HSTR 207 – History of Science and Technology
Mary Hill Young
Douthwaite’s assessment of social problems and their technological quick fixes hinges upon his claim that social problems can be temporarily staunched with technological solutions – “Whatever the moral, ethical, or legal implications of a technological fix, if it works even temporarily to solve an important social problem then while giving humanity the time to solve the underlying and deeply non-technological troubles that prompted the problem in the first place, then it is an important contribution.” (Douthwaite, 32)
Johnston alternatively suggests that scientific and technological professionals are necessary in the social sphere to understand the opportunities for advancement that can be provided by their fields. But Johnston he also argues that engineers and scientific professionals must be involved in the process of solving social problems in the long term, rather than only as the stop gap measure that Douthwaite suggested it to be.
The Huesemann duo presents an even more dramatic opposition to Douthwaite’s premise when they suggest that a technological fix for a social solution is not only unfeasible in the long term but detrimental to the social situation. They argue that by building a habit of reliance upon technological innovation there is a corresponding drop in effort as it applies to the social situation that was originally the issue.
Technological solutions too often end in disaster because of the inherent assumption that the technology will provide the ultimate solution to the issue – “..Science – by relying almost exclusively on mechanistic reductionism – not only makes us ignore the complexity of nature, but in effect generates … manmade scientific ignorance.” (Huesemann, Huesmann, 14)
The resultant difficulties that arise from finding technological solutions to problems could be eliminated, or at least mitigated, by the application of common sense and a willingness on the part of elite humanity to not simply sit on their hands after being handed a short term solution, but instead use the time afforded them to find a more permanent solution to the underlying problems.