WWW Site for John Lawrence Bencze, Associate Professor, Science Education, OISE/University of Toronto


This page is a supplement to the STEPWISE project website, and provides brief descriptions of various 'STSE Issues'; that is, debatable problems for the wellbeing of individuals, societies & environments (W.I.S.E.). In some places, these are called 'socioscientific' issues. Although many of these situations are subject to debate (e.g., depending on one's political views) and, therefore, may best be thought of as 'issues,' it seems logical to treat any of them as potential problems. Several of these are monitored at World Clock. This 'Global Issues' page also is quite comprehensive. STSE problems are what people perceive as negative aspects of STSE and NoST. In my view, many of these stem from our economic system, particularly as neoliberalism. Awareness of such issues may stimulate STSE Actions! Ideas and resources for helping teachers educate students about both STSE issues and actions are at: WISE Problem-Activism Education. If you have any comments, questions, etc. about this project or would like to join it, please contact me by email.
Some STSE Issues.
Some Reasons for STSE Issues.

Some STSE Issues
Issues Stemming from a Critical Analysis of STSE
Foods & Beverages
Many manufactured foods and beverages are the source of health problems (e.g., blood-vascular diseases and cancer) for people and, perhaps, societies that rely greatly on them. Many of these products have high sugar, salt and/or fat content, along with artificial flavours, colours, sweeteners, preservatives and caffeine - often at the expense of healthy (but expensive) nutrient content. Many people also are concerned with possible adverse effects of genetically-modified foods & beverages. An excellent source of information regarding such problems is the Centre for Science in the Public Interest.

Although there are numerous benefits, many manufactured and natural chemicals used for altering human cognitive and/or health states often have negative side-effects. Some people are concerned about adverse effects of 'mind-altering' drugs, such as marijuana, alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, ecstasy, etc. An excellent source of information about drugs and alcohol is at: The Phakz. Another is: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Many forms of transportation, while helping to bring people, goods and services together, have negative side-effects. Of particular concern are energy sources that generate potentially hazardous by-products, including 'smog' and 'Greenhouse Gases' from petroleum products. Production of long-lasting radioactive breakdown products from nuclear fission reactions also is problematic. The Oil Drum, for example, is a website that provides interesting information and perspectives about alternatives to oil use.

People throughout the world often mediate their social relations through various forms of electronic technologies, including cell phones, personal music players and organizers, video games, television, movies, and the internet. Concerns about these and other technologies are that they may carry with them particular 'messages' (often in the form of instructions for or limitations of use) that may surreptitiously govern people's lives. This often is debated through the concepts of techno- and social-determination; e.g.,  at: Technodeterminism.

Pop Culture & Entertainment
As described above, various forms of popular culture for entertainment purposes (e.g., television programmes, movies, magazines, etc.) have potentially problematic socio/techno-deterministic characteristics. Additionally, many of these often have subliminal messages associated with them to promote further consumption of those or other forms of culture. Trends in and issues surrounding subliminal advertizing, for example, are discussed at Mind Power News. Associated with such advertizing are techniques of data management and mining; e.g., using computer systems to determine consumer purchasing habits and then adjusting advertizing to encourage further consumption.
also For some ideas relating to this issue, refer to: Digital Marketing; Consuming Kids.
Various forms of recreation, while providing many health benefits, for example, can pose WISE problems. Recreation depending on motorized devices (e.g., boats, personal water craft, snowmobiles, etc.) produce various forms of pollution and, in some cases, physical injury due to accidents. Some issues pertaining to personal watercraft, for example, include those at: Personal Water Impacts.

Health & Beauty Aids
Many people use products and services (e.g., plastic surgery, cosmetics, vitamins, perfumes & colognes, etc.) to improve their health and/or physical appearance. Certain vitamin supplements, such as Vitamin A, can be helpful for people living where there are long periods of low sunlight levels, for example. Use of multivitamins is, however, a controversial practice - with some studies indicating health improvements, while others question their benefits (e.g., Do multivitamins work?). Similarly, use of cosmetics is not without controversy. Considerable concern has developed about cosmetics that use anti-bacterial and anti-fungal chemical additives - which may lead to forms of cancer, for example (Cosmetics & Cancer).

