Chapter 17 science , the environment and society


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  • Many people make the argument that without science, technology, or invention, there would be no social change. Sociologists are interested in seeing how these kinds of changes impact people and social interactions. Image:,_Kaibab_National_Forest_1.jpg
  • Scientists generally want to be objective and keep personal bias out of their research, but sometimes their research agenda (the topics they pursue) is influenced by these social factors.
  • Sometimes, experimenting with something that seems like it is not legitimate leads to a new discovery.
  • The term paradigm refers to the way that people see things: it is a pattern of thought or perspective on a topic, which is shared by a group of people. When people change their way of thinking, this is a paradigm shift , or a scientific revolution. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.
  • In other words, scientists might discover some outcome that seems like a “fluke,” or a result that is unexpected. When the unexpected outcome can be replicated, it makes scientists question whether it was really a fluke or if they just learned something new!
  • Some people see a duck, others see a rabbit. Kuhn used this image to illustrate the idea of a paradigm shift: that as you gain some new knowledge, you can see the same old information in an entirely different way! Image:
  • In other words, the findings are influenced by the people who found them! Science is interpreted by scientists, and scientists are people who are influenced by the aspects of society and social life that we mentioned before.
  • So if Einstein were alive today and he claimed that he found something really important, the finding might be given more credence just because it was Einstein who made the discovery. On the other hand, if a student in one of your classes discovers something really incredible but hasn’t established a reputation yet, people might not be inclined to believe her or him.
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  • In other words, humans are impacting their natural environment and the environment is impacting humans as well.
  • Historically, most human farming has been considered organic, but in the twentieth century we started using more sophisticated mechanisms and new compounds like fertilizers and pesticides to increase production. Now, many people are wanting to return to a kind of farming that is less devastating to the environment.
  • As you can see, organic farming is not without controversy. Small farmers and lower-income individuals often feel excluded or unable to participate in this market, and this results in questions about fairness and equality of access.
  • This period is referring specifically to the time between the 1940s to the 1970s, when industrialized agriculture production was highly increased.
  • For discussion, ask your class if GMOs are a good idea…
  • Some argue that genetically modifying foods is not natural and could lead to problems with the food chain, including antibiotic resistance. Currently, there is no law against GMOs and foods that have been modified do not have to be labeled as such, so many people consume GMOs without even knowing it. Charles Perrow argues that disasters resulting from manufactured or natural risks are inevitable but that society can and should reduce the impact of such risks (through wise policy choices).
  • Like other aspects of the environment, the green revolution is controversial.
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  • In this interview, John Evans discusses his research on religion, bioethics, and genetically modified organisms. Ask the class to discuss what sociologists might be able to contribute to the evolving debate about human genetic engineering. Ask your students if they feel comfortable eating genetically modified food. Why or why not?
  • Chapter 17 science , the environment and society

    1. 1. Science , the EnvironmentChapter 17: And Society
    2. 2. Science and Society• Sociologists of science look at the interactions between science and society.
    3. 3. Science and Society • Normative science is the idea that science follows objective rules of evidence and is unaffected by the personal beliefs or values of scientists. • In practice, however, social factors like funding, government policies, interest groups, and international pressure or competition can affect choices about what scientific research is pursued.
    4. 4. Science and Society• Boundary work refers to research conducted on the border between legitimate and non- legitimate science, either within a specific scientific discipline or between disciplines.
    5. 5. A genetic researcher is saying that Bigfoot DNA tests prove that thehairy creature really does exist. Dr. Melba S. Ketchum says she andher team sequenced three complete Sasquatch nuclear genomesand concluded the species is a human hybrid -- a mosaic of humanand novel non-human elements. Their findings have yet to passpeer review .
    6. 6. Scientists perform boundary work when they engage in debatesabout the legitimacy of scientific theory. For instance, mostscientists would consider the research on evolution in the journalNature legitimate science, but they would not accept the alternatetheories promoted by the Creation Museum in Petersburg,Kentucky (pictured above). You May Ask Yourself, 2nd Edition Copyright © 2011 W.W. Norton & Company
    7. 7. Science and Society• Sociologists of science look at the interactions between science and society.• A paradigm is the framework within which scientists operate. There are particular paradigms for particular branches of scientific research.
