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Science & Society

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Science, in essence, can be better understood as a method of investigation and analysis rather than a cumulative compilation of facts, models, and realizations. While most people associate science with rigorous STEM subjects like physics and chemistry, its reach is, in fact, much wider as it can be applied in most domains so long as the principles of the scientific method are upheld. Understanding, being humans’ most precious capacity in dealing with problems and decoding the world, has been aided by science only to fuel more creativity and innovation. The products of science are countless. Perhaps the most notable of which is the steep rise in technology development.  

While science is sometimes treated as having a spirit of its own and embodying the absolute image of objectivity. It is, in reality, neither. Science has always been entangled with the fabric of society: its belief systems, culture, needs, past, and future. Science is also a huge driver behind developments in many fields that shape communities quite profoundly on all levels: like medicine, education and technology.  Science is a tool invented by people and so people are truly the center of science’s utility. The many ways in which science influences and is influenced by society is an arena deserving of attention and is the center focus of Engaged Scholarship in the Science and Society Issue Area. 

Paying attention to how science and technology interact with society is not a merely anthropological matter. Communities face problems every day, concerning resources like clean water, air pollution, justice systems, equity, resource distribution, health systems or the internet. Science can be a tool that is directly and actively involved in studying and solving such problems and helping communities thrive. This area of work, where science is applied to directly address communal problems is usually referred to as Citizens Science or Community Science. 

While you explore engaged scholarship further through this page, keep in mind that any project with a communal mission or focus that involves science and technology in any form is highly encouraged by the Lang Center. STEM students interested in applying their technical or research skills in their respective fields through civic engagement projects are encouraged to apply for our programs and opportunities.

In the spirit of a true liberal arts education, Science & Society Lang Center associates are here to help you connect your “hard sciences” education in the classroom with your social calling. It is imperative to include the natural sciences in the conversation on social justice, as technologies and sciences have the rich capacity to expedite and maximize social impact.

Engaged Scholarship Examples

Cathay O’Neil, in her book, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, explores the subject of democracy and justice in the era of computer algorithms. She points out specific examples of the applications and methodologies of industry that compromise some justice systems among others. 

Excerpt: 3.1. Community engages with external science organizations

  • 3.1.1. Context
    Eastport is a small fishing community located in Bonavista Bay on the northeast coast of the island of Newfoundland, on Canada’s Atlantic coast (Charles and Wilson, 2009). The community and its residents have a long-standing reliance on marine resources, including “a wide range of groundfish, pelagic fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and aquatic plants” (DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans), 2007). The impact of the massive collapse of groundfish (notably cod) stocks and fisheries in the early 1990s (Charles, 1995) was immense on Eastport and other coastal communities. To survive after the groundfish collapse, fishers turned more to lobster (Homarus americanus), which had been previously considered only a supplemental fishery (Collins and Lien, 2002; Davis et al., 2006). This greater fishing effort on lobster stocks led to a decline in catches, threatening community livelihoods.
  • 3.1.2. Motivation for community science
    Local fishers saw the need for a strong and sustainable local presence in managing the lobster fishery, after the collapse of the cod fishery, and accordingly established the Eastport Peninsula Lobster Protection Committee in 1995 (Rowe and Feltham, 2000; Power and Mercer, 2003). The local fishers wanted a better understanding of local lobster stocks, thereby improving sustainability for the stocks and the fishery itself. In particular, they felt the need to add to their existing knowledge of lobster dynamics, location and movement through scientific research. This was closely interwoven with a desire to implement practical conservation and management actions in their lobster fishery. The following outlines the process followed by the fishers, and their community, to meet these goals - for more extensive details, see Davis et al. (2006), as well as Murray et al. (2005).
  • 3.1.3. Model of community science
    To build their community’s conservation efforts, the fishers engaged in partnerships with a number of scientists from the academic world (Memorial University of Newfoundland) and government (i.e. Parks Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada) (Collins and Lien, 2002). The resulting research dealt with the life stages of the lobster, their abundance and their location in the ocean in these different stages. This was carried out by scientists and fishers together, so that throughout the research, local fishers participated not only in the data collection, but in the decision processes of the research. Furthermore, a local high school class became involved in assisting with collecting and analysing information (Collins and Lien, 2002)...The aim was to build up the lobster stock, through conservation supporting community livelihoods (Collins and Lien, 2002).

    At the same time, a co-management arrangement was put in place, based on government recognition of local fishers, and the fishers’ experience with research, conservation, and eventually management actions. The co-management arrangement shifted later into an advisory committee (Davis et al., 2006), reflecting the reality that, from a regulatory point of view, the government has not devolved formal powers to the community, e.g. with respect to compliance and enforcement.
  • 3.1.4. Concrete results of community science
    In 1999, feeling that the closures had been successful, and ready for further steps, a request was made to DFO by the Eastport Peninsula Lobster Protection Committee to institutionalize the closed areas as a formal Marine Protected Area (MPA). This was seen as key to permanently protect the lobster habitat, and to further support conservation initiatives for protecting resources and livelihoods. In addition, the move to formalize the MPA may have (1) helped to ensure that those outside the fishery did not misuse the local marine area, a win–win situation for local fishers, and (2) supported community socio-economic goals and enhanced communication (Charles and Wilson, 2009).
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