What does it mean to prepare for life in ‘Humanity 2.0’?

Francis Rememdios has organized a session at the 4S Annual Meeting in which he, David Budtz Pedersen, and I will serve as critics of Steve Fuller’s book Preparing for Life in Humanity 2.0. We’ll be live tweeting as much as possible during the session, using the hashtag #humanity2 for those who want to follow. There is also a more general #4s2013 that should be interesting to follow for the next few days.

Here are the abstracts for our talks:

Humanity 2.0, Synthetic Biology, and Risk Assessment

Francis Remedios, Social Epistemology Editorial Board member

As a follow-up to Fuller’s Humanity 2.0, which is concerned with the impact of biosciences and nanosciences on humanity, Preparing for Life in Humanity 2.0 provides a more detailed analysis. Possible futures are discussed are: the ecological, the biomedical and the cybernetic. In the Proactionary Imperative, Fuller and Lipinska aver that for the human condition, the proactionary principle, which is risk taking, is an essential part should be favored over the precautionary principle, which is risk aversion. In terms of policy and ethics, which version of risk assessment should be used for synthetic biology, a branch of biotechnology? With synthetic biology, life is created from inanimate material. Synthetic biology has been dubbed life 2.0. Should one principle be favored over the other?

The Political Epistemology of Humanity 2.0
David Budtz Pedersen, Center for Semiotics, Aarhus University
In this paper I confront Fuller’s conception of Humanity 2.0 with the techno-democratic theories of Fukuyama (2003) and Rawls (1999). What happens to democratic values such as inclusion, rule of law, equality and fairness in an age of technology intensive output-based policymaking? Traditional models of input democracy are based on the moral intuition that the unintended consequences of natural selection are undeserved and call for social redress and compensation. However, in humanity 2.0 these unintended consequences are turned into intended as an effect of bioengineering and biomedical intervention. This, I argue, leads to an erosion of the natural luck paradigm on which  standard theories of distributive justice rest. Hence, people can no longer be expected to recognize each other as natural equals. Now compare this claim to Fuller’s idea that the welfare state needs to reassure the collectivization of burdens and benefits of radical scientific experimentation. Even if this might energize the welfare system and deliver a new momentum to the welfare state in an age of demographic change, it is not clear on which basis this political disposition for collectivizing such scientific benefits rests. In short, it seems implausible that the new techno-elites, that has translated the unintended consequence of natural selection into intended, will be convinced of distributing the benefits of scientific experiments to the wider society. If the biosubstrate of the political elite is radically different in terms of intelligence, life expectancy, bodily performance etc. than those disabled, it is no longer clear what the basis of redistribution and fairness should be. Hence, I argue that important elements of traditional democracy are still robust and necessary to vouch for the legitimacy of humanity 2.0.
Fuller’s Categorical Imperative: The Will to Proaction
J. Britt Holbrook, Georgia Institute of Technology
Two 19th century philosophers – William James and Friedrich Nietzsche – and one on the border of the 18th and 19th centuries – Immanuel Kant – underlie Fuller’s support for the proactionary imperative as a guide to life in ‘Humanity 2.0’. I make reference to the thought of these thinkers (James’s will to believe, Nietzsche’s will to power, and Kant’s categorical imperative) in my critique of Fuller’s will to proaction. First, I argue that, despite a superficial resemblance, James’s view about the risk of uncertainty does not map well onto the proactionary principle. Second, however, I argue that James’s notion that our epistemological preferences reveal something about our ‘passional nature’ connects with Nietzsche’s idea of the will to power in a way that allows us to diagnose Fuller’s ‘moral entrepreneur’ as revelatory of Fuller’s own  ‘categorical imperative’. But my larger critique rests on the connection between Fuller’s thinking and that of Wilhelm von Humboldt. I argue that Fuller accepts not only Humboldt’s ideas about the integration of research and education, but also – and this is the main weakness of Fuller’s position – Humboldt’s lesser recognized thesis about the relation between knowledge and society. Humboldt defends the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake on the grounds that this is necessary to benefit society. I criticize this view and argue that Fuller’s account of the public intellectual as an agent of distributive justice is inadequate to escape the critique of the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.

PLOS Biology: Expert Failure: Re-evaluating Research Assessment

Do what you can today; help disrupt and redesign the scientific norms around how we assess, search, and filter science.

via PLOS Biology: Expert Failure: Re-evaluating Research Assessment.

You know, I’m generally in favor of this idea — at least of the idea that we ought to redesign our assessment of research (science in the broad sense). But, as one might expect when speaking of design, the devil is in the details. It would be disastrous, for instance, to throw the baby of peer review out with the bathwater of bias.

