Taking the “Soft Impacts” of Technology into Account: Broadening the Discourse in Research Practice

Social Epistemology 23 (3):301-316 (2011)
Public funding institutions are able to influence what aspects researchers take into account when they consider the future impacts of their research. On the basis of a description of the evaluation systems that public research funding institutes in the Netherlands (STW and SenterNovem) use to estimate the quality of engineering science, this article shows that researchers are now predominantly required to reflect on the intellectual merit of their research and on the usability and marketability of the technology it contributes to. In addition, SenterNovem also mandates reflection on sustainability. Here it is argued that these requirements do not suffice. Funding institutions should also do more to enhance reflection during the research process on the “soft impacts” of technologies, which refer to the alterations that technologies may bring about in the quality of human life. To do this it is suggested that it is helpful to engage a specifically trained ethicist to monitor the research process and create a feedback loop from the ethicist to the funding institution.
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DOI 10.1080/02691720903364191
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