    8. 8. Science and Society• Thomas Kuhn theorized that scientific revolutions, also called paradigm shifts, occur when enough anomalies accrue during the practice of normal science to challenge the existing paradigm.
    9. 9. Paradigm Shift• What animal do you see? 9
    10. 10. Science and Society• Anthropologists Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar claim that scientific facts don’t just reveal themselves through experiments and research but are socially constructed as scientists debate findings, discuss results, and work through disagreements, all of which is influenced by unequal power relations between researchers.
    11. 11. Science and Society• The Matthew effect, a term coined by Robert Merton, refers to the notion that certain scientific results get more notice and have more influence based on the existing prestige of the researchers involved.
    12. 12. Agriculture and the Environment• The majority of scientists agree that the roots of global warming can be linked to human activity such as deforestation and the burning of coal, gas, and oil.
    13. 13. Agriculture and the Environment• At the same time, global warming is predicted to have a strong impact on human society, primarily through devastating natural disasters such as prolonged heat waves, more and bigger hurricanes, and debilitating droughts.
    14. 14. Agriculture and the Environment• The term organic is often used as a catchall for foods that are seemingly healthy, “natural,” or produced on a small scale. In the United States there are specific guidelines that have to be followed in order for food products to be labeled “organic” or “made with organic ingredients.”
    15. 15. Agriculture and the Environment• The organic food market creates stratification in two ways: – Organic farming is expensive. Many smaller farmers cannot afford to farm this way, so megafarms dominate the market and use their influence to change policies and guidelines to their advantage. – Organic products are expensive, so high-income individuals are much more likely to purchase them and reap their benefits than low-income people.
    16. 16. Agriculture and the Environment• Green revolution refers broadly to two agricultural trends of the twentieth century:1. the introduction of high-yield crop varietals in developing countries and2. improvements in agricultural technologies such as irrigation systems, fertilizers, and pesticides.
    17. 17. Agriculture and the Environment• Genetically modified foods, also referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), are products whose genetic structures have been altered, usually to make them produce higher yields.
    18. 18. Agriculture and the Environment• Proponents argue that GMOs help bring down food prices, reduce dependence on pesticides and herbicides, reduce waste, and even provide vitamin and mineral content that may be missing from a population’s diet, all of which is particularly significant for developing countries.• Critics of GMOs argue that they create risks to the environment and human health that have not been adequately evaluated.
    19. 19. Ingo Potrykus’s genetically modified golden rice mightprevent health problems for millions of poor children. You May Ask Yourself, 2nd EditionWhy is it controversial? Copyright © 2011 W.W. Norton & Company
    20. 20. Greenpeace activists dressed to symbolize the bul-ul, atraditional ifugao rice guardian, protest genetically modifiedrice in April 2007, outside the Philippines’ Department of You May Ask Yourself, 2nd EditionAgriculture in Manila. Copyright © 2011 W.W. Norton & Company
    21. 21. Agriculture and the Environment• The green revolution is widely credited with increasing agricultural productivity throughout the developing world, thus: – increasing incomes. – increasing the value of formal schooling. – making farming more of a collective, community endeavor.
    22. 22. Agriculture and the Environment• Critics of the green revolution argue that it makes farmers more dependent on a smaller number of crops. This can: – increases risks if crops fail. – reduce variety in the diet. – deplete the soil of nutrients. – increase pressure on water resources.
    23. 23. Is our food killing us? 24
    24. 24. Biotechnology and the Human Genome• The goal of the Human Genome Project was to identify and map all of the genes in human DNA.• Researchers involved in the project recognized that it raised many social, ethical, and legal issues, like privacy, stratification, and stigmatization.
    25. 25. Biotechnology and the Human Genome• DNA testing is now marketed for a variety of purposes, one of which is to determine a person’s racial origins. – However, there are still questions about the accuracy of the testing and how this information might be used. – DNA testing is not simply a straightforward scientific process but one that is closely intertwined with social factors.
    26. 26. Biotechnology and the Human Genome• Reproductive cloning involves making a genetic copy of an existing person or organism.• Research cloning involves making a genetic copy of cells that can be used for research purposes. Human cloning does have potential benefits, but it is fraught with legal, ethical, and moral questions.
    27. 27. Agriculture and theEnvironmentJohn Evans discusses his research on religion,bioethics, and genetically modified organisms. 28