UCSC Science and Justice Program Receives National Attention
By Kara Guzman
POSTED: 08/20/2013 05:53:05 PM PDT
SANTA CRUZ — An interdisciplinary team of professors and graduate students from UC Santa Cruz’s Science & Justice Training Program have been recognized on the national stage for their work to integrate ethical training into scientific fields.
The team recently published an article in Public Library of Science Biology, a national peer-reviewed science journal, about the need to create institutional space for the exploration of the links between science and questions of ethics and justice, and how they were able to achieve that at UCSC.
The training program, which teaches both science and humanities graduate students to integrate ethical questions into their work, is the first of its kind, according to co-director Jenny Reardon. One of the program’s goals is to inspire the growth of this type of work on a national level, said Reardon.
“We live in a world where science and technology are a part of everybody’s lives,” said Reardon, who is an associate professor in sociology and faculty affiliate in UCSC’s Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering. “What we wanted to do was build a space where scientists and engineers could come together with social scientists and humanists around areas of common concern.”
Reardon listed topics such as dam construction, fish stock management and genomics as areas where people beyond just scientists are needed to answer broader political and justice questions.
A subtle yet significant shift has occurred in the principles of the National Science Foundation, a federal agency that funds approximately 20 percent of federally supported university research, and the agency now seeks to fund research that explicitly engages the public and benefits society, according to the article.
This shift has resulted in an effort at the national level to increase science ethics education, according to assistant program director Jake Metcalf. Traditionally science ethics education is built around responsible conduct of research, or “don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t lie,” said Metcalf.
“We’re trying to expand that to say we can develop better forms of knowledge when we actually have space and funding and time to recognize the interdisciplinary nature of the problems that scientists and engineers encounter,” said Metcalf.
Along with coursework that teaches graduate students how to identify intersections between science and ethics, such as in genomics or climate change, the program offers a working group and research center, which provide an institutionalized space to explore these intersections.
Science & Justice fellow Tiffany Wise-West, a civil engineer who is completing a Ph.D. in environmental studies, said that the program helped her think beyond just engineering, and brought the social implications of her work to the foreground.
“It’s added a new dimension,” said Wise-West. “I had not thought in that way before.”
A key part of the program is encouraging scientists to step away from the “publish or perish” pressure and take the time to reflect on these broader issues. Reardon said she sees a long-standing competitive culture within the scientific community that encourages sacrificing personal time to quickly churn out scholarly articles.
“That’s why I think these questions of justice are important,” said Reardon. “It encourages us to think about what life is about, what is the good life and what is the place of knowledge and knowledge production.”