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UNIT 1: The Place of Science and Technology in Society
Issue 1. Is the Distinction Between Basic and Applied Research Useful?
Yes: Nils Roll-Hansen, from "Why the Distinction Between Basic (Theoretical) and Applied (Practical) Research Is Important to the Politics of Science", Original Work (2010).
No: Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Tolu Odumosu, and Lee Vinsel, from "RIP: The Basic/Applied Research Dichotomy", Issues in Science and Technology (2013).
Nils Roll-Hansen argues that the difference between basic and applied research is important to studies of the history of science and to science policy. The two differ profoundly in their criteria for success or failure, their effects on social processes, and in their degree of autonomy from political and economic interests. The distinction must not be blurred over in the interest of promoting innovation and economic growth. Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Tolu Odumosu, and Lee Vinsel argue that the distinction between basic and applied research fails to reflect what actually happens in scientific research. They urge an “invention/ discovery” model and hence a more holistic, long-term view of the research process in order to enhance innovation that has public utility and identify ways to intervene with public policy.
Issue 2. Should the Public Have to Pay to See the Results of Federally Funded Research?
Yes: Ralph Oman, from "The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act", testimony regarding H.R 6845, before the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property of the Committee on the Judiciary (2008).
No: Stuart M. Shieber, from "Testimony Before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, Hearing on Examining Public Access and Scholarly Publication Interests", U.S. House of Representatives (2012).
Attorney and past Register of Copyrights Ralph Oman contends that “If the NIH [National Institutes of Health] succeeds in putting all of the NIH-related peer-reviewed articles on its online database for free within one year of publication, the private publishers will be hard-pressed to survive.” Allowing private publishers to continue to profit by publishing the results of publicly-funded research is the best way to ensure public benefit. Stuart M. Shieber argues that the concerns of traditional journal publishers that open-access publishing will endanger their survival are not justified. The data show that publisher profitability has increased despite the recent economic downturn. Providing open access to the publicly-funded research literature amplifies the diffusion of knowledge and benefits researchers, taxpayers, and everyone who gains from new medicines, new technologies, new jobs, and new solutions to long-standing problems of every kind.
Issue 3. Can Science Be Trusted Without Government Regulation?
Yes: David R. Franz, from "The Dual Use Dilemma: Crying Out for Leadership", Saint Louis University Journal of Health Law & Policy (2013).
No: Robert Gatter, from "Regulating Dual Use Research to Promote Public Trust: A Reply to Dr. Franz", Saint Louis University Journal of Health Law & Policy (2013).
David R. Franz argues that “when rules for the few become too disruptive to the work of the many, communities of trust can break down.” Exceptional research leaders create a culture of responsibility in which safety rulebooks can be thin and their laboratories will be safer, more secure, and more productive. Government regulation leads to thicker rulebooks and more wasted effort without increasing safety and security. Robert Gatter argues that the research enterprise must be trustworthy to the public at large. Because scientists share a bias in favor of discovery rather than public safety, they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. Government regulation is essential.
UNIT 2: Energy and the Environment
Issue 4. Is Anthropogenic Global Warming Real and Dangerous?
Yes: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, from "Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report", IPCC (2014).
No: Steve Goreham, from "The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism", New Lenox Press (2013).
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change argues that warming of the world’s climate system is unequivocal, and many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased, driven largely by population growth and economic development. Warming can be expected to continue for centuries with profound effects on the environment and on human well-being. Yet there is much we can do to limit future risks. Steve Goreham argues that the scientific data do not support the IPCC’s projections of catastrophe, vast amounts of money are being wasted, and “the theory of man-made global warming” will soon be seen to be completely false. After all, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant—it is an essential plant nutrient!
Issue 5. Is Home Solar the Wave of the Future?
Yes: Peter Bronski et al., from "The Economics of Grid Defection", Rocky Mountain Institute (2014).
No: Peter Kind, from "Disruptive Challenges: Financial Implications and Strategic Responses to a Changing Retail Electric Business", Edison Electric Institute (2013).
