Penn State STS Program Letter of Support | Science | Pennsylvania State University

January 25, 2011 President Graham Spanier Provost Rodney A.

Erickson Office of the President 201 Old Main University Park, PA 16802 Dear President Spanier and Provost Erickson: Like many of my STS colleagues, I learned with dismay of Penn State’s decision to eliminate its longstanding and widely recognized STS Program, to terminate the appointments of the Program’s junior faculty, and to disperse the tenured faculty among disparate departments. I write to you as founding director of the Program on Science, Technology and Society (STS) at the Harvard Kennedy School, founding chair of the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University, past president of the Society for Social Studies of Science, and former Board member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. My scholarly and professional life has been identified with the field of STS for more than a quarter century. I therefore bring both a historical perspective and a breadth of knowledge about the field that I hope gives this unsolicited letter some credibility. The economic concerns driving the decision to eliminate the STS Program are familiar to us all. Indeed, on an evening when the President of the United States announces a program of belt-tightening and a five-year federal spending freeze, who could fail to recognize the need for sacrifice? Still, it is precisely in this moment of fiscal constraints that it is important to make the right choices about what to cut and what to save, what to nurture and what to abandon to the fates. As experienced administrators, you know better than the rest of us that good management requires a growth and conservation strategy as well as a strategy for cutting unnecessary expense. As an emerging discipline, STS has yet to achieve proper institutional recognition in American higher education, although a thriving STS department exists at Cornell, an undergraduate degree program at Brown, a new graduate minor at Harvard, and formal STS presence at tens of dozens of other universities in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Because of its relatively loose organizational structure, STS scholarship has not always been recognized as a coherent body of work, and STS’s extensive contributions to undergraduate education, graduate and postdoctoral training, and public policy have tended to be underestimated. It would be a very great pity if Penn State were to make irrevocable decisions concerning STS without a thorough appreciation of the evidence. Most major problems in today’s world require solutions at the intersection of science, technology and society: food safety and security, climate change, epidemic diseases, renewable energy, cyberinfrastructures, non-fossil fuel transport systems, and many lesser needs. Yet, political events of the last few years suggest that understanding of these issues has, if anything, diminished among this nation’s political elite. A New York Times article reported in October 2010, for example, that “Of the

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20 Republican Senate candidates in contested races, 19 question the science of global warming and oppose any comprehensive legislation to deal with it, according to a National Journal survey.” STS has sought to make students, decisionmakers and publics more aware of science as a process of truth-seeking, the nature of uncertainty, the sources of technical controversy, the credibility (and sometimes non-credibility) of expertise, the causes of technological disasters, the factors that lead to success and failure in technological design, and most broadly the complex connections among science, technology and democracy. These wide-ranging contributions—cutting across the natural and social sciences, engineering, medicine, and the humanities—have been possible because STS increasingly functions as a coherent intellectual field. It is simply not feasible today for a university to deliver STS learning and insights through disaggregated or amateurish efforts by untrained individuals in scattered departments and faculties. Harvard, as you know, is notoriously slow and conservative when it comes to acknowledging developments beyond the traditional disciplines. But even at Harvard STS is finally beginning to take root. This fall, we worked successfully through the Kennedy School of Government and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to create a graduate Secondary Field (minor) in STS. This minor is now available to all Ph.D. students at Harvard, including scientists, engineers, and doctoral candidates in law and design. A new undergraduate course in “Technology and Society” has been launched, staffed in part by STS-trained teaching assistants. We hope that this course will become the core of a new undergraduate major in Technology and Society. It is ironic that Penn State, which early recognized the value of STS, should dismantle its achievements at just the time when so many other universities are finally beginning to understand the importance of the paths that your faculty trail-blazed. The late Rustum Roy, who passed away just last year, was a pioneer in thinking about science policy. Robert Proctor and Londa Schiebinger, noted STS scholars now at Stanford, established their early academic standing at Penn State. Rich Doyle’s oeuvre has set the standard for other students of the rhetoric of science. Jonathan Marks, a lawyer, bioethicist and STS scholar, has been a valued visitor in my STS Program at Harvard for two years. Even your junior faculty are already making their mark in the world. For example, Chloe Silverman’s study of autism has made important contributions to bioethics and medical anthropology even before its publication as a book. Many difficult assessments and choices must have preceded the decision to cut STS at Penn State. It would be presumptuous of me to think otherwise. At the same time, as a concerned university citizen and one of the pioneers in this field, I would respectfully request you to take a second look, if it is still possible, at measures short of eliminating the field and redistributing all of its resources. America urgently needs the intellectual and practical services that STS offers. This is not a time to turn away from gaining, and disseminating, deeper insight into the complex relations of science and technology to their social, political, and cultural environments. Needless to say, I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. Respectfully yours,

Sheila Jasanoff Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies Director, Program on Science, Technology and Society Harvard Kennedy School

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