As We Now Think

Reflections, commentary and analysis from Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University.

Student Pugwash – Giving students a voice on the rightful place of science & technology in society


Student Pugwash USA is a social benefit organization that promotes social responsibility in science and technology. Contrary to the misperceptions of occasional callers, we’re not in the business of washing animals or cars.  Instead, we connect students and young people to engage in discussion and debate on the social and ethical dimensions of science and technology. Our organization’s historical roots trace back to the international Pugwash conferences. These conferences convened scientists and humanists to discuss the role of scientists in the military industrial complex post-Manhattan project, in Pugwash, Nova Scotia.  One of Pugwash’s founders, Joseph Rotblat (who quit the Manhattan Project in protest), went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1979, students at the University of California San Diego founded Student Pugwash to give young people a voice in these crucial conversations about the complex and evolving roles of science and technology in society. Below I explain Student Pugwash’s current initiatives, who can participate, and the like-minded organizations in our field.

Is SPUSA only for scientists and engineers? Student Pugwash is open to students from any disciplinary (or interdisciplinary) field. Understanding the multiple ways that science and technology are intertwined in society and policy requires multiple disciplinary views. Our unique history actually reflects this—philosopher Bertrand Russell and scientist Albert Einstein co-wrote the initial Pugwash manifesto, encouraging scientists to “learn to think in a new way” about the use of science in society.

Isn’t Student Pugwash really just an organization for arms control wonks?  Not at all. The scientific enterprise changed dramatically following World War II, which initiated a period of reflection about the social responsibility of scientists and technologists. Our organization is grounded in this history of critical thought. However, while we have grown from these experiences, we are not constrained by them. Today, the heart of what we do is to engage students in thinking about a spectrum of contemporary issues relating to science and technology in society— issues as diverse as space policy, technology and sustainability, and research ethics. In addition, we explore contemporary issues at the intersection of science, technology, and security, such as cybersecurity and dual use research in the biological sciences.

Isn’t the ‘social responsibility’ discourse dead?  Fortunately, it’s not dead; it’s evolving. Student Pugwash is a grassroots organization, which in itself is a shift away from technocratic modalities.  We focus on empowerment and ethical reflection, not navel gazing. We give young people from different disciplinary backgrounds a set of analytical tools, a vocabulary, and a voice for considering the often-neglected social, cultural, and ethical aspects of science and technology.

What are examples of recent Student Pugwash activities? Our most recent initiative was the science and technology policy guide to the 2012 elections, which included 26 issue briefs on a variety of science and technology policy issues, including science funding, climate change, mental health, and space policy. It also included a multimedia contest, co-sponsored by ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, for which the first prize was $2,000. You can read the winning entries here.  There was even an article about it in the Dover Post! Other recent activities include student board member elections, a nationwide SPUSA happy hour series for alumni, the Purdue Student Pugwash annual conferences, and at panel on nonprofit networking at the SEI (Social and Ethical Implications of Science) Congress.

Who can participate?  Any high school, college, or graduate student can participate in SPUSA. We do not have an official membership—that way you participate on your own terms in the activities that interest you, and you don’t owe dues.  Professionals and faculty can get involved by being mentors, faculty advisors, and board members. We’re also establishing an alumni/alumnae and young professional outlet, as we often hear that post-grads have very few opportunities to discuss science, technology, and society once they graduate, even in thriving technology corridors in Boston and Silicon Valley.

How can I get involved?  Student Pugwash was founded as a campus chapter-based organization. We still support student chapters where there are student leaders and participants excited to start them. However, we know that students today are extremely over-programmed, and we are working to provide more online and single-event opportunities for participation, such as the elections guide and contest.  We also accept remote interns during the summer and semesters.

What’s on the horizon? Student Pugwash is moving ahead with innovative methods for applying our timeless mission that is highly relevant in the 21st century.  As one such initiative, SP is launching a fellowship program to invest in the most promising young leaders in the social and policy dimensions of science and technology.  The proposed fellowship program has four components: (i) A training and networking meeting in Washington DC, (ii) Preparatory work during the spring semester with a faculty mentor, (iii) A summer internship at a local community organization, and (iv) Outreach work on each fellow’s campus in the fall semester.

Why don’t I hear more from Student Pugwash? In short, resources. But if you don’t hear anything at all from us, check us out on Facebook and Twitter, and join our email list for quarterly updates. We want to do more, but we’re an all-volunteer staff with limited funding. Funders often concentrate on a single-issue area, making it difficult to gain the necessary financial resources to develop programs that cut across disciplines and other silos. However, we can get a lot done with more person power, so we invite you to volunteer with us.

Are you alone out there? What is the broader student community in this field like? Complementary student initiatives are growing, as young people demand more voice and educational resources in this domain. The Journal of Science, Policy, and Governance (JSPG) provides a professional publication for students and young scholars, with excellent peer review conducted by students’ peers. JSPG provides a voice for students through op-eds and formal policy analyses. The STGlobal conference provides a venue for Science & Technology Studies (STS) and Science & Technology Policy students to meet annually in person. Additionally, AAAS’s Emerging Leaders in Science and Society program will soon be providing additional educational programs for young people from all disciplines to learn about solutions to real-world problems in STS issues. We believe that efforts in this field would be stronger if this organizations bridge boundaries to build a collaborative network of organizations working in this domain with the goal of increasing access to STS education and engagement, providing both a spark to consciousness, rigorous thinking, and an outlet for participation. You can also view our map of like-minded organizations.

We ask for your support to grow out network and “learn to think in a new way” about science and technology in society.  Please start by leaving your ideas and feedback on this post below and email me for more information about SPUSA’s efforts at

–       Sharlissa Moore is the President of Student Pugwash USA and a PhD Candidate in Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology

One comment on “Student Pugwash – Giving students a voice on the rightful place of science & technology in society

  1. Pingback: Student Pugwash – Giving students a voice on the rightful place of science & technology in society | MindFull

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This entry was posted on March 20, 2013 by in Science Policy, Technology Policy and tagged , .
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