Science for social responsibility

New and emerging technologies may ignite controversy in society. The following are some examples: (1) Boundaries of life: abortion, euthanasia; (2) Animal rights: handling of animals, testing on animals, use of animals in the cosmetic industry and for medical research; (3) Genetic engineering: cloning, GMOs, stem cells; (4) Physical engineering: robotics, drones, drone bees, nanotechnology, nuclear power; and (5) Synthetic biology: synthetic meat.

Why are these technologies controversial? Some would jump to a conclusion that the public is ignorant of science and increasing science literacy can address at least some of the problems.

Others do not necessarily agree with this deficit model of public engagement in science that assume science is apolitical and free human values and emotions. Many of them believe in ‘citizen science’, which is also called public engagement in science or crowdsourcing scientific research, to address science and technology controversies.

A recent book entitled The Rightful Place of Science: Citizen Science, edited by Darlene Cavalier and
Eric Kennedy, presents an impressive collection of articles on citizen science. In her introduction to the volume, Cavalier reflect on how she turned her career from a cheerleader for NFL, NBA and university teams to science cheerleader. It would be a true motivation for to motivate girls to pursue a career in STEM disciplines.

Besides the book, there are few portals that enable people to engage in citizen science projects. Cavalier created or co-created Science Cheerleaders, SciStarter and ECAST.

As Cavalier puts it “Citizen science projects give people confidence in their involvement in science, so it’s
vital that projects connect with people’s diverse interests and values in ways that can lead to more profound engagement.” (p 16)

Finally, citizen science projects are also implemented in developing countries, albeit in different forms. A recent paper in Technological Forecasting and Social Change discusses some examples of citizen science, such as participatory technology development, participatory crop variety improvement, participatory plant breeding, citizens against desertification, and system of rice intensification. As a paper in PLOS One concludes, a difference, however, is that public engagement in citizen science in developing countries is motivated by livelihoods than a leisurely choice.

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