RESEARCH | Sheila Jasanoff, the Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Harvard Kennedy School, is the founding director of the Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard. Her research focuses on the ways in which science is used in legal and policy decisions and, in reverse, on the ways in which issues in law and policy affect the production of scientific knowledge and evidence.
Q What makes science and technology studies (STS) so important?
A STS improves our ability to think about the complex relations between science and society—relations that most other fields do not address. Science departments teach how to do science and how to get the most reliable results. Political science departments teach about how governmental institutions work. Public policy schools talk about what makes policy effective. Law schools reflect on justice and how you interpret the law. STS asks many missing questions that are crucial for democracy and public welfare: Which science is worth supporting with taxpayer money? How should governments acquire knowledge for policy? How effectively do policymakers use evidence? and How can justice be done when scientific evidence is weak or uncertain?
Q Are other universities taking this up as a field of study?
A STS as a field is catching on and is becoming part of the conversation at a lot of different universities, including Harvard. It’s my goal to make sure that STS programs such as the ones I have been fortunate to lead at Cornell and Harvard increase in number and influence and significance.
Q And are you seeing progress?
A I see many signs, though progress is slower than an impatient person like me would wish. At Harvard, many more faculty members, along with students at every level, are becoming aware of what STS is and why it matters. We see this in rising course enrollments, cross-disciplinary research initiatives, and increasing attendance at all of the STS program’s activities.
Q So people are learning to think differently?
A I hope so. The enterprise of STS is a little bit like making everybody bilingual instead of monolingual, or musical where they were not musical before. Learning to hear things and see things in the world that people weren’t attuned to–I think that’s potentially revolutionary in its consequences.