As I write this post, scientists around the world are marching in reaction to the political climate and in support of science. One of the emerging issues around the march is the intersection of science and politics, with many scientists wondering just how political such a march should be. Emerging offers a number of essays at the intersections of science and other issues, which can then serve as an entry point for thinking about the role of science in the world, which in many ways is at the heart of the march.
Sandra Allen’s “A World without Wine” looks at the cultural and economic impact of global climate change by examining threats to the world’s major wine producing regions caused by shifts in weather. Wine grapes are enormously sensitive to climate; recent shifts in weather patterns in these regions risks a sea change in the wine industry as we know it, with serious economic and cultural repercussions. Allen’s piece is a great way to think about climate change in practical terms and around a topic that might have some relevance to students.
“Ethics and the New Genetics,” by the Dalai Lama, instead examines the relation between science and ethics, specifically considering the rapid evolution of biotechnologies and the relative lack of a concomitant evolution in ethics. It’s a useful essay for thinking about the ethical implications of technology. The Dalai Lama issues a broad call for the development of an ethical framework, a call that students can begin to answer in their own work.
Richard Restak’s “Attention Deficit: The Brain Syndrome of Our Era” uses brain science to consider the impact of media on our attention and quite literally on our brains. Restak believes that our propensity to multitask is actually breeding Attention Deficit Disorder. His essay offers students a way of critiquing media and social media from the standpoint of science or, alternatively, an avenue for challenging science based on the lived millennial experiences.
Tomas van Houtryve’s “From the Eyes of a Drone” considers the intersection of science and imaging technology and the military by exploring the use of drones in military operations. Given the long and complex relationship between science and the military, van Houtryve offers a useful primer for students.
Perhaps the most powerful essay for looking at these issues, particularly in the context of the Science March, is “Being WEIRD: How Culture Shapes the Mind” by Ethan Watters, which documents the work of Joe Henrich and his colleagues which has called into the question the universality of social sciences ranging from anthropology to economics to psychology. Henrich and his co-researchers demonstrated that much of what is considered universal in these disciplines is in fact “WEIRD”: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. Culture and environment thus, they show, deeply shape the mind and the science that attempts to account for it, calling into question the Truth-with-a-capital-T of science. Given that the march was all about the sheer power of science in relation to fact, Watters’ essay can help students complicate that understanding.