Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard

Harvard Kennedy School of Government | Harvard University

Science and Its Publics: Conversations on Accountability

April 28, 2015, 2:00pm-5:30pm
Harvard University Center for the Environment Seminar Room, 24 Oxford Street, 3rd Floor


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"?

2-2:15pm            Welcome address and general introduction

Sheila Jasanoff – Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy Schoo

2:15-2:40pm     The public and urban regions

Richard T. T. Forman – Harvard Research Professor of Advanced Environmental Studies

Aleksandar Rankovic – Harvard STS Program

2:40-3:05pm      The public and neuroengineering     

                              Matthew D’Asaro – MIT and NSF Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering

Matthew Sample – Harvard STS Program

3:05-3:30pm      The public and environmental sciences

Noel Michele Holbrook – Harvard Charles Bullard Professor of Forestry

Zoe Nyssa – Harvard STS Program & Harvard University Center for the Environment

3:30-3:55pm      The public and the deep seas

Brennan T. Phillips, 2014 National Geographic Society, Waitt Grantee Explorer; Chief ROV Pilot, Ocean Exploration Trust; Doctoral candidate,  University of Rhode Island

Zara Mirmalek – Harvard STS Program

3:55-4:10pm      Coffee Break

4:10-4:35pm      The public and nanotechnologies

Flavio Plentz – Professor of Physics at Federal University of Minas Gerais, former general coordinator for micro and nanotechnology, Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation

Paulo Fonseca – Harvard STS Program

4:35-5:30pm      General discussion

Sheila Jasanoff – Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School

Rebecca Lemov – Harvard History of Science

5:30-6:30pm       Reception