NEPA Science and Society: Beyond the Ivory Tower: Science for Society (Pre-recorded)

Ayanna K. Thomas, Ph.D.
Tufts University

Nearly every public policy issue has a scientific component. Consider, as one example, how many police jurisdictions across the United States have now adopted reforms recommended by psychological science for how they construct, conduct, and preserve eyewitness identification evidence. Such a significant change illustrates the monumental impact that psychological science can and should have on large systems in society. Our work can have important consequences for public policy, education, health, and public discourse.

However, for our work to be maximally effective, we need to understand both how our methods of inquiry are contextualized within our society and how we can use the knowledge gained to affect positive social change. To begin with, I will argue that even the purest and most abstracted lines of inquiry emanate
from a social fabric and time, with its characteristic attitudes, limitations, and blind spots. However, even considering these limitations, I will argue that scientists have a responsibility to examine their research within that greater goal of improving society. I will discuss how we can take the leap from the tower to the world outside and translate our research into useful information for advocates and policy makers. Importantly, science for society is relevant for all of science – basic and applied – and requires scientists to expertly communicate the complexity and nuance of research. Toward this end, I will also discuss our responsibility to be honest and clear about scientific uncertainty as a necessary part of the process of building new knowledge.

There can be no division between science and society—Our role as scientists is to produce, share, and integrate our work to better our world.


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