‘Pure hype of pure research helps no one’ says Sarewitz; what this says about freedom

I tend to agree with a lot of what Dan Sarewitz argues here:

Pure hype of pure research helps no one : Nature News & Comment.

But I also want to suggest that there’s an argument to be made against the High Quality Research Act that goes beyond Sarewitz’s claim that it helps no one.

To be fair, that’s just the headline. Sarewitz also claims something I think is a bit more controversial — that the HQRA is really nothing to get too worried about. Not only does it help no one, but also it doesn’t hurt anyone.

This strikes me as mistaken. I’ll try to articulate why in terms of the distinction between negative and positive freedom I’ve been exploring. Here goes.

First, I agree that the HQRA helps no one.  But it’s not just that the HQRA is redundant — though this is certainly true. It’s also that it doesn’t allow us to do anything more to demonstrate our accountability, as I think the Broader Impacts Criterion does. In other words, it doesn’t increase anyone’s positive freedom.

Second, it actually decreases our negative freedom. By requiring NSF to re-certify what the merit review process already certifies (at least when it’s working as designed), this ‘added layer of accountability’ actually just increases the kind of bureaucratic red tape we should be trying to decrease if we’re interested in an efficient government. This makes about as much sense as the Florida Blue Ribbon Task Force’s suggestion to charge more for classes in majors that supposedly won’t result in better jobs for graduates. Majors that result in higher paying jobs actually should be in greater demand, and so should cost more, not less. But not according to the Blue Ribbon Task Force (see pp 22-3).

Finally, I think the HQRA might be a case study in how to reconcile notions of positive and negative freedom — or at least how to think of both ideas of liberty as possibly working together. It’s sort of a test. Sometimes, a policy that might increase our positive freedom can be seen as decreasing our negative freedom. I think the NSF’s Broader Impacts Criterion is a case in point. Yes, it places an additional burden on researchers, and so in this sense it is a limitation on their negative freedom. But it also increases their positive freedom, so that a trade-off is possible. The HQRA, on the other hand, decreases our negative freedom without also increasing our positive freedom. Any policy that doesn’t increase either our positive or our negative freedom is highly questionable — or so I am suggesting.

Will The High Quality Research Act Diminish Our Collective Cognitive Dissonance?

I plan to follow up on David’s post and Dan’s argument in Nature, soon. Until then, enjoy this!

Pasco Phronesis

The High Quality Research Act is a draft bill from Representative Lamar Smith, Chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.  Still not officially introduced, it has prompted a fair amount of teeth gnashing and garment rending over what it might mean.  The bill would require the Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to certify that the research it funds would: serve the national interests, be of the highest quality, and is not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the federal government.  The bill would also prompt a study to see how such requirements could be implemented in other federal science agencies.

There’s a lot there to explore, including how the bill fits into recent inquiries about specific research grants made by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the NSF.  (One nice place to check on this is the AmericanScience team blog.)


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Altmetrics for the Nature correspondence on negative metrics of impact


Article details.

We need negative metrics, too / Nature

Keith Brown, Kelli Barr, and I have a short piece published in the new issue of Nature.

The correspondence also contains a link to a slightly revised version of our original submission. Since Nature keeps everything behind a pay wall, here is that link.

Very interested in hearing everyone’s thoughts on the idea that seemingly negative events could be turned to indicate positive impact.

Impact from beyond the grave: how to ensure impact grows greater with the demise of the author | Impact of Social Sciences

We all know — don’t we? — that our H-index can only grow with the passage of time. But Geoffrey Alderman has a plan, an impact plan, to ensure that our impact keeps growing in other ways, as well.

This is funny, and I’m sure Professor Alderman is poking fun at the very idea of impact. Nevertheless, there’s a serious angle to this. Many of us, whether we want to admit it or not, are involved in academia in an effort to change the world. And many of us are well aware that we may have to wait to be born posthumously, as Nietzsche said.

In any case, while we play the long game, it’s nice to have diversions such as this, occasionally:

Impact from beyond the grave: how to ensure impact grows greater with the demise of the author | Impact of Social Sciences.


Gay Rights Rally Is Attacked in Georgia – NYTimes.com

“We are trying to protect our orthodoxy, not to let anyone to wipe their feet on our faith,” said Manana Okhanashvili. “We must not allow them to have a gay demonstration here.”

via Gay Rights Rally Is Attacked in Georgia – NYTimes.com.

I have a few things to say about this. First, shame on all of y’all (including myself) who assumed this was the state of Georgia, USA.

Second, people who use religion as justification for hate ought to rethink the whole thing. Really, you have no sense of shame, so shame on you for that.

Finally, I actually redacted the quote, above, from the NT Times. Here it is in its entirety, with the part I previously omitted in bold:

“We are trying to protect our orthodoxy, not to let anyone to wipe their feet on our faith,” said Manana Okhanashvili, in a head scarf and long skirt. “We must not allow them to have a gay demonstration here.”

Now, what conclusion are we supposed to draw from that snippet? That Manana Okhanashvili is a religious zealot? I think we got that from the words and actions. Let’s stop feeding into stereotypes by judging people by the clothes they wear, ok, NYT? Or did I misunderstand the true necessity of that bit of detail?

Don’t Go to Grad School | LinkedIn

Don’t Go to Grad School | LinkedIn.

This is definitely worth reading — and thinking about very carefully.

Fracking policy

Comments now open on proposed policy to allow more fracking on public lands.

A call for the philosopher librarian

This is a reblog of something I originally posted here. Thinking of the philosopher-technologist today recalled it to mind.

Librarian Dave Puplett discusses the role of the librarian.

Academics must be applauded for making a stand by boycotting Elsevier. It’s time for librarians to join the conversation on the future of dissemination, but not join the boycott. | Impact of Social Sciences.

Interesting to view the librarian as midwife — very Socratic. At the Center for the Study of Interdisciplinarity (CSID), we’ve discussed the possibility of the philosopher bureaucrat before, along with what constitutes ‘real’ philosophy. What about the philosopher librarian?

A librarian should be well positioned to affect scholarly communication — for instance, she may well be involved with  Open Access policies, such as the one we recently adopted  at UNT, or be an advocate for them at her institution.

In the latter situation, the librarian will have to convince the university community that an Open Access policy is in the university’s interest. In the former situation, unless the existing policy is mandatory, it will be up to the librarian not only to disseminate information about the policy to the researchers at the institution, but also to make a case that those researchers ought to participate. In other words, the librarian will have to be able to construct an effective argument — the classic skill of the philosopher. Either the librarian will have to become a philosopher, or a philosopher will have to become the librarian.

For our other posts on Open Access, click here.

Philosopher Technologists

So, I found Amber today on Twitter. I forget exactly how. Anyway, she was, or so I thought, an IT person saying philosophically interesting things. Now, she has revealed that, in fact, SHE’S A PHILOSOPHER! I should have known.

fragments of amber

I’ve been thinking a lot about how my philosophy degree has shaped my thinking, and how many people I meet in my workworld that have philosophy degrees. In fact I was discussing that with David Mossley  just recently.

I’ve been forming a little theory about why that is, and this evening I just read a post by Professor Peter Bradley, a philosopher about why there are not very many visible philosophers in the “digital humanities” field. It didn't quite match my perception of the digital space, so I got to thinking I might write this post after all.

Way back I heard an episode of the Infinite Monkey Cage on BBC Radio 4, where they were debating philosophers vs scientists. It struck me as rather a “what did the philosophers ever do for us”? question.

In everyday language, philosophy is seen as:

  • Complacent: being philosophical about it =…

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