Center Proposal

This proposal was developed and updated by Prof. David M. Berube, Professor of Communication, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, NC State - 2014.

Introduction

‚ÄčPCOST represents an opportunity to house on the campus of North Carolina State University a national center for the social science of science with strong associations to the University of North Carolina, North Carolina Central University, Duke University, companies in the Research Triangle, as well as partners on NC State's Centennial Campus, such as the Genetic Engineering and Society program.

PCOST would generate data on issues associated with communication, public perception, and other variables that may impact public understanding of science and technology in the 21st century. In addition, one of its most important functions involves a broad commitment to make certain the social sciences and humanities serve an integral role in the commitment by NC State to support STEM interdisciplinarity in a world where issues in science, technology, and engineering are wicked (Rittle, Webber, and Churchman), sticky, messy, and arrive faster (Gleick) than ever before.

PCOST will be associated with the Department of Communication, the Genetics Engineering in Society program, the Science and Technology in Society program and will be housed in the College of Humanities And Social Sciences at NC State.

PCOST will be is an inter-departmental and inter-disciplinary project with partnerships in many different colleges at NC State and elsewhere in the state and the country. PCOST will be composed of a team of academics and researchers who meet regularly, generate grant applications, direct graduate student assistantships, and co-sponsor events and speakers. PCOST will function as a platform for grant solicitation and its operating budget will be derived from multiple sources, including externally-funded grant-related sources and industrial sponsorship.

PCOST's mission is to provide opportunities for scholars to understand and improve the public communication of emerging science and technology. PCOST will work with and support faculty and students in a wide arena of scholarship including but not limited to communication, media studies, computer science, design, human sciences, and other subject fields. Audiences for our work include stakeholders in science, medicine, and technology such as policy-makers, scientists, business leaders, health practitioners and non-governmental organizations involved in debates or discussions about science and technology.

While one of the defining characteristics of PCOST will be the emphasis on empirical research, we welcome all activities attempting to better understand the challenges confronting the public as they try to make sense of developments in science and technology. We are commited to the design of effective interfaces with stakeholders from all areas of society.

Justification

Some of the interface between the humanities and social sciences with science and technology has been characterized as blame-ladened, historically and anthropologically descriptive, and data free. Communities in science and technology have been reluctant to embrace the humanities and social sciences as partners in scientific inquiry because too many times the communities in science and technology perceive humanists and some social scientists as overly judgmental and presumably unwilling to assist in designing solutions.

Almost by definition, engineers are solution generators and it is difficult for them, as for almost all of us, to shoulder all the sins of the past associated with the fields we represent.

Communities in science and technology need to have nag-free dialogues for the relationship to be productive. In addition, science and technology prefers qualitative and quantitative research methodologies that produce data that is more inferential than descriptive in nature. Indeed, the methodologies of science and technology are heavily biased toward data generation. Communication with communities of science and technology using the languages and geographies of their world may be the best way to interface productively with them. Our goal is to reach across this divide and bring science and engineers to the table by discussing issues in a language they are more accustomed to using themselves.

Timeline

In 2008, PCOST acquired space and membership and began to seek needed external funding. PCOST has developed ties with universities in the area, companies in the Research Triangle, and residents on NC State's Centennial campus. In 2014, PCOST's member has broadened extensively with members from computer science, design, engineering, and other disciplines. In the very near future, PCOST will begin soliciting industrial affiliate sponsorship.

Following that, PCOST will solicit support from the National Science Foundation and other government as well as private grant-funding organizations to support PCOST as a national center at which social science research on science and technology is undertaken.