published April 3, 2013

Science, Human Rights, and Your Involvement

Jessica M. Wyndham

Associate Director, Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights, and Law Program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Since October 2012, we have explored through a series of articles the many and varied connections that exist among science, technology and human rights. It is my hope that this series will serve as a prelude to an ongoing and engaged discussion about our role in overcoming the barriers, creating the applications, testing the value, articulating the benefits and educating the next generation in how to further human rights through science and technology.

In an effort to get the ball rolling, here are some preliminary, if ambitious, thoughts about how you might get started:

1. Integrate human rights into STEM curriculum: contemporary human rights issues and the principles underlying the human rights framework can very usefully inform curriculum development whether teaching students about innovative applications of your discipline to societal challenges, exploring the ethical dimensions of the way research is conducted or exploring the legitimate scope of government regulation of scientific conduct. An example is provided by the curriculum developed by Richard Pierre Claude for teaching public health students at Princeton about human rights. See here.

2. Create a science, engineering and human rights clinic on campus: increasingly human rights organizations seek the advice and technical input of scientists and engineers in their work. In a clinic setting, students can learn the tools and techniques of their discipline by applying them in a practical context, from analyzing satellite imagery to document mass human rights violations, to conducting soil and water quality tests to identify contamination, to developing and analyzing a survey on the mental health impacts of foreclosures. As human rights organizations turn to technical experts to strengthen their work, an opportunity exists for faculty members to develop links with local human rights groups and provide students with meaningful learning experiences.

3. Become a hub of information and discussion about science, engineering and human rights: whether organizing a guest speaker series, forming a campus affinity group, or creating an online portal of information, encouraging information sharing and debate on issues at the intersection of science, engineering and human rights is a valuable way to keep faculty and students informed and engaged in contemporary debates about the intersections of science, technology and human rights.

There is an ever-expanding wealth of information and resources available online about how science, engineering and human rights are coming together to address contemporary challenges facing the US and the global community. I invite you to contact me if you would like further information or to learn about the work of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in this respect, or to be put in contact with other organizations and individuals engaged in this field. I look forward to working with you as we create new and innovative ways to realize human rights through science and engineering.