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Conference asks: Where does science belong?

April 05, 2010

Remember life before iPhones and Viagra?  It’s easy to think about science and technology as nothing more than the march of gadgets and drugs, but they can transform society to its roots – without anyone’s permission, and in ways that no one can possibly predict.

We are utterly dependent on science and technology, from high-speed communication and high-tech agriculture to health technologies and systems for delivering energy and water. But when we think about debates over genetically modified foods, climate change, cloning, and medication for school children and for aging baby boomers, it’s obvious that we are not very well prepared to govern the implications of our dependence.

Great challenges loom before us, wrought by rapid and continuing social change and catalyzed by discovery and innovation. The transformative potential of science and technology tests our ability to understand and shape our common destiny. In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama promised to “restore science to its rightful place” in U.S. society. But where is that place? How do we find it in an ever more complex, uncertain, and politically, socially and culturally diverse world? And is the rightful place of science also the place that assures the best outcomes for all of us?

The Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes (CSPO) at ASU will bring scientists, scholars, engineers, decision makers and the public together to explore these questions and the way forward at its conference “The Rightful Place of Science?” at the Tempe Mission Palms, May 16-19.

It promises to be unlike traditional conferences that usually rely on a “top down” model of information flow. Amid art, music, literature, media, humor and the unexpected – this conference will focus on discussion and interaction to begin to map the place of science and technology in society and how, in turn, we can best deal with the perpetually unfolding implications of our own ingenuity.

“At the end of this conference, we hope to have built a strengthened community of engaged scholars, practitioners and citizens committed to ongoing discussions, research, education and action aimed at harnessing science and technology to the core values of a democratic society,” said Lori Hidinger, CSPO managing director.

To arouse thinking and provoke dialogue, “The Rightful Place of Science?” will feature an uncommon mix of perspectives from such speakers as Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican; Gina Kolata, science writer at the New York Times; and Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University.

Discussion sessions will be held with six exemplary leaders who have developed powerful, innovative approaches to managing the promises and complexities of science and technology, including: Margaret Davidson, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coastal Services Center; Susan Fitzpatrick, vice president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation; Richard Jefferson, chief executive officer of Cambia in Canberra, Australia; Shirley Laska, professor emerita of sociology at the University of New Orleans’ Center for Hazards Assessment, Response & Technology; Ramesh Singh, chief executive of ActionAid International in Johannesburg, South Africa; and Neal Woodbury, deputy director and chief scientist of the Biodesign Institute and professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Arizona State University.

Opportunities for discourse continue each day with Table Top Salons, where attendees provide the topics and lead the discussions, and presentation roundtables with the next generation of policy scholars, practitioners and science communicators, who will be participating in separate workshops funded by the National Science Foundation. Ample time has been scheduled each day to continue informal dialogue during breaks and receptions.

Attendees also may choose to register for a variety of optional field trips before the conference opens and after it closes.  Destinations include: the Titan Missile Museum and the 18th century San Xavier del Bac Mission; Arcosanti and Montezuma Castle; the Center for Innovations in Medicine at ASU’s Biodesign Institute, where participants will contribute to the immunosignature diagnostics project; the cryonics facility Alcor Life Extension Foundation; Arizona Public Service’s Solar Test and Research Center; several of Arizona’s water canals and dams; and a home-grown biofuels cooperative.

About CSPO

The Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University is an interdisciplinary intellectual network aimed at enhancing the contribution of science and technology to society's pursuit of equality, justice, freedom and overall quality of life.  CSPO creates knowledge and methods, educates students, cultivates public discourse and fosters policies to help decision makers and institutions grapple with the immense power and importance of science and technology as society charts a course for the future.

CSPO’s unique and productive synthesis of theoretical, empirical and problem-oriented research and tool development is driven by three guiding ideas: desired outcomes can drive science; the value in society of new knowledge is determined by how it is used, and by whom; and the definition of the problem helps determine the relevance of the research.

CSPO believes that politics and the ideas, institutions and the people behind them – and not science alone – determine the outcomes of science and technology in society.  In this view, science policy is vastly more complex – as well as more interesting and malleable – than merely setting a budget for scientific research and development.

For more information about "The Rightful Place of Science?" or to register for the conference, visit online at, send e-mail to, or call (480) 727-8787.  For more information about the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, visit