SCIENCE fiction often gets a bad press from scientists, but firing our imagination about science and technology is absolutely vital.
Sharing a vision of the good society, in which everybody has what they need to live well, is crucial to working towards it. So how do we imagine the contribution of science and technology to creating just futures? Because science and technology are so central to contemporary life and future plans we need to have as many ways as possible to make thoughtful decisions about some key questions.
What kind of research do we want public funds to support? Do the promised benefits of research outweigh the risks they pose? Are scientists the best people to answer these questions, or should we, as citizens participate in the debate? Some people argue that it is vital that scientists explain their work, and its purpose, to as wide an audience as possible. I agree that that is a worthy aim.
However, it is not the only way for us to think about science in society. In fact, done in isolation, it might even be unhelpful, if it encourages us to think of science as a thing apart. Science does not just happen in laboratories; it is woven through the way we work, play and consume every day.
For example, in Brave New World, Aldous Huxley imagined reproductive technology being used to create a society in which people were bred to take up particular social roles and there was no freedom of choice in how to live.
However, in Woman On The Edge Of Time, Marge Piercy imagined very similar technology helping to create a future society that is much more democratic and egalitarian than the one we currently inhabit. From our perspective today, both novels clearly fail as prophecy. Today we take In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) for granted as just one of the ways that people who want children get pregnant. …