I touch on the issue of bias in peer review in this article (coauthored with Steven Hrotic). I suggest that attacks on peer review are attacks on one of the biggest safeguards of academic autonomy here (coauthored with Robert Frodeman). On the relation between peer review and the values of autonomy and accountability, see: J. Britt Holbrook (2010). “Peer Review,” in The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity, Robert Frodeman, Julie Thompson Klein, Carl Mitcham, eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 321-32 and J. Britt Holbrook (2012). “Re-assessing the science – society relation: The case of the US National Science Foundation’s broader impacts merit review criterion (1997 – 2011),” in Peer Review, Research Integrity, and the Governance of Science – Practice, Theory, and Current Discussions. Robert Frodeman, J. Britt Holbrook, Carl Mitcham, and Hong Xiaonan. Beijing: People’s Publishing House: 328 – 62. 

Developing Metrics for the Evaluation of Individual Researchers – Should Bibliometricians Be Left to Their Own Devices?

So, I am sorry to have missed most of the Atlanta Conference on Science and Innovation Policy. On the other hand, I wouldn’t trade my involvement with the AAAS Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility for any other academic opportunity. I love the CSFR meetings, and I think we may even be able to make a difference occasionally. I always leave the meetings energized and thinking about what I can do next.

That said, I am really happy to be on my way back to the ATL to participate in the last day of the Atlanta Conference. Ismael Rafols asked me to participate in a roundtable discussion with Cassidy Sugimoto and him (to be chaired by Diana Hicks). Like I’d say ‘no’ to that invitation!

The topic will be the recent discussions among bibliometricians of the development of metrics for individual researchers. That sounds like a great conversation to me! Of course, when I indicated to Ismael that I was bascially against the idea of bibliometricians coming up with standards for individual-level metrics, Ismael laughed and said the conversation should be interesting.

I’m not going to present a paper; just some thoughts. But I did start writing on the plane. Here’s what I have so far:

Bibliometrics are now increasingly being used in ways that go beyond their design. Bibliometricians are now increasingly asking how they should react to such unintended uses of the tools they developed. The issue of unintended consequences – especially of technologies designed with one purpose in mind, but which can be repurposed – is not new, of course. And bibliometricians have been asking questions – ethical questions, but also policy questions – essentially since the beginning of the development of bibliometrics. If anyone is sensitive to the fact that numbers are not neutral, it is surely the bibliometricians.

This sensitivity to numbers, however, especially when combined with great technical skill and large data sets, can also be a weakness. Bibliometricians are also aware of this phenomenon, though perhaps to a lesser degree than one might like. There are exceptions. The discussion by Paul Wouters, Wolfgang Glänzel, Jochen Gläser, and Ismael Rafols regarding this “urgent debate in bibliometrics,” is one indication of such awareness. Recent sessions at ISSI in Vienna and STI2013 in Berlin on which Wouters et al. report are other indicators that the bibliometrics community feels a sense of urgency, especially with regard to the question of measuring the performance of individual researchers.

That such questions are being raised and discussed by bibliometricians is certainly a positive development. One cannot fault bibliometricians for wanting to take responsibility for the unintended consequences of their own inventions. But one – I would prefer to say ‘we’ – cannot allow this responsibility to be assumed only by members of the bibliometrics community.

It’s not so much that I don’t want to blame them for not having thought through possible other uses of their metrics — holding them to what Carl Mitcham calls a duty plus respicare: to take more into account than the purpose for which something was initially designed. It’s that I don’t want to leave it to them to try to fix things. Bibliometricians, after all, are a disciplinary community. They have standards; but I worry they also think their standards ought to be the standards. That’s the same sort of naivety that got us in this mess in the first place.

Look, if you’re going to invent a device someone else can command (deans and provosts with research evaluation metrics are like teenagers driving cars), you ought at least to have thought about how those others might use it in ways you didn’t intend. But since you didn’t, don’t try to come in now with your standards as if you know best.

Bibliometrics are not the province of bibliometricians anymore. They’re part of academe. And we academics need to take ownership of them. We shouldn’t let administrators drive in our neighborhoods without some sort of oversight. We should learn to drive ourselves so we can determine the rules of the road. If the bibliometricians want to help, that’s cool. But I am not going to let the Fordists figure out academe for me.

With the development of individual level bibliometrics, we now have the ability — and the interest — to own our own metrics. What we want to avoid at all costs is having metrics take over our world so that they end up steering us rather than us driving them. We don’t want what’s happened with the car to happen with bibliometrics. What we want is to stop at the level at which bibliometrics of individual researchers maximize the power and creativity of individual researchers. Once we standardize metrics, it makes it that much easier to institutionalize them.

It’s not metrics themselves that we academics should resist. ‘Impact’ is a great opportunity, if we own it. But by all means, we should resist the institutionalization of standardized metrics. A first step is to resist their standardization.

