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The Social Responsibilities of Scientists and Engineers: Developing a Global Survey

AAAS is engaged in a three-part effort to expand existing knowledge about the social responsibilities of scientists and engineers. The first part involved launching an online questionnaire in April 2013, as a preliminary data-gathering initiative. Scientists, engineers and health professionals internationally were invited to complete the questionnaire, the aim of which was to learn how they view the nature and scope of their “social responsibilities” and to identify any apparent similarities or differences in perspectives according to multiple demographic variables. The survey produced 2,153 useable responses, but because it relied on convenience sampling, the results cannot be generalized beyond the study sample. (The findings of this effort can be found in Wyndham J. (et al.), Social Responsibilities: A Preliminary Inquiry into the Perspectives of Scientists, Engineers and Health Professionals, March 2015; doi: 10.1126/srhrl.aaa9798.)

Nevertheless, the initial study was viewed by AAAS as a useful step toward development of a more scientifically rigorous and representative international survey that would enable generalization beyond the sample completing the questionnaire. A follow-up survey was seen as an opportunity to explore the potential significance of some of the observations and themes arising from the questionnaire, to document the understanding of scientists and engineers about their social responsibilities, to acquire a deeper appreciation for the different sources of their beliefs about such responsibilities, to identify what they see as the opportunities or challenges that affect their ability to discharge those responsibilities effectively, and to establish a strong empirical record on which to base recommendations to scientists, engineers, policy-makers, educators, and the public.

The second part of the AAAS effort, which is the focus of this report, was to design and pre-test a survey that would produce generalizable results about the views of scientists and engineers on their social responsibilities. Upon completion of a draft survey, it would be pre-tested on a subset of those we intended to survey more broadly. The deliverables for this project included the following: (1) a robust survey instrument, informed by adequate cognitive and usability pretesting and translated into the five UN languages beyond English; (2) development of a global sampling process; and (3) a clear plan for reaching the targeted sample, including commitments from various national and international collaborators. The third part of the AAAS effort is to launch the survey in 2019. In the long term, the results of the survey are expected to influence ongoing global conversations about the roles and responsibilities of scientists and engineers in society, help clarify public expectations of scientists and engineers, lead to the development of materials for the education of scientists and engineers, and provide empirical data for consideration when developing specific recommendations on the nature and scope of the social responsibilities of scientists and engineers. 

Support for this project was provided by the National Science Foundation through grant number 1540398.

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