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Message from STS Director Paul Edwards

Paul Edwards
Nov 25 2020

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In the News
Message from the Director: 
It’s almost Thanksgiving: a moment for celebration, reflection, and looking ahead.
We all deserve to celebrate, just for surviving the first quarter of academic year 2020-21. All Zoom, all the time, is exhausting! I know that some celebrations will be tempered by deep personal losses. By now, some students, faculty, and staff have seen family members laid low by the pandemic. Some have endured long-haul recoveries, while others have died. We sincerely hope that most of you have escaped these effects, and our hearts go out to those who did not. 
The STS Program has been busy since last summer. We’ve been reflecting on the horror of the George Floyd killing, police violence against Black people, and the rise of the BLM movement that has renewed national focus on racial injustice of all kinds. In response, STS led a coalition of some 18 campus units to mount a year-long speaker series and 1-credit course on Race in Science, Technology, and Medicine. We’ve just finished STS 51A, Race in Science. In Winter 2021, we’ll move on to STS 51B, Race in Technology. In Spring 2021 we’ll offer STS 51C, Race in Medicine. If you don’t want to enroll in the course, watch for announcements of individual talks, which anyone at Stanford can attend.
We’ve also been reflecting, and looking ahead, toward the state of the world and what an STS education can prepare you for. One way we’ve done that is to introduce two new concentrations. Catastrophic Risks and Solutions (CRS) lets concentrators focus on major threats to the human future, such as climate change, nuclear war, and pandemics, as well as catastrophes on smaller but still enormous scales, such as genocide, major earthquakes, and other threats to people and infrastructure. Social Dynamics of Data and Information (SDDI) responds to the wave of interest and concern regarding how data about people and groups are collected and used – or misused – in governance, on social media, and in the rampant phenomena of misinformation and disinformation. 
As we often say, STS is a liberal arts education for the 21st century. “Liberal arts" here refers not to a political position, but to an older meaning: “knowledge and skills required of a worthy free person.” To be a free human being in a world constituted by technological systems, global infrastructures, and scientific knowledge requires deepening our understanding of all those things, and of how societies and individuals interact with them. Taking control of your own life means navigating through these society-shaping phenomena with full awareness of where you are – and are not – truly free. 
It may be that not everyone reading this message will be as relieved as I am about the results of the November election. If you’re not, I’m sorry for your loss – but to me, and to the majority of Americans, it means that we get one more chance to try to build a politics guided by open, honest, evidence-based thinking rather than rumor, science denial, and conspiracy theory. If you agree, I invite you to celebrate with me, and look ahead toward a new phase in our collective social experiment. We must use the two years before the next midterm election wisely: to rebuild trust in democratic elections, to rebuild ways of talking across the great cultural divide, and to renew our commitments to anti-racism, social justice, and the all-out effort to reach net zero carbon emissions within the next ten to fifteen. The risks of failure are huge. The power to succeed lies with you and your generation, and we the faculty and staff will do our best to help and show you how. 
Enjoy your holidays, and please stay safe. We're in the most dangerous phase of the pandemic yet. It will be better to spend a few more months enduring isolation and Zoom rooms to make it to the other side. Vaccines are coming soon. If we all mask up, stay socially distant, and avoid unnecessary travel, we’ll get through this together.
- Paul N. Edwards, Director
Paul N. Edwards
Director, Program on Science, Technology & Society
William J. Perry Fellow in International Security and Senior Research Scholar
Center for International Security and Cooperation
Co-Director, Stanford Existential Risks Initiative
Stanford University
Professor of Information and History (Emeritus)
University of Michigan