09/30/2020

"Science must stick to the facts"

Can geoengineering influence the global climate? Why do we manipulate genes from embryos? Technosciences promise new possibilities.

Scientific research today is closely linked to technological opportunities: The so-called "genetic scissors" CRISPR-Cas9 enable the construction of new organisms, geoengineering is intended to influence the world climate, nanomaterials change the properties of cosmetics and food packaging. Are these still natural occurrences or is this already about technology? Who takes responsibility for possible side effects? Are we allowed to do what we are theoretically able to?

Karen Kastenhofer, Senior Scientist at the Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (OEAW), analyzed the change from biology to the technological sciences in her Elise-Richter project: "The credo of free research is an essential component of a democracy. But at the same time, funding bodies and politicians are demanding solutions to problems. The technosciences represent a novel fusion of knowledge-oriented basic research with the demands and approaches of engineering. In developing this new field, individual concerns, a sober fact check or national regulatory approaches should also be considered.

Read more in the current ITA dossier "The new technosciences"

In the current ITA dossier "The new techno-sciences", Kastenhofer asks how we can deal with this new branch of research in a socially responsible way. "Technoscientific innovations reach deep into our lives. This can raise new questions regarding prudent handling and put public confidence in the actors involved to the test. Why do I need nano materials in my sunscreen? Will we interfere with the genetic code of embryos in the future? Do economic interests even take precedence over social needs?"

Kastenhofer describes guidelines for making technoscience controllable and regulable: "Science must stick to the facts, it is up to us to distinguish between actual feasibility and visionary promises. Existing conflicts of interest must be openly addressed and socially negotiated. If everything is mixed up, the quality and reputation of our research and our democracy will suffer in the end".