On Wednesday 16 March 2016 Professor Sheila Jasanoff gave public lecture at The Royal Library, "Diamanten".
Science for us moderns is the ultimate instrument of sense-making—the institution to which we turn when asking the why questions of our existence, and the only accredited source of universally valid answers. Indeed, the innocent curiosity of childhood is classically rendered in English as a question for science: “Why is the sky blue?” Yet, many of the enduring puzzles that trouble the human condition—the wherefore questions—are not answerable through recourse to science alone, such as what gives life meaning and value. Knowing the physics of blue skies does not tell us how the blueness of the sky permeates literature and art or affects our sense of and relationship with nature. Nor does it tell us how we should weigh the possibility that human-made technologies, such as geoengineering to combat global warming, could change the color of the sky, possibly lightening the blue to white.
Conventionally, people have responded to this problem by drawing a bright line between facts and values. Science on this view can set bounds on action by telling us what is; it is then up to politics and ethics to inform us how to act. In this lecture, I will question this conventional wisdom by showing how the field of science and technology studies, in which I have been working for some thirty-five years, has illuminated the relationship between science and other systems of making sense of human experience, including especially the law. Most crucially, science is seen as one mode of meaning-making among others, embedded in, rather than independent of, history and culture. This insight has helped scholars to understand better the nature of technical controversies, the reasons for cross-cultural differences in perceptions of technological risk and benefit, and the interdependencies between what we know of the world and how we wish to live it. Recognizing that the production, interpretation, and uses of science are culturally inflected does not detract from the power of scientific knowledge. Rather, it enables us to think more creatively about how to integrate doing science with the pursuit of reason, order, and the public good.