“The Obvious Invisibility of the Relationship between Technology and Social Values.”

International Journal of Science in Society, Vol. 2, No.1, P. 51-62, CG Publisher. 2010 2 (1):51-62 (2010)
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Abstract “The Obvious Invisibility of the Relationship Between Technology and Social Values” We all too often assume that technology is the product of objective scientific research. And, we assume that technology’s moral value lies in only the moral character of its user. Yet, in order to objectify technology in a manner that removes it from a moral realm, we rely on the assumption that technology is value neutral, i.e., it is independent of all contexts other than the context in which it is used morally or immorally by someone. However, there is a power to technology. At the very least, technology should be seen as reflecting the values that it rises from: a developmental context. Consequently, we can make the invisible moral realm visible as we investigate the relationship between culture and technology. Pragmatically, we can trace how cultural values inform what counts as a scientific question. When we look at the 1980s epidemiological model for AIDS we see how the presuppositions within a culture frame the type of question asked, i.e. What population do we see AIDS occurring in? This question initially leads scientific research away from actual individual behaviors until a different question is asked that leads the question towards behavioral epidemiological models rather than population models. Secondly, we can make visible the circumstance that depicts that what constitutes a scientific problem has a direct relationship to the types of technologies that are developed. We can more clearly see this circular relationship between culture and technology by looking at clinical research and practice regarding heart disease. Men who were dying of diagnosed heart disease were showing symptoms of problems in large arteries of the heart. Women were also dying of heart disease, but since their large arteries were not overwhelmingly compromised they were not being properly diagnosed until recently. Different technologies and protocol were needed to “see” different symptoms in the smaller vessels of women. Thirdly, I show how the types of technology developed, in turn, can create new values or enhance preexisting values within a culture. DNA research can be used to investigate long, unanswered questions about qualitative dimensions of life in quantitative manners. Yet, long held unanswered questions about a biological basis of race or intelligence are themselves rarely challenged as uninteresting or misguided even when they are tied to prejudicial qualitative assumptions if the chance of a “scientific” answer is possible. When existing technologies or modifications of existing technologies can be used they seem to direct human reactions and behaviors in predictable ways. The technologies themselves may be said to direct culture in ethically valenced manners.

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Jamie P. Ross
Portland State University


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