There was a time when the fields of “science” and “public health” were not controversial. There were good reasons for that widespread public trust. Because of advances in fighting infectious disease, life expectancy materially increased. The scourge of smallpox was eradicated and the polio vaccine brought the crippling disease under substantial international control.
Those days are long gone. We live in bitterly divisive times and the authority of science, as it is applied in public policy, no longer necessarily prevails. Indeed, some worry that “science” has become unduly ideological. There is no question that the science sector is sometimes used as a political cudgel in our culture wars. With the coming of the COVID pandemic, the public health is also looked upon by some with increasing suspicion. To say the least, this isn’t a healthy atmosphere for the country or for the furtherance of scientific advancement.
What can be done ease these divisions? How can “science” and “democracy” work together to fashion a research sector consisting of both technological expertise and ethical boundaries that preserve comity and societal consensus. Wesley’s guest in this episode of Humanize has some important ideas on how we can restore a robust science sector that serves, rather than dominates, society.
Dr. J. Benjamin Hurlbut is an associate professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. He earned his Ph.D. in the History of Science at Harvard University in 2010 and was a postdoctoral fellow in the Program on Science, Technology, and Society at Harvard Kennedy School.
Hurlbut’s research lies at the intersection of science and technology studies, bioethics and political theory. He is author of Experiments in Democracy: Human Embryo Research and the Politics of Bioethics (Columbia University Press, 2017).
Ben and Wesley discuss the causes of the current discord between science and the general population, how science is a community of practitioners as well as a method, and some of the current controversies involving the COVID pandemic, as well as recent advances in biotechnology that threaten to unleash a new eugenics. Ben also describes approaches that can heal the current discord between science and the society it serves. It is an important conversation as we proceed deeper into what has been describes as the “biotech century.”