Unit 1: The Place of Science and Technology in Society
Issue: Is the Distinction between Basic and Applied Research Useful?
Yes: Nils Roll-Hansen, from "Why the Distinction between Basic (Theoretical) and Applied (Practical) Research Is Important to the Politics of Science," Original Work (2010)
No: Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Tolu Odumosu, and Lee Vinsel, from "RIP: The Basic/Applied Research Dichotomy," Issues in Science and Technology (2013)
Nils Roll-Hansen argues that the difference between basic and applied research is important to studies of the history of science and to science policy. The two differ profoundly in their criteria for success or failure, their effects on social processes, and in their degree of autonomy from political and economic interests. The distinction must not be blurred over in the interest of promoting innovation and economic growth. Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Tolu Odumosu, and Lee Vinsel argue that the distinction between basic and applied research fails to reflect what actually happens in scientific research. They urge an “invention/ discovery” model and hence a more holistic, long-term view of the research process in order to enhance innovation that has public utility and identify ways to intervene with public policy.
Issue: Should the Public Have to Pay to See the Results of Federally Funded Research?
Yes: Ralph Oman, from "Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Courts, The Internet, and Intellectual Property, Hearing on ‘The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act,’ " U.S. House of Representatives (2008)
No: Stuart M. Shieber, from "Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, Hearing on ‘Examining Public Access and Scholarly Publication Interests,’ " U.S. House of Representatives (2012)
Attorney and past register of copyrights Ralph Oman contends that “If the NIH [National Institutes of Health] succeeds in putting all of the NIH-related peer-reviewed articles on its online database for free within one year of publication, the private publishers will be hard-pressed to survive.” Allowing private publishers to continue to profit by publishing the results of publically funded research is the best way to ensure public benefit. Stuart M. Shieber argues that the concerns of traditional journal publishers that open access publishing will endanger their survival are not justified. The data show that publisher profitability has increased despite the recent economic downturn. Providing open access to the publicly funded research literature amplifies the diffusion of knowledge and benefits researchers, taxpayers, and everyone who gains from new medicines, new technologies, new jobs, and new solutions to long-standing problems of every kind.
Issue: Can Science Be Trusted Without Government Regulation?
Yes: David R. Franz, from "The Dual Use Dilemma: Crying Out for Leadership," Saint Louis University Journal of Health Law & Policy (2013)
No: Robert Gatter, from "Regulating Dual Use Research to Promote Public Trust: A Reply to Dr. Franz," Saint Louis University Journal of Health Law & Policy (2013)
David R. Franz argues that “when rules for the few become too disruptive to the work of the many, communities of trust can break down.” Exceptional research leaders create a culture of responsibility in which safety rulebooks can be thin and their laboratories will be safer, more secure, and more productive. Government regulation leads to thicker rulebooks and more wasted effort without increasing safety and security. Robert Gatter argues that the research enterprise must be trustworthy to the public at large. Because scientists share a bias in favor of discovery rather than public safety, they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. Government regulation is essential.
Unit 2: Energy and the Environment
Issue: Can We Reduce Carbon Emissions Enough to Limit Global Warming?
Yes: Lisa Jacobson, from "Testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Hearing on ‘Examining the International Climate Change Negotiations,’ " U.S. Senate (2015)
No: Stephen D. Eule, from "Testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Hearing on ‘Examining the International Climate Change Negotiations,’ " U.S. Senate (2015)
Lisa Jacobson argues that an international agreement to limit carbon emissions will spur investment in clean energy technologies. Success is achievable, and the U.S. business community is already considering climate change impacts in its energy and corporate strategies. “The private sector is going to be a key partner in delivering the innovation, investment and technologies that will help . . . meet . . . mitigation targets.” Stephen D. Eule argues that the COP21 agreement is unlikely to succeed. In the United States, promised emissions reductions will be inadequate, they will probably not be achieved, and if it happens it would threaten the competitive position of American businesses. It would also destroy history’s most successful economic system. “Affordable, available, and scalable energy is not the problem, it is the solution.”
Issue: Would a Carbon Tax Help Slow Global Warming?
