Friday, August 18, 2017

By Shirley Laska, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Center for Hazards Assessment, Response & Technology, University of New Orleans, commenting from the last day of TPRS conference; Laska is one of the six conference Exemplars, and a recipient of the CSPO Prize.

Thank you very much for inviting me to this very important conversation about the role of science. Asking the question within a broad forum and with as many young scientists involved as possible is a way to address it most productively. The socialization of scientists should not be isolated to the scientific processes which they must hone with great care. Their education should be built upon a robust undergraduate liberal education in which personal, civil and professional ethics are created and valued. This type of core education should not end with the beginning of graduate school where it is assumed that honing the scientist’s character should not continue.

A participant blogger asked, should there be different types of scientists, those who do science, and those who apply science? I would say we already have the more basic science and the applied science specialists. That a young graduate student decides to pursue basic science should not give license to them having an education and professionalization process that does not inculcate society-focused values during that process. I would challenge that doing so would produce better science and science that is more relevant to the tremendous needs that society has. If the continuation of these considerations needs to be outside of the formal education, I would support as we have collectively discussed in this conference the use of professional organizations such as Doctors without Borders, Engineers without Borders as models of how the societal values could continue to be cultivated. It is not the way, but rather the will that is lacking.

Shirley Laska has dedicated most of her life to protecting the people and landscape of southern Louisiana from natural disasters. As an environmental sociologist she works to find real world solutions to the problems of disaster preparedness, disaster response and environmental protection. She established the Center for Hazards, Assessment, Response and Technology (CHART) at the University of New Orleans to conduct applied research to identify successful strategies to recover from both natural and technological disasters. She received the American Sociological Association’s Environment and Technology Section achievement award in 2000 and its Public Understanding of Sociology Award in 2008.

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