History of SJRC

Science & Justice formed in September of 2006 as a working group with the goal of expanding UCSC’s historical focus on social justice to include questions about the formation of science and technology. The Science & Justice Working Group (SJWG) recognized early on that to be successful, it would have to emerge from meaningful interdivisional dialogue, involving all five divisions of the University. In the 2006-07 academic year, the group focused on building this dialogue. Although at the beginning of the year, the group consisted mostly of Social Science and Humanities faculty and graduate students, by the year’s end, the thirty or so active members of the group (faculty, staff, and graduate students) were almost evenly split between the Social Science, Engineering, Arts, Physical and Biological Sciences, and Humanities divisions. The activities the Group pursued to build this interdivisional conversation consisted of a research seminar, a Critical Friends Series, a movie screening series, and an end-of-year meeting.

In the 2007–2008 academic year, SJWG built on its success in interdisciplinary events and dialogues, increasing its regular attendance rate and hosting multiple well–attended public events. The working group’s ability to encourage dialogue among people with varying intellectual background was facilitated by two decisions. First, we moved toward a problem-driven model of inquiry. Rather than focusing on large, theoretical questions, we used specific problems as a concrete object around which we could discuss the major themes of our group. This model gave all members—whether from social science, humanities, engineering, or natural sciences—entreé into the discussions. Second, as the Group developed more familiarity between core members, we found that a habit of “red–flagging” jargon or assumptions that members found disconcerting improved our dialogues.

In the 2008-2009 academic year, SJWG continued to sponsor interdisciplinary programming, hosted several symposia, and wrote a successful grant to the Ethics Education in Science and Engineering division of the National Science Foundation (NSF). We continued to build on the problem-based model of inquiry adopted in the previous year and emphasized the small symposium format that worked well in the previous year’s "Race Work" event. These events drew in larger-than-usual audiences, including from science and engineering departments that had not been substantial participants in SJWG’s programming previously. The NSF grant (NSF#0933027, “Ethics and Justice in Science and Engineering Training Grant”) awarded funding to develop a training program for graduate students that would sponsor research on ethics and justice in scientific practice.

The intellectual foundation of the training program—that ethics and justice are inextricable components of scientific practice and cannot be analyzed separately—are the same as those of SJWG. Furthermore, the process of developing the program cemented relationships between SJWG, academic departments in the natural sciences, engineering, humanities, and social sciences. The pedagogical core of the Training Program emphasizes that issues of justice and ethics are integral to the doings of scientific and engineering practices and not simply implications of those practices. This position allows us to reframe ethics education as a matter of analyzing scientific and engineering practices in situ in terms of their historical, social, and political contexts. This differentiates the Training Program from the most common modes of ethics education in science and engineering that emphasize applying predetermined ethical tools to strictly bounded problems. By shifting the focus of moral action from the individual scientist to a broader community of practice we encouraged collaboration on shared problems and across disciplinary boundaries.

In the 2009-2010 academic year, Science & Justice began to implement the NSF grant, and continued its efforts to formalize our successes and create closer relationships across the Divisions at UCSC. Although SJWG and SJTP remained separate organizations, the synergistic relationship between them facilitated new research and programming, attracted new regular members, and encouraged new collaborations between faculty and graduate students between different divisions. The inaugural cohort of Science & Justice Fellows proposed new research clusters and events. Within the regular research seminar, SJWG continued to build on research and collaboration methods, emphasizing problem-driven inquiry. Among our best-attended events was a collaboration with UCSC’s branch of Women In Science and Engineering (WiSE) and a conversation about geoengineering, both of which grew organically from the interests of SJWG members and drew new members from the sciences and engineering. Additionally, SJWG hosted nearly twenty colloquia, seminars, and symposia which included international scholars, researchers from private industry, faculty from other UC campuses, and UCSC faculty from every division. We also developed a new website infrastructure that was launched in Fall 2010 designed to increase the visibility of Science & Justice and to host collaborative blogs. SJWG and SJTP also hosted a visiting scholar and postdoctoral fellow for the first time that year, marking UCSC and the Science & Justice network as a location for producing innovative research.

In the 2010-2011 academic year, SJWG saw a substantial increase in attendance at regular SJWG events, in part assisted by the cohorts of SJTP Fellows who invited colleagues and professors from their departments and hosted events with wide appeal across the university. With the addition of the second cohort which began with SJTP in Spring term, the SJTP saw the fulfillment of several key goals of the grant: to broaden the constituencies of Science & Justice, to provide financial and intellectual support for original research, and to create new opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations. 

In the 2011-2012 academic year, the Science & Justice Research Center (SJRC) was launched to consolidate the growing number of initiatives hosted by the Science & Justice community. The SJRC provides a hub for Working Group programming, the Training Program, visiting faculty and graduate students, research projects, grant writing support, and collaborations with science and engineering departments. The Research Center also appointed Directors and hired paid staff for the first time: an Assistant Director and an administrative assistant. It also provides a permanent physical space to Science & Justice, with a common room, an administrative office, and a visitors’ office. The common room was made available to all Fellows for impromptu meetings and colloquia, in addition to providing a space for hosting informal bi-weekly meeting focused on Fellows’ research.

Today the SJRC continues to develop new strategies for interdisciplinary collaborations, all while hosting well-attended and lively events discussing topics of local importance and national and international relevance. In addition to coordinating Working Group meetings and educational programs, the SJRC is a hub for collaborative research initiatives, grant writing, and collective writing. Faculty and students from across the university participate in research and teaching that build empirically robust and ethically responsible knowledge-making practices.

The SJRC is hosted by the UCSC Department of Sociology, and has received support from the Office of the UC President, the Office of Research, the Division of Graduate Studies, the Baskin School of Engineering, the Center for Biomolecular Sciences and Engineering, the Divisions of Humanities, Social Sciences, Physical and Biological Sciences, the Genomics Institute, and private donors. We have ongoing collaborations with a number of departments focused on graduate education, including the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. Our projects are often funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).