STEM Debate at UoW

STEM Debate Series 2019: Does having too much empathy constrain good science?

To mark Ada Lovelace Day on Tuesday, 8th October, we held our second STEM Debate which was kindly sponsored by Zespri International.  The event was enthusiastically organised by Jackie Evans, Head of Research at Comvita and held at the University of Waikato-Tauranga.

In true debate format, two teams came together to argue for their position around the role, and impact, empathy has on the outcomes of STEM based research.

Team Science advocated the need for scientific research to be pursued following a structured, transparent process.  Research does not need to be based on current or near-term problems, but on topics that might have an impact for future generations and applied to problems not even foreseen.  If the needs of current society inform research, we run the risk of not contributing to, or being prepared for, big scientific questions and solutions in the future.

Team Empathy argued that women as test groups do not feature proportionately in STEM research.  In fact, much applied research is based on an average male physique (which was dubbed “Steve”) and this has huge implications for women and how their bodies respond in such areas as medical treatments (dosing levels of medicine) and safety standards (such as crash test dummy testing).  Team Empathy called for a deeper understanding of the whole person to help better inform how research is conducted and targeting issues that impact society in the near future.

Debate moderator, Jackie Evans, directed impassioned arguments and collated audience questions which led to further discussions amongst guests during networking and nibbles.

A-list debaters included:

In support of “Yes” – Team Science:
Dr. Ashley Mortensen, Senior Scientist, New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research
Tony Wright, General Manager Market Access, Comvita 

In support of “No” – Team Empathy:
Liz Macpherson, Government Statistician and Chief Executive, Stats NZ
Dr. Victoria Metcalf, National Coordinator of the Participatory Science Platform, Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor