Recent Center Publications
Recent publications from Center graduate student Erik Fisher and research scientist Myanna Lahsen:
Fisher, E., 2005. Lessons Learned from the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications program (ELSI): Planning societal implications research for the National Nanotechnology Program , Technology in Society, Volume 27, pp. 321-328.
This paper considers federal requirements to institute a research program on societal and ethical considerations of nanotechnology, and to integrate the results of this research with nanotechnology research and development. It identifies research selection and assessment criteria derived in part from criticism of the Human Genome Project's Ethical, Legal, and Societal Implications program. This criticism concerns the capacity of bioethics research to influence policy. Since integration of societal research with nanotechnology development is meant to influence the direction of nanotechnology development, an explicit emphasis ought to be placed on the capacity of the new program's societal and ethical research to influence federal nanotechnology development policy.
Lahsen, M., 2005. Seductive Simulations? Uncertainty Distribution Around Climate Models. Social Studies of Science 35/6, pp. 895–922, December.
This paper discusses the distribution of certainty around General Circulation Models (GCMs) – computer models used to project possible global climatic changes due to human emissions of greenhouse gases. It examines the trope of distance underpinning Donald MacKenzie’s concept of ‘certainty trough’, and calls for a more multi-dimensional and dynamic conceptualization of how uncertainty is distributed around technology. The certainty trough describes the level of certainty attached to particular technoscientific constructions as distance increases from the site of knowledge production, and proposes that producers of a given technology and its products are the best judges of their accuracy. Processes and dynamics associated with GCM modeling challenge the simplicity of the certainty trough diagram, mainly because of difficulties with distinguishing between knowledge producers and users, and because GCMs involve multiple sites of production. This case study also challenges the assumption that knowledge producers always are the best judges of the accuracy of their models. Drawing on participant observation and interviews with climate modelers and the atmospheric scientists with whom they interact, the study discusses how modelers, and to some extent knowledge producers in general, are sometimes less able than some users to identify shortcomings of their models.
Lahsen, M., 2005: Technocracy, Democracy, and U.S. Climate Politics: The Need for Demarcations. Science, Technology and Human Values, Winter, pp. 137-169.
Ulrich Beck and other theorists of reflexive modernization are allies in the general project to reduce technocracy and elitism by rendering decision making more democratic and robust. However, this study of U.S. climate politics reveals complexities and obstacles to the sort of democratized decision making envisioned by such theorists. Since the early 1990s, the U.S. public has been subjected to numerous media-driven campaigns to shape understandings of this widely perceived threat. Political interests have instigated an important part of these campaigns, frequently resorting to ethically problematic tactics to undermine attempts at policy action designed to avert or reduce the threat. The disproportionate influence of such interests suggests the need for a more level political playing field characterized by more equalized access to power and influence.