And why re: STEM exists!
Throughout my academic coursework, my science teachers and professors repeatedly emphasized the importance of the technical side of these disciplines and content expertise. They demonstrated the elegance in how equations can be solved or how formulas can be derived and expanded. And yet in doubling down in technical content expertise, I rarely learned about how the sciences and math impacted the world I lived in on a daily basis. I experienced, whether my teachers intended to or not, the enforcement of social-technical divisions in which STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine) fields divorce themselves from the ways the world and societies are impacted by scientific production. Social justice is crucial for rectifying the power of STEMM in shaping global geo-political and technical landscapes with the responsibility of equitable power distribution.
Impact – Who benefits from the knowledge acquired or the technology developed? Is the impact of such innovation disproportionately benefiting or harming certain groups more than others?
Much of STEMM innovation has come from striving to create technical solutions for human problems, with transformative positive and negative impacts. For example, furthering understanding in human and microbial systems as well as medical innovations have dramatically increased global life expectancy. Yet, this improved life expectancy is dependent on one’s access to healthcare and the wealth of a country. Likewise, the invention of different plastics has allowed for world-wide access to a plethora of low-cost goods and shippable packaging to keep foods clean and safe. But the prolific rise of plastics usage continues to create pollution and contribute to irreversible climate change.
While harder to identify, the production of the knowledge and technology is just as important to consider within STEMM:
Production – How is the knowledge or understanding being acquired? Who are the people acquiring this knowledge? Is this acquisition and subsequent production done in a way that is fair or equitable for the researchers or the participants? Is there consent in production and participation?
An example of examining production is in examining us within STEMM communities. There is growing research into how identities of scientists (gender, race, nationality, sexuality, etc.) can impact who receives prestigious awards, grants, and fellowships through unconscious biases in reviewing boards. Likewise, the development of accessible STEMM material that can speak to the general public at multiple educational levels and different learning styles is produced by diverse communities of scientific communicators.
Actively integrating social justice into scientific, engineering, and medical communities will create not only more equitable communities within fields, but also better contextualize the impacts of important technological advances moving forward. With the goal of developing socially responsible, equitable, and accountable STEMM, re: STEM is a space for all of us, scientists, engineers, medical professionals, and others, to engage with the impact and production of STEMM