Science, technology and its accountability, for who?
Science, technology and its accountability
As a role of science has been getting more crucial for modern society, it’s accountability for general public has tended to be discussed more frequently and publically. As that accountability contains several social aspects such as values and ethics, it has been difficult to be handled only by individual scientists. Since they have not trained for assessing their own research from those social aspects, the national government has been expected to take a leading role in encouraging scientist’s accountability.
In their paper, Katz, Solomon, Mee and Lovel conducted an analytical approach for this issue by examining the series of attempt to gain public engagement in Australia.
In order to deepen the understanding of public engagement in term of nanotechnology, CSIRO conducted two open workshops, which is followed by research governance workshop participated by CSIRO scientists.
Stated concerns from public and scientists
From the second panel discussion and workshop held in Melbourne, the panel which represents lay public, scientist, governmental organization and media, issued several concerns, which vary from economic development to ethical issues.
In term of economic issues, the panel mainly concerned about a balance between industrial development and environmental issue, fairness for small business, governmental regulation and intellectual property issue. Public engagement and control issues were also stated as crucial points, such as accountability of research, control or regulation of technology and chance to show opinion on decision-making moment. Concerns for social aspects were also stated, such as ethical concerns, worry for military use and possibility of social divide caused by nanotechnology.
At the third phase of research, CSIRO scientists had workshop of research governance. In respond for those concerns, the scientists showed wide variety of responds. Some said social challenges could be mended by appropriate technological design. The others said these concerns are already implemented in their research portfolio, or could be implemented. Whilst, some of them support quite orthodox approach, which means improving themselves in term of acknowledging social responsibility and accountability, and looking for further chance to engage with lay public.
Although their research was focused on nanotechnology, these notions, the needs from lay public and responds of scientists, can be generalized in context of general science.
Accountability, what for?
Throughout the research, the authors have pointed out that an incentive for scientists for improving public engagement was unclear. In other word, the scientists were not sure about why they should tell their work for lay public. Apart from orthodox reasons, such as sharing enthusiasm or responsibility for tax payer, it has been difficult answer for them. For some scientists, it has been just a mandatory, meanwhile, some answered that it has been good opportunity to improve their own understanding for their specialty in term of social aspect.
To sum up, research accountability is also crucial for scientists. Those non-scientific considerations may not reflect on their achievement immediately, however, it enrich the background context of a research, more focus on practical needs, and give more robust foundation for their work. In that means, Australian government should encourage public engagement.
Posted by Kohei,
Katz, E, Solomon, F, Mee, W and Lovel, R. 2009. Evolving scientific research governance in Australia: A case study of engaging interested publics in nanotechnology research. Public Understanding of Science 18(5): 531 545.