Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 861–882 | Cite as

Science Outside the Lab: Helping Graduate Students in Science and Engineering Understand the Complexities of Science Policy

  • Michael J. BernsteinEmail author
  • Kiera Reifschneider
  • Ira Bennett
  • Jameson M. Wetmore
Original Paper


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.


Science policy Ethics education Macroethics Science and engineering education Science Policy Evaluation Assessment Experiential learning 



We gratefully acknowledge the support of the university faculty, staff, guest speakers, and students who make Science Outside the Lab possible, in particular Andra Williams. We’d also like to thank the developers and faculty of the earliest Science Outside the Labs, Neal Woodbury, Dan Sarewitz, Joann Williams, Jim Allen, and Alex Smith. We thank Dr. Jessica Salerno for her insight as we refined our survey analysis. Our thanks also to the insightful comments of our three peer reviewers. Early versions of this research were presented at 2014 Gordon Research Conference, 2015 STGlobal Conference, and 2015 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This research was undertaken with support from The Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University (CNS-ASU), funded by the National Science Foundation (cooperative Agreement #0531194 and #0937591).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

11948_2016_9818_MOESM1_ESM.docx (32 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 32 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael J. Bernstein
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Kiera Reifschneider
    • 1
  • Ira Bennett
    • 1
    • 3
  • Jameson M. Wetmore
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Center for Nanotechnology in SocietyArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.School of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.Center for Engagement & Training in Science & SocietyArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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