Utopia

by Karen Stroobants

Are we still able to think big, to imagine a better world than the one we currently live in? Rutger Bregman, a young Dutch historian, certainly thinks so. I have been following his activities for a while now, as he strongly believes in the concept of ‘a basic income for everyone’, and so do I. Although the idea is appealing, it is hard to establish firm arguments that cannot in any way be refuted by critics, and maybe even by realists. So when Bregman announced that he was about to publish a book, ‘Utopia for realists’, I knew it would be my next read.

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“In these cases, what seems to be crucial is the connection between efforts to reduce inequality and to adopt technologies in sectors such as water and waste management, which are absolutely crucial for Climate Change policies. In terms of policy, it appears that ‘socially just’ is very close to ‘environmentally sustainable.’”

By Nicolás Valenzuela-Levi

Public interest on income inequality increased during the last decade. Among scholars, one of the aspects that has been researched is how does income distribution affect innovation and technology adoption. On the one side, hopes for long term economic development highlight the need to understand what drives innovation. On the other side, inequalities are fuelling social unrest and public debate on what is the fair distribution of opportunities and benefits in our societies. Consequently, the question about the link between income inequality and innovation is becoming more and more attractive.

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The Special Issue 2017 is dedicated to the tensions between science, technology, policy and inequality. Inside we have articles by four wonderful authors covering gender, income inequality, solar panels, universal basic income, network technologies and much more. Look no further for a glimpse into the ongoing negotiation between society and science.  

The Special Issue contains:

Women and Solar Home Systems in Rural Bihar, India by Shivi Chandna
A Look at the Attrition of Women in STEM by Sumana Sharma
Book Review: Utopia for Realists by Karen Stroobants
Income Inequality and the Internet of Things by Nicolás Valenzuela-Levi

With Editor’s Note by Victoria Plutshack

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When researchers asked questions about life before and after access to solar home systems, they were struck by the fact that none of the answers centered on the women’s own needs in their life.

by Shivi Chandna

In rural India, women in poor households spend a large part of their day performing basic tasks such as collecting fuel wood or kerosene, which keeps them away from employment or education opportunities and makes their lives more difficult. Access to electricity is therefore increasingly regarded as a means to improve their status in society. Although a large number of small-scale and community-based off-grid renewable energy projects are in place to provide access to electricity with a women-centric approach, research on the benefits to women has been largely anecdotal. A review of the evidence for the impact of rural electrification on women’s lives concluded that electricity access has a positive effect on women’s practical needs by reducing drudgery and providing better health, time-savings and income generation.

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The loss of skilled women from the STEM workforce in academia has not gone unnoticed…[but] even with policies in place, a change in broader culture will be necessary to precipitate the desired changes.

by Sumana Sharma

The underrepresentation of women in leadership positions in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is usually attributed to the ‘leaky pipeline phenomenon’, according to which an increasing proportion of women leave their occupational fields at each stage along their career paths. This attrition is most pronounced for the academic biological sciences, in which the most significant attrition occurs at the postgraduate-to-group leader transition. To illustrate: in the UK in 2014/15, 66% of bioscience postgraduate students, but only 18% of professors, were female.

A huge gender difference in leadership positions is evident across all STEM fields: overall, 82% of all professors are men, as of 2014. This attrition of women in the STEM workforce raises questions over specific barriers faced by women in this field for career advancement. These barriers can be multi-faceted; thus, accurately identifying the main barriers and designing policies to address them will be essential to resolving gender disparity in the field of STEM.

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