Peter Bronski et al., of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) argue that the combination of home solar power with storage technologies such as batteries offer to make the electricity grid optional for many consumers, perhaps as early as the 2020s. Utilities have an opportunity to exploit the spread of “distributed electricity generation” to provide a robust, reliable electricity supply. Peter Kind, executive director of Energy Infrastructure Advocates, argues that increased interest in “distributed energy resources” such as home solar power and energy efficiency, among other factors, is threatening to reduce revenue and increase costs for electrical utilities. In order to protect investors and capital availability, electrical utilities must consider new charges for customers who reduce their electricity usage, decreased payments to homeowners using net metering, and even new charges to users of “distributed energy resources” to offset “stranded costs” (such as no longer needed power plants).
Issue 6. Does a Hydrogen Economy Make Sense?
Yes: John Andrews and Bahman Shabani, from "Reenvisioning the Role of Hydrogen in a Sustainable Energy Economy", International Journal of Hydrogen Energy (2012).
No: Ulf Bossel, from "Does a Hydrogen Economy Make Sense?", Proceedings of the IEEE (2006).
John Andrews and Bahman Shabani argue that hydrogen gas can play an important role in a sustainable energy system. The key will be a hierarchy of spatially distributed hydrogen production, storage, and distribution centers that minimizes the need for expensive pipelines. Electricity will power battery-electric vehicles for short-range transportation and serve as the major long-distance energy vector. Ulf Bossel argues that although the technology for widespread use of hydrogen energy is available, generating hydrogen is a very inefficient way to use energy. A hydrogen economy will never make sense.
UNIT 3: Human Health and Welfare
Issue 7. Do We Have a Population Problem?
Yes: Dennis Dimick, from "As World’s Population Booms, Will Its Resources Be Enough for Us?", National Geographic (2014).
No: Tom Bethell, from "Population, Economy, and God", The American Spectator (2009).
Dennis Dimick argues that new projections of higher population growth through the twenty-first century are reason for concern, largely because of the conflict between population size and resource use. The environmental impact of population also depends on technology, affluence, and waste, but educated women have smaller families and technology (electric lights, for instance) aids education. Controlling population appears to be essential. Tom Bethell argues that population alarmists project their fears onto popular concerns, currently the environment, and every time their scare-mongering turns out to be based on faulty premises. Blaming environmental problems will be no different. Societies are sustained not by population control but by belief in God.
Issue 8. Can Vaccines Cause Autism?
Yes: Arjun Walia, from "Scientific Evidence Suggests the Vaccine-Autism Link Can No Longer Be Ignored", Collective Evolution (2013).
No: Jeffrey S. Gerber and Paul A. Offit, from "Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses", Clinical Infectious Diseases (2009).
Arjun Walia argues that the scientific consensus on the safety of vaccines may be suspect because “the corporate media is owned by the major vaccine manufacturers.” He describes 22 studies that suggest that the connection between childhood vaccines and autism is real or that suggest possible mechanisms for the connection. Jeffrey S. Garber and Paul A. Offit argue that the scientific evidence neither shows a link between vaccines and autism nor supports any of the popular suggested mechanisms. Research should focus on more promising leads.
Issue 9. Should Society Impose a Moratorium on the Use and Release of "Synthetic Biology" Organisms?
Yes: Jim Thomas, Eric Hoffman, and Jaydee Hanson, from "Offering Testimony from Civil Society on the Environmental and Societal Implications of Synthetic Biology", U.S. House of Representatives (2010).
No: Gregory E. Kaebnick, from "Written Testimony of Gregory E. Kaebnick to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce", U.S. House of Representatives (2010).
Jim Thomas, Eric Hoffman, and Jaydee Hanson, representing the Civil Society on the Environmental and Societal Implications of Synthetic Biology, argue that the risks posed by synthetic biology to human health, the environment, and natural ecosystems are so great that Congress should declare an immediate moratorium on releases to the environment and commercial uses of synthetic organisms and require comprehensive environmental and social impact reviews of all federally funded synthetic biology research. Gregory E. Kaebnick of the Hastings Center argues that although synthetic biology is surrounded by genuine ethical and moral concerns—including risks to health and environment—which warrant discussion, the potential benefits are too great to call for a general moratorium.
Issue 10. Can Infectious Animal Diseases Be Studied Safely in Kansas?
Yes: Bruce Knight, from "Statement on the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility", before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, House Energy and Commerce Committee (2008).
