The debates and outcomes of scientific research have often had consequences for the wider public, both in terms of the way that scientific ideas interact with lay beliefs and the way that technological development changes different forms of social living. The interaction between science and the public is by no means unidirectional either, as funding, institutional support, and direction for many research endeavours is integrated with wider social structures. Shifting public sentiments and modes of social living, therefore, will often affect the character of scientific research as much as scientific development will affect society as a whole. Far from being an abstract philosophical point about the place of intellectual endeavours in human society, the relations between modern science and society can be studied historically. Looking at Darwin’s ideas on speciation and their relation to Victorian society, the political impetus behind the Moon Landing, and the way that biotechnology has changed human narratives about the self, scientific endeavours and public interests can be seen to be importantly intertwined yet fairly well distinguishable.
Scientific research, more or less by necessity, is something carried out mainly by a specific community of researchers. Although the scientific community is larger than ever before, the boundary between experts and active researchers and the wider public remains quite clear and distinct. The roles of science in public life, and public life in scientific research, present many questions for historians and philosophers of science. How have public attitudes towards and influence upon scientific research shifted over time? How can the social and intellectual lines between scientists and non-scientists be best delineated throughout history? Is there a proper role for science in public life? Is there a proper role for public interests in influencing scientific research?
The conference keynote will be given by Dr. John Durant from MIT’s STS department. His earlier research was in the history of evolutionary and behavioral biology, with special reference to debates about animal nature and human nature in the late-19th and 20th centuries. More recently, however, he has undertaken sociological research on the public dimensions of science and technology. He is especially interested in public perceptions of the life sciences and biotechnology, in the role of public consultation in science and technology policy-making, and in the role of informal media (especially museums) in facilitating public engagement with science and technology. He is the founder editor of the quarterly peer review journal, Public Understanding of Science, and the author and editor of numerous books, essay collections and scholarly articles in the history and the public understanding of science. (from his MIT website – http://web.mit.edu/sts/people/durant.html)
We welcome submissions on any historical or philosophical topic related to this theme of “Science and its Publics.” To submit please send an abstract of no more than 300 words to [email protected] by April 15th 2013, with the subject line “Science and its Publics – Conference Submission.” Notifications of acceptance will be sent out within two weeks.