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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

Did you like this book?

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 12

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist


A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

Did you like this book?