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We should be careful about concentrating intellectual and other resources exclusively in apparently socially orientated dialogues about new technologies, given that they neglect the content of science, serve economic interests rather than responding to public concerns, and let scientists off the hook of their social responsibilities. New technologies are exciting and can be useful, but they are rarely necessary or urgent – except for their investors, who benefit from the work we all do to socialise their ambitions. The great technological innovators of our age have become so wealthy that there is little they can do other than give money away, and philanthropy could be a way to turn the innovation economy towards serving a broader scheme of interests.

While it can be academically productive to turn inwards towards problems between science and the public, there is a bigger ‘space around’ in which there are serious problems to be addressed. To do this, we need to reorientate our thinking about the words ‘problem’, ‘science’ and ‘society’. We could abandon the idea of a conflict between science and society, and think instead about collaboration. Instead of focusing on the alleged problems in the relationship between science and society and deploying engagement between scientists and the public to address them, we could instead recognise that there are problems of society that scientists and the public could collaborate to solve, with the tools they already have to hand. It is not by looking for problems in the ‘space between’ science and the public that the space will be spanned, but by finding common concerns in the ‘space around’ that science and the public will address together, democratically, and for the common good.


Thanks are due to Allan Jones and the Society and Information Research Group (SIRG) at the Open University, the Science in Public research network, Jane Calvert and the Science, Technology and Innovation Studies seminar at the University of Edinburgh, Charles Thorpe, Tim Boon and two anonymous referees.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/160607/010