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Society for Social Studies of Science

4S News

4S President’s message – December 2017


As I write, the Washington Post has recently reported that policy analysts at the U.S. Center for Disease Control, the leading public health agency in the United States, have been told not to use seven terms  - “diversity, entitlement, fetus,  transgender, vulnerable, evidence-based and science-based” --  in documents being prepared for the next federal budget.  The CDC is in a conflicted position having already been warned that there are likely to face dramatic budget reductions.  Further, the restrictions seem to go beyond the budget process. The Washington Post also reported earlier requests that CDC staff not use the term “health equity” in public presentations.  

This kind of restriction on language has become almost matter of course in the United States, often in ways that implicate the use of science, expertise and technology as societal resources.  The STS-led Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) has done impressive work pushing back, carefully documenting what they term a “toxic agenda” at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.   
What a mess, and a call for STS perspective!

Challenges such as this -- involving tangles of issues, tricky word work, and strong though sometimes subtle censoring -- create the conditions and need for STS in different settings around the world.  In the coming year, I hope we can continue to build our collective understanding of these challenges and of the different conditions in which 4S members are working to build STS and relay its perspectives.  That shared effort makes us all better scholars, and can orient the way we build out 4S going forward.  We need to continue to turn 4S in new directions, finding inventive ways to support and connect 4S members working in very different contexts.  

As I’ve noted before, the 4S Council and a set of ad hoc committee are considering and experimenting with future possibilities for 4S, with plans to share these with the 4S community in the lead-up to Sydney and at the conference itself.  The STS Across Borders initiative is one example.  See an elaborated call for participation in STS Across Borders here, noting many roles that can be played and special opportunities for junior scholars.

Our work together will also be animated by an important new member benefit: unlimited online access to Science, Technology, & Human Values from 1976 to the present. To access this member benefit, you will need to create a user account at Sage Journals and register your 4S Member ID.  See instructions on our Member Benefits page.   Thanks to Lucy Suchman, Gwen Ottinger and others 4S Council members who helped negotiate this new benefit!

As I continue to learn about the global scope and diversity of STS, I am ever more appreciative of 4S and its community.  Despite sobering developments over the last year, we have a strong base to work from to take creatively good care of our research, students and world.  I look forward to what we can accomplish together in 2018!

Best wishes!  Kim Fortun