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.

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