Resource Extraction
Primarily related to humans' needs and interests in terms of production and consumption of goods and services, forms of resource extraction (mining, forestry, fishing, etc.), although important for human survival and quality of life, appear to be contributing to significant habitat destruction and consequent species losses. People appear to be consuming too many products and, through timed-obsolescence, discarding them to purchase newer and 'better' products. This is leading to enormous problems of waste accumulation, much of which is toxic. Often associated with resource extraction are many serious social justice problems. An excellent resource in this regard is Blood in the Mobile.

An excellent summary of many of these issues is The Story of Stuff.
In the last three decades, there has been a'revolution' in biotechnology, the engineering of living things. Although many of these products - such as genetically-modified seeds that can grow in new, formally less-suitable, soils - may have various benefits, there can be issues associated with such technologies. That they can be patented, for example, means that their use is limited to those who can afford to pay for them. Issues relating to bio-technologies are discussed at ActionBioscience.

Education often is seen as a public service, aiming to educate everyone to the maximum of their abilities. Such a service may, in principle, improve the wellbeing of disadvantaged students, effectively narrowing the gap between rich and poor, and enable the society to be transformed in ways partly determined by disadvantaged people. In practice, however, education tends to reproduce traditional class groupings. Many subject areas, such as school science, tend to focus on identifying and prioritizing education of the relatively small fraction of students who may pursue careers in the discipline. In doing so, the education of other students often is compromised - and, consequently, education can perpetuate and augment a society prioritizing individual competitiveness and specialization of work/careers. Ideas about these and other related issues are located at Globalization and Education.

An undeniable aspect of human life is the need for labour - to sustain life and, in many cases, to improve it. Many struggle, however, with achieving a healthy balance between labour and leisure. Indeed, apparently due to a highly individualized competitive economic environment in many countries, the work-to-leisure ratio has steadily declined in approximately the last one-hundred years (e.g., Leisure?). On the other hand, many people - including children - work under unfair labour practices - like Iqbal.

Financial Services
In many parts of the world, people conduct financial exchanges facilitated by services provided by private enterprises. Credit and bank cards, for example, allow people to make cashless transactions. Although such services make purchase and sale of goods and services more convenient, their existence may lead some people to spend more than they actually possess in savings. Refer to this site for some ideas about this issue: Credit Card Over-spending.

Issues Stemming from a Critical Analysis of NoST
Fields of Science & Technology
Many WISE issues stem from critical analyses of practices and products of fields of science and technology (NoST). There are two general ways of examining NoST; that is, 'internally' and 'externally.' Internal analyses involve, for example, personal characteristics of scientists/engineers and the general logic of their work. Some internal NoST characteristics are: investigators may be
biased towards particular topics, methods and results; teams of investigators may develop more unique projects than individuals; and, methods of inquiry often are not linear but involve, rather, trial and error.

External analyses of NoST involve considerations of effects of societies - or more likely, powerful individuals - on practices and products of science and technology. A particularly noteworthy factor in scientists' and engineers' topic choices, methods, results, conclusions and extent of sharing of findings is the source of funding for their work. Given the utility of science and technology for production and consumption of for-profit goods and services, there can be enormous pressure on scientists and engineers to assist in the pursuit of profit. Such pressures can, moreover, lead some scientists and engineers to compromise the integrity of their work. A detailed analysis of such effects can be found at: Corrupted Science.

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Some Reasons for STSE Issues
There are, undoubtedly, many reasons to account for the various problems cited above. Everyone appears to have a unique perspective on this. For me, many STSE problems occur, to a great extent, because of unregulated capitalism and associated global economization. Briefly, it is apparent that many human activities in many societies are oriented towards for-profit production, distribution and consumption of goods and services - often with little regard for possible adverse effects on individuals, societies and environments. Resources relating to these concerns are linked at right.
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