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The Last Day of S.NET

This past Friday, on the last day of S.NET, Colin Milburn and I co-panelized under the banner of “Science Fiction and Policy.” Milburn’s the author of an already classic essay, “Nanotechnology in the Age of Posthuman Engineering: Science Fiction as Science” (2002), and his N.SET paper, “Greener on the Other Side: Science Fiction and the problem of Green Nanotechnology” continued that earlier work’s emphasis on the entanglement of technological R&D and science/speculative fiction. My paper, “Some Uses of Fabulation in the Making and Theorizing of Science and Technology Policy,” examined various ways that policymakers deployed science fictional tropes and scenarios to further their agendas.

Alongside seeing old friends and colleagues again, meeting a few new ones, and pulling a sizeable crowd in for our panel at the conference’s end, the highlights of the gathering for me were two—

1. Real-time technology assessment: Guston and Sarewitz’s baby, RTTA proposes to embed social scientists in laboratories and, through their presence, encourage scientists to reflexively modify their research on the fly, so to speak. Based on their presentations last Tuesday, the ASU Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes scholars seem opposed to telling lab scientists what qualifies as laudable work, and rather stress (perhaps somewhat hopefully) the development of better knowledge production through discussions of implications of, scenarios based on and alternatives to varied aspects of on-going research.

2. Speculative Ethics: Davis Baird delivered an interesting summary of a question increasingly central to the discourse in the ethics enclave of the nanotechnoscience community: is ethical analysis of emergent technoscience and speculative technosocial arrangements that presume such technoscience’s development a legitimate activity? In a provocative Nanoethics article published in 2007, “If and Then: A Critique of Speculative Nanoethics”, Alfred Nordmann argues against legitimacy, largely on the grounds that such “speculative ethics” squanders the “scare resource” of “ethical concern.” In her “Ethics, Speculation, and Values”, Rebecca Roache reverses the implicit disciplinary/vocational weighing of Nordmann’s argument, quipping “that scientific expertise is a scarce resource and must not be squandered on developing technological visions that are premised on implausible ethical assumptions, especially when doing so distracts us from using science to solve genuine ethical problems” (322).

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