Assessing the Societal Implications of Emerging Technologies


From the The Earthscan Science in Society Series series

A debut book offers an ambitious examination of a new approach to the formulation of policy regarding science.

As the pace of new technology quickens exponentially, there is a concomitant need to make pertinent policy faster and more nimbly. This new approach not only needs to be speedy, but encompass the multitude of economic, governmental, and sociological ramifications of new scientific breakthroughs as well. Michelson laments the current inverse relationship between science and government—as scientific discovery skyrockets, the government’s relevant agencies, like the Office of Technology Assessment, are either disappearing or suffering from radical defunding. But in crisis lies opportunity, and the author recommends a pivot away from a centralized, bureaucratically directed approach to policymaking in favor of “anticipatory governance.” Much of the book is devoted to explaining that concept, its history, and both its past and future applications. The approach divides into three main ideas: First, “foresight,” or the preparation for a broad spectrum of “plausible futures.” Second, there is an emphasis on “engagement,” involving the outreach to lay stakeholders so they can collaborate with scientific experts. Finally, the goal of “integration” is meant to create a partnership between both natural and social scientists. Michelson trains his attention on the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies and its groundbreaking use of anticipatory governance, and he seeks to apply its methodologies to the field of synthetic biology. This is a rigorously researched work that exhaustively surveys mountains of germane literature. Despite the challenging nature of the subject, this is a generally accessible book even to the uninitiated, because the author carefully explains anticipatory governance from its historical inception and even supplies lucid explanations of nanotechnology and synthetic biology. Sometimes the prose gets bogged down in the kind of gratuitously dense, bloodless language that afflicts academic writing and instructions for building furniture, and the use of initialisms and acronyms is promiscuous enough that Michelson provides a glossary: “While the focus here has been on the EHS risk research inventories produced by PEN and ICON, the role of PEN’s CPI as a boundary object in its own right should not be shortchanged either.” But for those interested in the latest ideas on science policymaking, this book is more than worth the extra effort. An astute, painstakingly documented introduction to anticipatory governance written with thoroughness and expertise.

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-138-12343-4

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Routledge

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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