The intersection of science and politics

9 December 2015

Sheila Jasanoff

Distinguished Visiting Professor Sheila Jasanoff from Harvard is a world authority on science, technology and society.

An international authority on science, technology and society is the University of Waikato’s 2015 Distinguished Visiting Professor.

Sheila Jasanoff is currently Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology at the Harvard Kennedy School. She is a pioneer in a field that combines elements of science, public policy, politics, and law. She studies the way different democracies deal with issues such as biotechnology and climate change, and how experts and policy makers evaluate evidence when designing regulations.

Professor Jasanoff will give a free public lecture next Tuesday 15 December at midday at the University's Academy of Performing Arts titled 'The Ethics of Invention'. She will talk about her new book of the same name due out next August. Registration for this lecture is essential - register here.

She will also give her impressions of New Zealand’s science and polity context. “I’m curious to understand the Māori connection. How different kinds of knowledge systems and values are incorporated into public policy,” she says.

The professor is an advocate for good science, but says good societies and good science cannot be separated. “We’ve got to a point when societies have to say the science is ‘good enough’. You can’t keep on doing science and not acting or responding,” she says.

Professor Jasanoff was founding chair of the Science and Technology Studies Department at Cornell University and has held numerous distinguished visiting appointments in the US, Europe and Japan. She served on the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and as President of the Society for Social Studies of Science.

Scholarship on the nature of science and technology, along with detailed studies of science advice in action indicates that better science advice requires more intelligent engagement with publics. “This observation may initially sit uncomfortably with advisers but it should in the end lead to more accountable uses of their knowledge and judgment,” the professor says.

But the professor is quick to add that innovation doesn’t just come from science and technology. “Just look at the impact environmental citizenship has had on different communities. It is global, but it has not come out of science.  It comes from values, people needing balance, and while ethics and science are not always convergent, their influence on each other cannot be ignored.”

Professor Jasanoff has published more than 100 articles and chapters and is author or editor of a dozen books, including Controlling Chemicals, The Fifth Branch, Science at the Bar, and Designs on Nature.

Her grants and awards include a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship and an Ehrenkreuz from the Government of Austria.

Professor Sheila Jasanoff is married to Harvard linguistics professor Jay Jasanoff, her daughter Maya is a professor in the Department of History at Harvard, and her son Alan Jasanoff, is a neuroscientist in the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT. “It looks as if we’ll all have new books published in 2016, which is pretty special,” she says.