The Obvious Invisibility of the Relationship between Technology and Social Values

By Jamie P. Ross.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

We all too often assume that technology is the product of objective scientific research and that technology’s moral value lies in only the moral character of its user. To remove technology from a moral realm, we assume value and context neutrality. Yet the power of technology is a reflection of the values that exist in its developmental context. Technology’s moral realm is visible in the reciprocal relationship between culture and technology in the epidemiology of AIDS, clinical research and practice regarding heart disease, and DNA research. Cultural values decide what counts as a scientific question. When we look at the 1980s epidemiological model for AIDS, we see how the presuppositions within a culture frame the type of question asked; that is “In what population does AIDS occur?” This question initially leads scientific research away from individual behavior until a different question is asked. Secondly, that which constitutes a scientific problem in turn directs the kinds of technologies developed. Men who were dying of heart disease showed symptoms in large arteries of the heart when using technologies designed to find these symptoms. Women were also dying of heart disease, but because the large arteries were not overwhelmingly compromised, women were not properly diagnosed until recently. If large arteries are the “problem,” seeing smaller vessels as problematic is more difficult. If the cultural standard of the healthy body is a male body, technologies responsive to that body are developed. Thirdly, a type of technology developed will in turn create new or enhanced values. A biological/genetic basis for race or intelligence is a scientific answer to a culturally defined problem, and the cultural issue of race is defined as problematic by scientific fact. Technology directs human values and behaviors in predictable ways; thus, technologies are ethically valenced.

Keywords: Technology, Cultural Values, Invisibility

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp.51-62. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 479.374KB).

Dr. Jamie P. Ross

Assistant Professor, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, USA