No: Ray L. Wulf, from "Written Testimony", submitted for the Record to the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, House Energy and Commerce Committee (2008).
Bruce Knight argues that although the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research facility at Plum Island, New York, has served well since it was built over half a century ago, modern technology is capable of ensuring safety at a mainland facility, which would also be cheaper to operate, more easily accessible, and more responsive to potential disease threats. Ray L. Wulf argues that an island location is much more effective at containing infectious diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease. A mainland research facility would permit unhampered spread of such diseases throughout the continental United States, with devastating consequences for the agricultural economy. Modern technology is not adequate to ensure safety, and federal, state, and local authorities are not prepared to deal with an outbreak.
Issue 11. Are Genetically Modified Foods Safe to Eat?
Yes: Henry I. Miller and Gregory Conko, from "Scary Food", Policy Review (2006).
No: Vandana Shiva, from "Introduction to The GMO Emperor Has No Clothes: A Global Citizens Report on the State of GMOs--False Promises, Failed Technologies", Navdanya International (2011).
Henry I. Miller and Gregory Conko of the Hoover Institute argue that genetically modified (GM) crops are safer for the consumer and better for the environment than non-GM crops. Vandana Shiva argues that we need to create a GMO-free world to protect biodiversity, human health, and the freedom to choose GMO-free seed and food.
UNIT 4: Space
Issue 12. Can We Stop an Asteroid or Comet Impact?
Yes: Michael F. A'Hearn, from "Testimony Before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology—Threats from Space: A Review of Private and International Efforts to Track and Mitigate Asteroids and Meteors, Part II", U.S. House of Representatives (2013).
No: Clark R. Chapman, from "What Will Happen When the Next Asteroid Strikes?", Astronomy Magazine (2011).
Michael F. A’Hearn argues that even impacts by small (less than 140 meters in diameter) near-Earthobjects (NEOs) can be damaging and that present detection programs focus only on larger NEOs and will take many years to complete their inventory. The probability that even a small NEO will strike Earth in the near future is small, but the potential damage is so great that investing in identifying and tracking NEOs, and researching ways of preventing impact, is worthwhile. Clark R. Chapman argues that though the consequences of an asteroid or comet impact would be catastrophic, efforts to prevent the impact would be futile. It is far more appropriate to incorporate such impact disasters into more conventional disaster planning.
Issue 13. Will the Search for Extraterrestrial Life Ever Succeed?
Yes: Seth Shostak, from "Using Radio in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence", U.S. House of Representatives (2014).
No: Peter Schenkel, from "SETI Requires a Skeptical Reappraisal", Skeptical Inquirer (2006).
Radio astronomer and Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) researcher Seth Shostak defends SETI and argues that if the assumptions behind the search are well grounded, “it is not hyperbole to suggest that scientists could very well discover extraterrestrial intelligence within two decades.” Peter Schenkel argues that SETI’s lack of success to date, coupled with the apparent uniqueness of Earth’s history and suitability for life, suggests that intelligent life is probably rare in our galaxy and that the enthusiastic optimism of SETI proponents should be reined in.
Issue 14. Should the United States Continue Its Human Spaceflight Program?
Yes: Committee on Human Spaceflight, from "Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration", National Academies Press (2014).
No: Amitai Etzioni, from "Final Frontier vs. Fruitful Frontier: The Case for Increasing Ocean Exploration", Issues in Science and Technology (2014).
The National Research Council’s Committee on Human Spaceflight argues that the combination of the pragmatic benefits of and the human aspirations associated with human spaceflight are great enough to justify continuing the United States’ human spaceflight program. Professor Amitai Etzioni argues that the Earth’s oceans offer more potential discoveries, more resources for human use, and more contributions to national security and disaster preparedness than outer space. The exploration of space should be replaced by the exploration of the oceans, and the necessary budgetary resources should be taken from NASA.
UNIT 5: The Computer Revolution
Issue 15. Will Robots Take Your Job?
Yes: Kevin Drum, from "Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don’t Fire Us?" Mother Jones (2013).
No: Peter Gorle and Andrew Clive, from "Positive Impact of Industrial Robots on Employment", Metra Martech (2011).