Yes: James Rydge, from "Implementing Effective Carbon Pricing," The New Climate Economy (2015)
No: Robert P. Murphy, Patrick J. Michaels, and Paul C. Knappenberger, from "The Case Against a Carbon Tax," Cato Institute (2015)
James Rydge argues that the case for using carbon pricing (via a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system) as an important component of efforts to bring carbon emissions and their effects on global climate change under control is strong, momentum is growing, and effects on competitiveness can be dealt with via international cooperation. Therefore, all developed and emerging economies, and others where possible, should commit to introducing or strengthening carbon pricing by 2020, and should phase out fossil fuel subsidies. Robert P. Murphy, Patrick J. Michaels, and Paul C. Knappenberger argue that the economics of climate change reveal that the case for a U.S. carbon tax is very weak, partly because reining in global warming cannot be justified in cost/benefit terms. Even a well-designed carbon tax would probably cause more harm than good.
Issue: Is Home Solar the Wave of the Future?
Yes: Peter Bronski et al., from "The Economics of Grid Defection," Rocky Mountain Institute (2014)
No: Peter Kind, from "Disruptive Challenges: Financial Implications and Strategic Responses to a Changing Retail Electric Business," Edison Electric Institute (2013)
Peter Bronski et al., of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) argue that the combination of home solar power with storage technologies such as batteries offer to make the electricity grid optional for many consumers, perhaps as early as the 2020s. Utilities have an opportunity to exploit the spread of “distributed electricity generation” to provide a robust, reliable electricity supply. Peter Kind, executive director of Energy Infrastructure Advocates, argues that increased interest in “distributed energy resources” such as home solar power and energy efficiency, among other factors, is threatening to reduce revenue and increase costs for electrical utilities. In order to protect investors and capital availability, electrical utilities must consider new charges for customers who reduce their electricity usage, decreased payments to homeowners using net metering, and even new charges to users of “distributed energy resources” to offset “stranded costs” (such as no longer needed power plants).
Unit 3: Human Health and Welfare
Issue: Do We Have a Population Problem?
Yes: Dennis Dimick, from "As World’s Population Booms, Will Its Resources Be Enough for Us?" National Geographic (2014)
No: Tom Bethell, from "Population, Economy, and God," The American Spectator (2009)
Dennis Dimick argues that new projections of higher population growth through the twenty-first century are reason for concern, largely because of the conflict between population size and resource use. The environmental impact of population also depends on technology, affluence, and waste, but educated women have smaller families and technology (electric lights, for instance) aids education. Controlling population appears to be essential. Tom Bethell argues that population alarmists project their fears onto popular concerns, currently the environment, and every time their scare-mongering turns out to be based on faulty premises. Blaming environmental problems will be no different. Societies are sustained not by population control but by belief in God.
Issue: Can Vaccines Cause Autism?
Yes: Arjun Walia, from "Scientific Evidence Suggests the Vaccine-Autism Link Can No Longer Be Ignored," Collective Evolution (2013)
No: Harriet Hall, from "Vaccines and Autism: A Deadly Manufactroversy," Skeptic (2009)
Arjun Walia argues that the scientific consensus on the safety of vaccines may be suspect because “the corporate media is owned by the major vaccine manufacturers.” He describes 22 studies that suggest that the connection between childhood vaccines and autism is real or that suggest possible mechanisms for the connection. Harriet Hall argues that the controversy over whether vaccines cause autism has been manufactured by dishonest, self-serving researchers and physicians, ignorant celebrities, conspiracy theorists, and the media. The result is a resurgence of preventable diseases and childhood deaths. Vaccines save lives. Autism’s causes are probably genetic.
Issue: Is the Fracking Industry Adequately Regulated for Public Safety?
Yes: Arthur Herman, from "The Liberal War on American Energy Independence," Commentary (2015)
No: Paul Solotaroff, from "What’s Killing the Babies of Vernal, Utah?" Rolling Stone (2015)
Arthur Herman argues that there is no proof that the fracking industry is causing environmental and health problems. Anyone who says there is is attacking American prosperity and the well-being of the working class. Paul Solotaroff argues that we cannot trust local and state health and environmental officials to do anything about obvious health issues. There is too much money involved.
Issue: Is the Process for Decommissioning Nuclear Reactors Sound?
Yes: Marvin S. Fertel, from "Testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Hearing on ‘Nuclear Reactor Decommissioning: Stakeholder Views,’ " U.S. Senate (2014)
No: Geoffrey H. Fettus, from "Testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Hearing on ‘Nuclear Reactor Decommissioning: Stakeholder Views,’ " U.S. Senate (2014)
Marvin S. Fertel argues that existing procedures for decommissioning nuclear power plants are proven, appropriate, and adequate for protecting public health and the environment. Geoffrey H. Fettus argues that decommissioning nuclear power plants is a long-term process that requires long-term monitoring and regulation, currently not provided for in decommissioning procedures. In addition, current funding approaches leave a “plausible risk” that taxpayers could be left to bear large portions of the costs involved.
