helped or hurt by the new media? What particular distorting factors enter the picture as blogging becomes a business?
Jointly sponsored by the Program on Science, Technology and Society at the Harvard Kennedy School, the Shorenstein Center at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT.
On May 7, 1959, C.P. Snow, the prominent Cambridge (UK) scientist, novelist, and government adviser, gave a lecture that introduced a memorable phrase into discussions of science's place in society. Entitled "The Two Cultures," Snow's lecture described a growing gulf between the cultures of the sciences and the humanities, a divide that Snow saw as dangerous and a hindrance to responsible education and problem solving. The 50th anniversary of that lecture marks an occasion for us to take stock and to see whether Snow's arguments hold water today. On May 7-8, 2009, the Harvard Kennedy School's Program on Science, Technology and Society, together with the Harvard University Center for the Environment, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Humanities Center at Harvard, and the STS Program at MIT, will present a panel discussion and workshop on the "two cultures." Under the heading "Cultures in Common," a distinguished roster of speakers from Harvard, MIT, and beyond will explore the many ways in which the cultures of science—far from standing apart from the rest of the academic disciplines—are in constant conversation with the cultures of the humanities, the social sciences, the arts, the law, and, not least, engineering and applied sciences. The occasion will help frame an agenda for 21st century Cambridge (Massachusetts) conversations on education and research at the intersections of science, technology, and society.
Sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School's Program on Science, Technology and Society, together with the Harvard University Center for the Environment, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Humanities Center at Harvard, and the STS Program at MIT.
Since 1790 race statistics have been central to various policy regimes across American history. But the turn to immigrant driven diversity, identify fueled multiculturalism, and majority-minority demographics have rendered obsolete a taxonomy rooted in 18th century natural science. What today we are learning from racial statistics is not what we need to be learning.
Co-sponsored by the Harvard University Department of Sociology.
The public school systems of the United States have experienced more than 80 years of corrosive conflict over teaching evolution in biology classes. During this time, actors and strategies have changed, legal arguments have been sharpened or redefined, and even the name used to characterize the religious position has shifted, from creationism to intelligent design. What remains constant is the framing of the dispute as being between regressive religion and progressive science or, more dramatically, between faith and the Enlightenment. Positions have polarized around two major arguments, neither yielding significant hope of reframing or compromise. The pro-religion position denies the factual status of Darwinian evolution, and claims that—since it is only a theory—other theories concerning the origins of life on Earth are entitled to equal respect. The pro-science position claims that religious opposition to evolution is grounded in ignorance of the scientific method, and support for doctrines like intelligent design in the schools constitutes an impermissible establishment of religion. Attempts to make peace between these irreconcilable positions by designating spaces as clearly scientific or clearly religious have repeatedly foundered. The biology classroom is the most visible site of a broader struggle. In an effort to break through this impasse, this panel brings together an impressive, interdisciplinary group of experts from law, sociology, history of science, and journalism. Speakers will describe from their professional perspectives and personal experience, what is at stake—socially, politically, and epistemically—in the debate over evolution, and how a more nuanced understanding of this phenomenon might lead to more productive conversations between science and religion. The panel will consider how claims about the superiority of one form of knowledge over another are wrapped up in the American politics of cultural authority and with concerns regarding the freedom of thought and belief.
The workshop will focus on multiple sectors of emerging S&T, as well as on theoretical and empirical contributions from several disciplines. Participants will bring varied backgrounds in STS, history, anthropology, political science, public policy, law and sociology. The aim is to showcase the latest interdisciplinary thinking on regulation through new conceptual lenses that pay attention to the strategies, cultural contexts, and discourses of regulation.
The final report of this workshop is available here (PDF, 135KB).
Smith's talk is concerned with a series of recent studies that offer to explain various features of religion on the basis of current research and theory in evolutionary biology and cognitive science, a project that she calls the New Naturalism. In discussing the project and some of the conceptual, methodological, and ideological issues it raises, she focuses on Pascal Boyer, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (2001). She also discusses Walter Burkert, Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology in Early Religions (1995), which she takes as representing a significantly broader intellectual tradition in the naturalistic study of religion.
For older workshops, view the Workshops Archive.