I met with Prof. Field on January 19, and the meeting lasted about 15 minutes. The purpose of this meeting was for me to articulate to Prof. Field for the first time the subject of the research I would conduct over the next four months. After asking me some questions to clarify the goals of my project, Prof. Field gave me the names of some faculty who might be able to help me if I ran into any specific dilemmas. At this point, this meeting was a helpful instance of pushing me to articulate my project in such a way that makes sense to someone familiar with the world of social science. My research question as it stood then, and still now, had changed substantially at the end of the fall semester, so I had not completely settled into at this point. Although I had a meeting with Prof. Mislan to discuss my new question prior to this meeting with Dr. Field, it was helpful to go through that same process with a second person.
I met with Prof. Mislan on March 26 to review my analysis draft with him just before the draft workshop for that section. This meeting lasted for about 25 minutes. This was the first time I had spoken to someone about my research in detail now that it actually, concretely existed, rather than just describing what I would do at some undefined point in the future. For this reason, the meeting began with me reciting to Prof. Mislan in a rather disorganized fashion what data I looked at and what I had found. As I had never checked this part of my research with anyone, my goal was to make sure that everything made sense and that nothing needed to be fundamentally reworked. After telling me that what I had told him was essentially sound, he told me to focus on articulating the most basic causal chain being evaluated by my research before going on to incorporate the data and how it actually applies to that chain. That suggestion influenced the final structure of my analysis very much.
I spoke with Prof. Mislan about my project on March 6. The conversation lasted for about a half hour, and it focused mainly on the characteristics of different types of case study research. This is obviously important for my piece, being a case study. Prof. Mislan explained to me the differences between structured, focused comparisons and process tracing. While structured comparisons definitely seemed easier to grasp at the early stages of my project, my puzzle and research question center definitively on a process that should be traced. For this reason, I will use process tracing in my final piece, and I will focus on the key differences between process tracing and structured comparisons, such as the centrality of timelines to process tracing.
Arendt and Jonas identify slightly different problems in their pieces, and an activist model for scientific research, whereby research is conducted and used with the explicit goal of affecting social outcomes, could address their concerns in part, but it is not the whole solution to any of the problems these authors raise.
Sarewitz, on the other hand, identifies a fundamental irreconcilability between politics and science. For that reason, it would not make much sense to evaluate activist research as the solution because that would only further such a division. For that reason, I will answer the question with regards to Arendt and Jonas.
Arendt is concerned, essentially, that science is advancing too fast for society to keep up. If scientific advances cannot be incorporated into social thinking through speech — or, more broadly, discourse — then they will press forward decoupled from the social world driven by such speech, removing the ability of society to navigate and make use of scientific advances. I am somewhat skeptical that the premise of Arendt’s argument is currently the case. To begin, her anecdote of Sputnik to demonstrate humanity’s previous ability to interact with scientific advances is not very convincing, in my opinion. I acknowledge that I only read the prologue to her book, where this point may have been established to a greater degree. But what was presented did not show that scientific advances had previously been as Arendt described, moving at just the right speed compared to philosophy, language, and the other pursuits. Of course there have almost always been scientific developments that are completely inaccessible to society. An example that persists today is the thought experiment surrounding Schrödinger’s cat, which was developed only two decades before the Sputnik launch. Even today, that thought experiment remains completely incomprehensible to practically all people, certainly not something that can be used by society in the way Arendt described.
However, Arendt may be correct in saying that such incomprehensible science, regardless of whether they have always existed, will become especially prominent in the near future. To that concern, I see a very limited solution presented by activist research. It could help insofar as its goal is to influence society, and thus it has an incentive to be socially accessible. However, the subjects researched by a scientists, activist or otherwise, will not simplify themselves because individual researchers change their goals or approaches. They will remain very hard to grasp. For this reason, the use of activist research to make science more socially accessible is limited.
Again with Jonas, I think his premise is not entirely accurate. There have always been scientific advances, and they have often had extraordinary effects on social interactions. For instance, agriculture fundamentally altered our species from one where everyone was a hunter into one where everyone had a different job and society was necessary. Yet through all of these advances, ethics has followed in a uniformly haphazard manner the whole way. While we have some new kinds of scientific advancements now, I don’t think these advances are so radically different as to pose a new burden to ethics. For this reason, I think activist research plays the same role here as it did for Arendt.