Welcome to all current and potential students of the Program in Science, Technology and Society (STS) at Stanford. My first year as Director caps an entire career spent in this area of study, including a previous stint at Stanford from 1992-1998 and almost 20 years at the University of Michigan. It’s a pleasure to be back, and a special honor to serve.
What is STS? You can read more about this elsewhere on our website, but here’s how I think about it. STS explores how science, technology, and medicine shape human societies, both now and in the past. At the same time, we study how history, governments, economies, cultures, and human psychology shape science and technology. These two dimensions can’t easily be separated, so our field is more about intricate webs of mutual influence than about “impacts,” a popular (but ultimately misleading) term.
STS combines literacy in science, technology, and medicine with historical, sociological, critical, and ethical studies from the social sciences and humanities. Uniquely, Stanford’s STS Program offers both BA and BS degrees. In this way, it embodies a 21st century approach to the liberal arts — a phrase that originally meant studies “worthy of a free person” who would play an active role in civic life.
STS asks questions like these: What does science know? How is that knowledge created and supported? How do the infrastructures we build and the products we make influence what we do and how we interact? Who benefits and who loses? What sparks invention and innovation? How can we collectively address the catastrophic risks brought on by the very success of our technology, such as climate change and nuclear war? What are the ethical, political, and social implications of modern medicine, artificial intelligence, data-intensive social media, and the host of other developments currently transforming human futures?
The STS Program at Stanford offers many pathways for students. Our affiliated faculty represent an incredible breadth of intellectual interests. Even more important are the creativity, curiosity, and intelligence STS students bring to their studies; among other things, each year we graduate numerous excellent Honors students, who spend an entire year writing a senior thesis of their own design. The Program’s dedicated, highly knowledgeable staff are devoted to creating an excellent educational environment and providing every student with the assistance they need to create their own best experience.
Again, welcome, and I look forward to meeting all of you on your journey to success.
Paul N. Edwards
Director, Program in Science, Technology, and Society
William J. Perry Fellow, Center for International Security and Cooperation
Professor of Information and History (Emeritus), University of Michigan