Whether the issue is genetically modified organisms, stem cells, or end-of-life situations, public debate appears to be constricted within a consolidated pattern. On the one hand there are the advocates of the unbridled development of technoscience; on the other those who call for restraints on science's encroachment into fields that have traditionally been the prerogatives of social, political, and religious choices and practices. Paradoxically, the two sides share the same prejudice: they both consider science and society to be internally compact entities, rigidly separate, and impervious to each other. On this view, science's task is to supply a constant flow of new proposals which society then inspects and (often) rejects. But there are, in fact, frequent overlaps between scientific discourse and public opinion, and between research priorities and the expectations of citizens and consumers, which erode the boundaries between science and society and expose the divisions internal to each of them: suffice it to mention the debates on climate change, nuclear energy, or biomedicine. This tangled relationship between science and society, which the book describes in close detail, fuels the conflict between advocates of scientism and anti-scientism: a deceptive case of role-playing that hinders fuller understanding of the challenges raised by techno-science.
Massimiano Bucchi teaches Science, Technology, and Society at the University of Trento.