Accepted paper:

The Science in Society Laboratories: training students to analyse contemporary techno-scientific controversies and develop normative recommendations


Maximilian Fochler (University of Vienna)
Andrea Schikowitz (Technical University Munich)
Ulrike Felt (University of Vienna)
Susanne Oechsner (University of Vienna)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper, we present a teaching format in which students learn to map a current real-world controversy, to grasp the complexity of the production and regulation of contemporary techno-science, to use this knowledge to recommend actions, and to communicate to different audiences.

Paper long abstract:

From glyphosate to gene-drive mosquitoes, controversies at the interface of techno-science and society abound, and pose challenges to act under uncertainty, for policy makers and citizens alike. Changes in the public authority of scientific expertise, "post-truth" dynamics, have affected the dynamics of these controversies. At the same time, in discourses such as Responsible Research and Innovation, researchers are called to take responsibility, which includes the ability to take a stance in public controversies close to their field. This poses challenges and opportunities to STS pedagogy. It creates an opportunity in the growing demand for STS expertise in training students across different scientific fields. The ability to analyse controversies is sought after, both as a general capacity to gain orientation when normative stakes are intermingled with uncertain, ambiguous and incomplete knowledge claims, but also as a skill in job markets. However, this challenges STS to offer more than a critical de-construction of the dynamics of controversies. STS pedagogy needs to equip students with tools that enable them to take a normative stance, building on an appropriate analysis of the dynamics of a controversy. In this paper, we will present the "Science in Society Laboratories", a one-semester teaching format developed for master students in the social and natural sciences. In this class, students learn to map a current real-world controversy and to grasp the complexity of the production and regulation of contemporary techno-science. They use this knowledge to identify crucial questions and recommend actions, and learn to communicate this to different audiences.

panel W01
Teaching STS in an age of post-truth. Sharing challenges, approaches and experiences