Issue: Should Genetically Modified Foods Be Labeled?
Yes: Todd Daloz, from "Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health, Hearing on ‘A National Framework for the Review and Labeling of Biotechnology in Food,’ " U.S. House of Representatives (2015)
No: L. Val Giddings, from "Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health, Hearing on ‘A National Framework for the Review and Labeling of Biotechnology in Food,’ " U.S. House of Representatives (2015)
Todd Daloz argues that Vermont’s legislation requiring labeling of genetically modified (GM) crops is amply justified by the public’s need for factual information about the food they eat, and that federal preemption of state labeling laws, without providing a suitable substitute, is unreasonable. L. Val Giddings argues that there is no scientific doubt that GM crops are safe to eat, the federal government already has sufficient authority to regulate the sale and labeling of GM foods, and the push for labeling laws is a thinly disguised effort to ban GM foods in favor of less safe and more expensive alternatives, such as organic foods.
Unit 4: Space
Issue: Can We Stop an Asteroid or Comet Impact?
Yes: Michael F. A'Hearn, from "Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Hearing on ‘Threats from Space: A Review of Private and International Efforts to Track and Mitigate Asteroids and Meteors, Part II,’ " U.S. House of Representatives (2013)
No: Clark R. Chapman, from "What Will Happen When the Next Asteroid Strikes?" Astronomy Magazine (2011)
Michael F. A’Hearn argues that even impacts by small (less than 140 meters in diameter) near-Earthobjects (NEOs) can be damaging and that present detection programs focus only on larger NEOs and will take many years to complete their inventory. The probability that even a small NEO will strike Earth in the near future is small, but the potential damage is so great that investing in identifying and tracking NEOs, and researching ways of preventing impact, is worthwhile. Clark R. Chapman argues that though the consequences of an asteroid or comet impact would be catastrophic, efforts to prevent the impact would be futile. It is far more appropriate to incorporate such impact disasters into more conventional disaster planning.
Issue: Will the Search for Extraterrestrial Life Ever Succeed?
Yes: Seth Shostak, from "Using Radio in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence," U.S. House of Representatives (2014)
No: Peter Schenkel, from "SETI Requires a Skeptical Reappraisal," Skeptical Inquirer (2006)
Radio astronomer and Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) researcher Seth Shostak defends SETI and argues that if the assumptions behind the search are well grounded, “it is not hyperbole to suggest that scientists could very well discover extraterrestrial intelligence within two decades.” Peter Schenkel argues that SETI’s lack of success to date, coupled with the apparent uniqueness of Earth’s history and suitability for life, suggests that intelligent life is probably rare in our galaxy and that the enthusiastic optimism of SETI proponents should be reined in.
Issue: Should the United States Continue Its Human Spaceflight Program?
Yes: Committee on Human Spaceflight, from "Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration," The National Academies Press (2014)
No: Amitai Etzioni, from "Final Frontier vs. Fruitful Frontier: The Case for Increasing Ocean Exploration," Issues in Science and Technology (2014)
The National Research Council’s Committee on Human Spaceflight argues that the combination of the pragmatic benefits of and the human aspirations associated with human spaceflight are great enough to justify continuing the United States’ human spaceflight program. Professor Amitai Etzioni argues that the Earth’s oceans offer more potential discoveries, more resources for human use, and more contributions to national security and disaster preparedness than outer space. The exploration of space should be replaced by the exploration of the oceans, and the necessary budgetary resources should be taken from NASA.
Unit 5: The Computer Revolution
Issue: Will Robots Take Your Job?
Yes: Kevin Drum, from "Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don’t Fire Us?" Mother Jones (2013)
No: Peter Gorle and Andrew Clive, from "Positive Impact of Industrial Robots on Employment," Metra Martech (2011)
Kevin Drum argues that we are about to make very rapid progress in artificial intelligence, and by about 2040, robots will be replacing people in a great many jobs. On the way to that “robot paradise,” corporate managers and investors will expand their share of national wealth, at the expense of labor’s share, even more than they have in recent years. That trend, however, depends on an ample supply of consumers—workers with enough money to buy the products the machines are making. It is thus already time to start rethinking how the nation ensures that its citizens have enough money to be consumers and keep the economy going. Peter Gorle and Andrew Clive argue that robots are not a threat to human employment. Historically, increases in the use of automation almost always increase both productivity and employment. Over the next few years, the use of robotics will generate 700,000–1,000,000 new jobs.
