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Thoughts on STEM education, sustainable business, female engineers, etc. 

Is science really objective?

Last weekend I spent Friday and Saturday at the Editorial Committee meeting for a journal I work with called Annual Review of Environment and Resources. The meeting brings together 8 faculty from all around the globe to discuss pertinent environmental issues. Everyone brings a different perspective to the conversation as the board consists of experts in policy, ecosystem services, climate science, agriculture, energy, and public health. At one point, the conversation turned to the objectiveness of science - and I've been thinking about this ever since. If we as scientists and engineers were truly objective then we would be a lot less picky about what we work on. I realize for chemists or biologists once you learn highly specialized analytical techniques you tend to stick in the same problem zone out of necessity.. but for engineers - the same analytical toolkit we receive through our training could be applied to a myriad of issues. But we all have our interests, our passions: "I'm an air quality person, or a water person, or a _____." And those passions come about as a result of our experiences in life or in our previous education, as well as because of highly influential mentors. In my case my mentor and advisor at Penn State set me down a road of looking at radically multi-disciplinary work as the norm, and trained me as a researcher to take on large messy problems. So now, when I'm presented with the opportunity to work on something narrow - such as my PhD dissertation - it largely doesn't appeal to me. I'm subjective. I have my biases. Every researcher does. And we all bring those biases into our work -- we can't help it. Does this make our work subjective

I don't really know if there is an answer to this - people say "You have to acknowledge your biases." From a practical standpoint you can list your funding sources. But say for instance you are politically liberal and working on climate change. Should you also have to list in your work you're a Democrat? Or is the biases and opinions that we all bring into our work what makes science rich? Just some thoughts on a Friday morning..