Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Experts Detail The Three Rules For Technological Fixes

Date:
December 26, 2008
Source:
Arizona State University
Summary:
Technology can do great things, but it also can be over sold as panacea for a host of social ills. A better use of technology can be gained if those who guide technology policy are clear about how to apply it and know what to expect, according to experts.

Technology can do great things, but it also can be over sold as panacea for a host of social ills. A better use of technology can be gained if those who guide technology policy, and thus investment, are clear about how to apply it and know what to expect from their efforts.

This is the conclusion of an opinion piece in this week's (Dec. 18) Nature magazine written by Daniel Sarewitz of Arizona State University and Richard Nelson of Columbia University. Sarewitz and Nelson describe three rules that can help technology and science policy makers become smarter about where to apply technological fixes and what to expect as a result.

"These three rules can provide policy makers more clues about the appropriate types of investments and appropriate expectations for the outcomes of those investments," said Sarewitz, a professor of science and society and co-director of ASU's Consortium for Science and Policy Outcomes.

"They will help us be smarter about identifying situations where we can expect investments in R&D (research & development) to lead to rapid progress on social problems," Sarewitz added. "It also will help in distinguishing such situations from those where more R&D is unlikely to make much of a short- or medium-term contribution."

In "Three Rules for Technological Fixes," Sarewitz and Nelson use literacy education and disease prevention as contrasting examples of the complexity of applying technology in today's society. Both are seen as important for society, and both are the subjects of much research. But the existence of vaccines has allowed for great progress in disease prevention, whereas no comparably effective technology or methods exists for teaching children to read.

Their first rule is that technology must largely embody the cause-effect relationship connecting problem to solution. For example, vaccines work with great reliability because they address almost all of the important variables necessary for preventing the disease. So, the application of vaccines is routinely done with great success despite "a notoriously dysfunctional health care system in the U.S."

Rule number two is that the effects of the technological fix must be assessable using relatively unambiguous or uncontroversial criteria. The benefits of the fix, that is, must be obvious to all.

"Such clarity (in benefit) allows policy and operational coordination to emerge among diverse actors and institutions, ranging from doctors and parents to school districts, insurance companies, vaccine manufacturers and regulatory bodies," Sarewitz and Nelson state.

From their earliest use, vaccines have provoked opposition on moral and practical grounds, a trend that continues today. But opposition to vaccines has not stemmed the long-term advance of vaccine technology. This is in part because their effectiveness is hard to argue against, and because continual improvement has tended to answer objections about efficacy and risk.

This success is in stark contrast to the teaching of reading (education) "for which no particular method or theory has been able to achieve long-term or widespread dominance, and for which compelling evidence of improved efficacy even over timescales of a century is lacking," they state — despite the many methods and technologies that have been developed to improve literacy.

Rule number three is that research and development is most likely to contribute decisively to solving a social problem when it focuses on improving a standardized technical core that already exists. In other words, science is at its best when it improves upon a scientific base (like vaccine technology) than elucidating theoretical foundations, causes or dynamics of a problem (like how people do or do not learn).

"For vaccination, the standardized core, the vaccine – first developed more than two centuries ago not through basic research but through empiricism guided by folk wisdom – remains the fulcrum on which cumulative learning and improved practice can be leveraged," they add.

Sarewitz and Nelson state that when knowledge is not largely embodied in an effective technology, but must be applied to practice, through training, incentives, organizational structures or public policies, the difficulty of improving outcomes is greatly amplified.

In summary, Sarewitz says: "When technologies meet our three rules, they are particularly powerful because they are better able to overcome the political and organizational obstacles that often make social progress so frustratingly slow."

Sarewitz said that in addition to these three rules, it is important for policy makers to know when to be skeptical about the social value of technology.

When the three rules are not met, "R&D programs aimed at solving particular social problems should neither be expected to succeed, nor be advertised as having much promise of succeeding in the short or medium term," he said. "Rather, they should be understood and described as creating fundamental knowledge and the exploration of new approaches with success possible only over the long term and with a significant chance of failure."

"In a world of limited resources, the trick is to distinguish problems that are amenable to technological fixes from those that are not," he added.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Arizona State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Arizona State University. "Experts Detail The Three Rules For Technological Fixes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 December 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081218094626.htm>.
Arizona State University. (2008, December 26). Experts Detail The Three Rules For Technological Fixes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081218094626.htm
Arizona State University. "Experts Detail The Three Rules For Technological Fixes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081218094626.htm (accessed September 22, 2014).

Share This



More Science & Society News

Monday, September 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Newsy (Sep. 21, 2014) Organizers of the People's Climate March and other rallies taking place in 166 countries hope to move U.N. officials to action ahead of their summit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

AP (Sep. 21, 2014) Accompanied by drumbeats, wearing costumes and carrying signs, thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan and other cities around the world on Sunday to urge policy makers to take action on climate change. (Sept. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sierra Leone in Lockdown to Control Ebola

Sierra Leone in Lockdown to Control Ebola

AP (Sep. 21, 2014) Sierra Leone residents remained in lockdown on Saturday as part of a massive effort to confine millions of people to their homes in a bid to stem the biggest Ebola outbreak in history. (Sept. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

AFP (Sep. 20, 2014) Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins