Considering the social cost of science

Photo by Texas A&M University-Commerce Marketing Communications Photography photostream. 14298-Children's learning center technology-4988.jpg. CC.

It’s hard to guess what the legal and social consequences of a technology will be while it’s being developed. Marc Saner of the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy proposed researching any possible effects early on. Photo by Texas A&M University-Commerce Marketing Communications Photography photostream. 14298-Children’s learning center technology-4988.jpg. CC.


As a journalism student who’s passionate about science, I’m constantly amazed by the technological advances that have happened just in my lifetime, from floppy disks to cloud computing. I can’t help but get excited about all the new solutions researchers are working towards.

But at a May 7 talk on the troubles with emerging technology, the outgoing Director of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa, Marc Saner, made some interesting points that made me think more critically about these advances:

1. Investments in science do not always lead to fame and fortune

Governments have this idea that investing in research and innovation will one day lead to money-making products and services. However, some technologies get tied up in red tape, run out of money or fail to win public approval.

2. Research the social, legal and ethical effects of the new technology early on

Looking at who benefits and who pays the price of a new technology can help society adapt to its often unpredictable effects.

3. Don’t try to talk about an entire field, narrow the scope

It’s hard to say anything accurate about all GMOs or all smartphones. Saner compared this to saying “Plastic is bad.” Stick to discussing the risks and benefits of specific products, such as non-browning apples.

Unrelated to the subject of the talk, I learned that if you identify yourself as a journalism student during the Q&A session, researchers and regulators will seek you out afterwards to tell you about their research and the importance of having journalists who can talk about science accurately. All it takes is one intelligent question, and the stories come to you. Definitely a good technique to keep in my back pocket.

About Amelia

I am a recent biology graduate and current journalism student exploring career opportunities in science communications.

2 responses to “Considering the social cost of science

  1. Pingback: Le coût social de la science | lab bench to park bench

  2. Diane

    Yay, it is a noble endeavour to report on science accurately and without bias. You are one of the new super heros!

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May 2015


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