Kevin Drum argues that we are about to make very rapid progress in artificial intelligence, and by about 2040, robots will be replacing people in a great many jobs. On the way to that “robot paradise,” corporate managers and investors will expand their share of national wealth, at the expense of labor’s share, even more than they have in recent years. That trend, however, depends on an ample supply of consumers—workers with enough money to buy the products the machines are making. It is thus already time to start rethinking how the nation ensures that its citizens have enough money to be consumers and keep the economy going. Peter Gorle and Andrew Clive argue that robots are not a threat to human employment. Historically, increases in the use of automation almost always increase both productivity and employment. Over the next few years, the use of robotics will generate 700,000–1,000,000 new jobs.
Issue 16. Can Technology Protect Americans from International Cybercriminals?
Yes: Randy Vanderhoof, from "Testimony Before the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Subcommittees on Oversight and Research and Technology, hearing on ‘Can Technology Protect Americans from International Cybercriminals?’", U.S. House of Representatives (2014).
No: Charles H. Romine, from "Testimony Before the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Subcommittees on Oversight and Research and Technology, hearing on ‘Can Technology Protect Americans from International Cybercriminals?’", U.S. House of Representatives (2014).
Randy Vanderhoof argues that as the United States’ payment system shifts from credit cards with magnetic stripes (whose data, stored on merchant computer systems, are a prime target for hackers) to smart cards with embedded microchips (which do not make data available to hackers), the rate of credit card fraud will decline rapidly, as it already has in other countries. Charles H. Romine, Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Information Technology Laboratory, argues that technology is not enough to solve the cybercrime problem. The NIST works on smart card systems, but also develops guidelines, standards, and best practices essential to making the technology work. Fighting cybercriminals requires not just technology, but also policy, legal, and economic efforts.
Issue 17. Does the Public Have a Stake in How Drones Are Used?
Yes: Amie Stepanovich, from testimony at U.S. Senate Judiciary hearing on The Future of Drones in America: Law Enforcement and Privacy Considerations, Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate (2013).
No: Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, from "CBP's Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems in the Nation's Border Security", United States Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General (2012).
Amie Stepanovich argues that the increased use of unmanned aerial systems (or “drones”) to conduct surveillance in the United States must be accompanied by increased privacy protections. The current state of the law is insufficient to address the drone surveillance threat to the interests of the general public, who clearly have a stake (are stakeholders) in the issue. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, argues that planning is inadequate for the use of resources devoted to serving the purposes of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) unmanned aircraft systems program, to provide reconnaissance, surveillance, targeting, and acquisition capabilities to serve the needs of stakeholders. The list of stakeholders does not include the general public, and privacy concerns are not mentioned.
UNIT 6: Ethics
Issue 18. Is "Animal Rights" Just Another Excuse for Terrorism?
Yes: John J. Miller, from "In the Name of the Animals: America Faces a New Kind of Terrorism", National Review (2006).
No: Steven Best, from "Dispatches from a Police State: Animal Rights in the Crosshairs of State Repression", International Journal of Inclusive Democracy (2007).
Journalist John Miller argues that animal rights extremists have adopted terrorist tactics in their effort to stop the use of animals in scientific research. Because of the benefits of such research, if the terrorists win, everyone loses. Professor Steven Best argues that the new Animal Enterprise Protection Act is excessively broad and vague, imposes disproportionate penalties, endangers free speech, and detracts from prosecution of real terrorism. The animal liberation movement, on the other hand, is both a necessary effort to emancipate animals from human exploitation, and part of a larger resistance movement opposed to exploitation and hierarchies of any and all kinds.
Issue 19. Should We Reject the "Transhumanist" Goal of the Genetically Electronically and Mechanically Enhanced Human Being?
Yes: M.J. McNamee and S.D. Edwards, from "Transhumanism, Medical Technology, and Slippery Slopes", Journal of Medical Ethics (2006).
No: Maxwell J. Mehlman, from "Biomedical Enhancements: Entering a New Era", Issues in Science and Technology (2009).
M. J. McNamee and S. D. Edwards argue that the difficulty of showing that the human body should (rather than can) be enhanced in ways espoused by the transhumanists amounts to an objection to transhumanism. Maxwell J. Mehlman argues that the era of routine biomedical enhancements is coming. Since the technology cannot be banned, it must be regulated and even subsidized to ensure that it does not create an unfair society.