Science Outside the Lab: Helping Graduate Students in Science and Engineering Understand the Complexities of Science Policy
Helping scientists and engineers challenge received assumptions about how science, engineering, and society relate is a critical cornerstone for macroethics education. Scientific and engineering research are frequently framed as first steps of a value-free linear model that inexorably leads to societal benefit. Social studies of science and assessments of scientific and engineering research speak to the need for a more critical approach to the noble intentions underlying these assumptions. “Science Outside the Lab” is a program designed to help early-career scientists and engineers understand the complexities of science and engineering policy. Assessment of the program entailed a pre-, post-, and 1 year follow up survey to gauge student perspectives on relationships between science and society, as well as a pre–post concept map exercise to elicit student conceptualizations of science policy. Students leave Science Outside the Lab with greater humility about the role of scientific expertise in science and engineering policy; greater skepticism toward linear notions of scientific advances benefiting society; a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the actors involved in shaping science policy; and a continued appreciation of the contributions of science and engineering to society. The study presents an efficacious program that helps scientists and engineers make inroads into macroethical debates, reframe the ways in which they think about values of science and engineering in society, and more thoughtfully engage with critical mediators of science and society relationships: policy makers and policy processes.