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The Rightful Place of Science?

May 15, 2010

In his inaugural address Obama promised to restore science to its “rightful place.” What did he mean by this? Maybe it was simply a way of distancing himself from the Bush Administration, declaring an end to the “Republican War on Science” (as the Daily Show’s John Oliver has joked, the one war we were actually winning).

But on reflection, such a politically compelling statement starts to seem substantively quite ambiguous. And that’s exactly what we’re going to explore next week at a event that picks up where Obama left off. CSPO’s “Rightful Place of Science?” conference asks “How can we understand this provocative formulation in the context of the complexity, uncertainty, and political, social and cultural diversity that mark our world?”

If you can’t make it out to Tempe for this rollicking good time, a number of us will be summarizing and sharing thoughts from our discussions through a special conference website, so tune in and join the conversation!

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 15, 2010 9:12 am

    Dan Sarewitz has some wise thoughts on the Rightful Place of Science in a 2009 article in Issues in Science and Technology. There he compares the symbolic power of science for democrats with the symbolic power of defense for republicans.

    Trying to go against this grain—as when Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential candidate, sought to burnish his defense credentials by riding around in a tank, or when George Bush repeatedly claimed that he would make decisions about climate change and the environment on the basis of “sound science”—inevitably carry with them the aura of insincerity, of protesting a bit too much.

    But ownership of a powerful symbol can give rise to demagoguery and self-delusion. President Bush overplayed the national defense card in pursuit of an ideological vision that backfired with terrible consequences in Iraq. In turn, a scientific-technological elite unchecked by healthy skepticism and political pluralism may well indulge in its own excesses. Cults of expertise helped bring us the Vietnam War and the current economic meltdown. Uncritical belief in and promotion of the redemptive power of scientific and technological advance is implicated in some of the most difficult challenges facing humans today. In science, Democrats appear to have discovered a surprisingly potent political weapon. Let us hope they wield it with wisdom and humility.

    Definitely worth reading the whole thing.

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