Knowledge and Access

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In celebration of the Center's fifth anniversary, we investigated the intersection of science and society through the lens of the theme: Knowledge and Access. In order to scale up the benefits of science and technology, we need equitable, protected, and inclusive policies, systems, and digital spaces. As a Center dedicated to promoting interdisciplinary conversations between the sciences and humanities, we were well placed to advance the debate around these issues. 

Please explore our fifth-anniversary report for additional information. 

We focused exploration of Knowledge and Access through the following topics:

Historic and ongoing racism in the health care and criminal justice systems has created a direct link between health inequities and the over-criminalization and disproportionate incarceration of Black and Latinx individuals. Justice means making sure people and communities are no longer criminalized for health-related conditions. Building on the success of its conference No Health = No Justice: Dismantling Systemic Inequity in Criminal Justice & Health, the Research Cluster on Historical Study of Race, Inequality, and Health continued to confront the issues of racism and inequality within both the health and criminal justice systems.

Rapid advances in technology have undoubtedly empowered people by facilitating connection and access to information. However, global technological disruption has outpaced democratic checks and people around the world are facing issues concerning Digital rights, Data protection (securing data against unauthorized access), Data privacy (defining who has and defines authorized access to your data), Internet blackouts and Net discrimination. The Research Cluster on Big Data and Science Studies continued to investigate at the social, political, and ethical ramifications of data mining and big data through a series of workshops on The History of AI that began spring 2019.

War, economic downturns, environmental changes and other sociopolitical factors have increased the number of displaced individuals, leading to loss of connection to information and technology. Columbia faculty members, supported by the Center, developed cross-disciplinary courses to explore, analyze, and counteract these effects. These included The Sciences of Black Life; Media, Science and Technology in South Asia; Histories of Cold; Global Politics of Reproduction; Genocide in American Culture; and a recent collaboration created by the Science and Subjectivity Research Cluster and taught by Samuel Roberts, leader of the Historical Study of Race, Inequality, and Health. Marginalization and Medicine focused on the impact that social determinants like poverty, structural violence, racism, and geography have on access to health.

While the current period of rapid technological disruption can make the future feel uncertain, there is history to fall back on — from the transitions to steam power and electricity, to the birth of computing. Through these times of accelerated change and growing complexity, the most valued human skills also evolve and adapt. The Big Data and Science Studies Research Cluster organized Is Artificial Intelligence the Future of Art?, which looked at the nature of creativity and originality in the age of AI. Other Center events explored the traits that still make us uniquely human, including a conversation about the utility of Boredom from the Research Cluster on Curiosity, and a seminar series considering models for human and machine collaboration and to increase the human advantage for lifelong learning and problem-solving. 

Universities recruit and rely upon experts from many fields to share their knowledge with the next generation. But often this expertise is only shared with an elite few, sequestered in journals and libraries, behind paywalls, or otherwise siloed. How do we make knowledge more accessible? The Making and Knowing Project spent five years transcribing, translating, and recreating the entries in a 16th century artisanal and technical manuscript. The February 2020 publication of its open-access Digital Critical Edition and the dissemination of the pedagogical framework that shaped this project provides a new avenue for students, scholars, and members of the public to explore this type of research. 

According to a study by Science, researchers mapped internet access worldwide and compared that to a list of ethnic settlement regions to show that less powerful ethnic groups are at a disadvantage when it comes to internet access. Through a series of workshops and the development of a Global Histories of Science Reader, the Global Histories of Science Research Cluster was primed to analyzed such issues as it explored a broader, more inclusive and interlinked history of science among regions and geographies.

The Center organizes a number of events each year to educate and inform the public on pressing concerns in science and society, such as our conferences on trauma, embodied cognition, and narrative. During this milestone year, the Center organized a series of public events on technology, innovation, and access. However, acknowledging that not all expert knowledge comes from academia, the Center developed a workshop to highlight the importance of indigenous and intergenerational knowledge, inviting immigrant and refugee communities based in NYC to talk about and demonstrate the artisanal and craft knowledge they bring from their countries of origin.  

Beginning in the summer of 2020, the Center for Science and Society staff has met regularly to consider the biases, limitations, and inequalities inherent in the modern university model and the Center in particular. We continue to consider what power and privilege our Center holds, what assumptions prevail in our work, and where seemingly “neutral” policies and activities reinforce an unequal status quo. As a part of this effort, we extended our exploration of 2019-2020 Knowledge and Access through the 2020-21 academic year to focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion in policies, systems, and spaces in science and society. See our diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism plan for more information. 

Events, resources, and opportunities regarding this theme were listed on our website and highlighted, below, throughout the year. 

Knowledge and Access Fifth Anniversary Events

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