I am currently working in the sciences (broadly speaking, the STEM field) in the United States as a researcher.
I have been following quite closely to the social-political trend of the US for the past few years, and I am quite troubled at the direction that the administration, as well as a (seemingly) majority of the society, is taking us. I am troubled at the US administration’s policy of travel ban, which has affected dozens of my actual colleagues. I am resentful of the lack of empathy of many Americans when it comes to police abuse and political corruption. Overall, I am not optimistic about the increasingly intolerant atmosphere against many racial minorities in the country. They are my colleagues, mentors, friends, family, and peers.
At the same time, I am also troubled by the use of technology to limit people’s privacy and to influence people’s opinion for the worse. A recent presentation at my University was on the topic of accelerating content ranking algorithms that can be used to influence social networks. I have read about how this automated algorithms can be used to isolate people into an echo chamber and cause extremist views. The presenter had no qualm about the ethical implications of these engineering decisions.
While there is a strong tendency in the STEM fields to ignore the social and the political, perhaps out of fear that it will distract from our work, I know that these things will not be ignoring us. I have read about the consequence of the rise of fascism in Germany, and its steep cost to academic research. I have read many stories of famed researchers becoming refugees, or being sent to concentration camps, or even committing suicide. I fear that this future may seem as far off from us now as it was to the researchers in the early 20th century.
How can I practically contribute to social justice (and human rights in general) while working in the sciences? Scientific research is very meaningful, but it requires a lot of focus and concentration. I understand that a scientific training has potentially stripped me of being educated on many social issues, and I can make up for it by reading about them. However, it there anything more I can do beyond this? Can I use my skills as a scientist to meaningfully contribute to research that can have a meaningful impact on social justice? Has anyone else found a coping mechanism?