Issue: Do We Need New Laws to Protect the Public against Cybercrime?
Yes: Dean C. Garfield, from "Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Subcommittees on Research and Technology, Hearing on ‘The Expanding Cyber Threat,’ " U.S. House of Representatives (2015)
No: Cheri F. McGuire, from "Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Subcommittees on Research and Technology, Hearing on ‘The Expanding Cyber Threat,’ " U.S. House of Representatives (2015)
Dean C. Garfield argues that technological defenses are essential in the fight against cybercrime and are in continuous development, but there is a need for new laws that improve “the government’s ability to deter, investigate, and prosecute cybercrime.” Cheri F. McGuire, argues that government and industry must cooperate to fight cybercrime and emphasizes "strong technical capabilities [and] effective countermeasures."
Issue: Does the Public Have a Stake in How Drones Are Used?
Yes: Amie Stepanovich, from "Testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Hearing on ‘The Future of Drones in America: Law Enforcement and Privacy Considerations,’ " U.S. Senate (2013)
No: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, from "CBP's Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems in the Nation's Border Security," U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General (2012)
Amie Stepanovich argues that the increased use of unmanned aerial systems (or “drones”) to conduct surveillance in the United States must be accompanied by increased privacy protections. The current state of the law is insufficient to address the drone surveillance threat to the interests of the general public, who clearly have a stake (are stakeholders) in the issue. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, argues that planning is inadequate for the use of resources devoted to serving the purposes of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) unmanned aircraft systems program, to provide reconnaissance, surveillance, targeting, and acquisition capabilities to serve the needs of stakeholders. The list of stakeholders does not include the general public, and privacy concerns are not mentioned.
Unit 6: Ethics
Issue: Is “Animal Rights” Just Another Excuse for Terrorism?
Yes: John J. Miller, from "In the Name of the Animals: America Faces a New Kind of Terrorism," National Review (2006)
No: Steven Best, from "Dispatches from a Police State: Animal Rights in the Crosshairs of State Repression," International Journal of Inclusive Democracy (2007)
Journalist John J. Miller argues that animal rights extremists have adopted terrorist tactics in their effort to stop the use of animals in scientific research. Because of the benefits of such research, if the terrorists win, everyone loses. Professor Steven Best argues that the new Animal Enterprise Protection Act is excessively broad and vague, imposes disproportionate penalties, endangers free speech, and detracts from prosecution of real terrorism. The animal liberation movement, on the other hand, is both a necessary effort to emancipate animals from human exploitation, and part of a larger resistance movement opposed to exploitation and hierarchies of any and all kinds.
Issue: Should Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Be Released into the Environment to Fight Disease?
Yes: Hadyn Parry, from "Testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Hearing on ‘Science of Zika: The DNA of an Epidemic,’ ” U.S. House of Representatives (2016)
No: Eric Hoffman, from "Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes in the U.S.," Friends of Earth (2012)
Hadyn Parry argues that genetically engineered mosquitoes hold the potential to reduce mosquito populations and control the spread of diseases such as Zika and dengue. Eric Hoffman, a biotechnology campaigner with Friends of the Earth, argues that a great deal of research remains to be done to prove the safety to both the environment and public health of releasing genetically engineered mosquitoes. In addition, medical ethics require that participants in a medical trial must be able to opt out at any time, which means that a single resident of a release area must be able to call a halt to the release program.
Issue: Is Gene-Editing of Human Embryos Coming Soon?
Yes: Antonio Regalado, from "Engineering the Perfect Baby," MIT Technology Review (2015)
No: Elizabeth McNally, from "Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Subcommittee on Research and Technology, Hearing on ‘The Science and Ethics of Genetically Engineered Human DNA,’ " U.S. House of Representatives (2015)
Antonio Regalado describes recent progress in using the new CRISPR technology to edit the genes of mammalian cells, including embryos. He argues that although many people involved in the research are cautious, what was until recently only a theoretical possibility is now a very real possibility. We are very close to being able to engineer the genes of human embryos (for a variety of reasons) and most people have no idea of what is coming. Elizabeth McNally agrees that the technology is developing rapidly and has much to offer but is more reserved in her evaluation. She argues that it is necessary to regulate the technology and its uses, including limiting or prohibiting uses where changes would be passed to the next generation. However, “the justified use of this approach is certainly conceivable and may one day be appropriate.”