Coming soon …

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– Featuring nearly 200 entirely new entries

– All entries revised and updated

– Plus expanded coverage of engineering topics and global perspectives

– Edited by J. Britt Holbrook and Carl Mitcham, with contributions from consulting ethics centers on six continents

Blue skies, impacts, and peer review | RT. A Journal on Research Policy and Evaluation

This paper describes the results of a survey regarding the incorporation of societal impacts considerations into the peer review of grant proposals submitted to public science funding bodies. The survey investigated perceptions regarding the use of scientific peers to judge not only the intrinsic scientific value of proposed research, but also its instrumental value to society. Members of the scientific community have expressed – some more stridently than others – resistance to the use of such societal impact considerations. We sought to understand why. Results of the survey suggest that such resistance may be due to a lack of desire rather than a lack of confidence where judging impacts is concerned. In other words, it may be less that scientists feel unable to judge broader societal impacts and more that they are unwilling to do so.

Blue skies, impacts, and peer review | Holbrook | RT. A Journal on Research Policy and Evaluation.

SPARC Innovator Award | SPARC

There is something very appealing about the simplicity of using a single number to indicate the worth of a scientific paper.

But a growing group of scientists, publishers, funders, and research organizations are increasingly opposed to the broad use of the Journal Impact Factor (JIF) as the sole measure used to assess research and researchers.

 

SPARC Innovator Award | Sparc.

Open Access and Its Enemies, Redux

I don’t have time to be doing this, but it’s important. Making time is a state of mind — as, claims Cameron Neylon, is ‘Open’:

Being open as opposed to making open resources (or making resources open) is about embracing a particular form of humility. For the creator it is about embracing the idea that – despite knowing more about what you have done than any other person –  the use and application of your work is something that you cannot predict.

There’s a lot to unpack, even in this short excerpt from Neylon’s post. Whether, for instance, the idea of ‘humility’ is captured by being open to unintended applications of ones work — surely that’s part, but only part, of being open — deserves further thought. But I really do think Cameron is on to something with the idea that being open entails a sort of humility.

To see how, it’s instructive to read through Robin Osborne’s post on ‘Why open access makes no sense‘:

For those who wish to have access, there is an admission cost: they must invest in the education prerequisite to enable them to understand the language used. Current publication practices work to ensure that the entry threshold for understanding my language is as low as possible. Open access will raise that entry threshold. Much more will be downloaded; much less will be understood.

There’s a lot to unpack here, as well.  There’s a sort of jiujitsu going on in this excerpt that requires that one is at least familiar with — if it is not one’s characteristic feeling — the feeling that no one will ever understand. What is obvious, however, is Osborne’s arrogance: there is a price to be paid to understand me, and open access will actually raise that price.

In my original talk on “Open Access and Its Enemies” I traced one source of disagreement about open access to different conceptions of freedom. Those with a negative concept of freedom are opposed to any sort of open access mandates, for instance, while those appealing to a positive concept of freedom might accept certain mandates as not necessarily opposed to their freedom. There may be exceptions, of course, but those with a positive concept of freedom tend to accept open access, while those with a negative view of freedom tend to oppose it. The two posts from Neylon and Osborne reveal another aspect of what divides academics on the question of open access — a different sense of self.

For advocates of humility, seeing our selves as individuals interferes with openness. In fact, it is only in contrast to those who view the self as an individual that the appeal to humility makes sense. The plea is that they temper their individualistic tendencies, to humble their individual selves in the service of our corporate self.   For advocates of openness, the self is something that really comes about only through interaction with others.

Advocates of elitism acknowledge that the social bond is important. But it is not, in itself, constitutive of the self. On the contrary, the self is what persists independently of others, whether anyone else understands us or not. Moreover, understanding me — qua individual — requires that you — qua individual — discipline yourself, learn something, be educated. Indeed, to become a self in good standing with the elite requires a certain self-abnegation — but only for a time, and only until one can re-assert oneself as an elite individual. Importantly, self-abnegation is a temporary stop on the way to full self-realization.

Self-sacrifice is foreign to both of the advocate of humility and the advocate of elitism, I fear. Yet it is only through self-sacrifice that communication is possible. Self-sacrifice doesn’t dissolve the individual self completely into the corporate self. Nor does self-sacrifice recognize temporary self-abnegation on the road to self-assertion as the path to communication. Self-sacrifice takes us beyond both, in that it requires that we admit that content is never what’s communicated. A self with a truly open mindset would have to be able to experience this.  Alas, no one will ever understand me!

 

Andy Stirling on why the precautionary principle matters | Science | guardian.co.uk

SPRU Professor Andy Stirling is beginning a series in The Guardian on the precautionary principle. Stirling’s first article paints an optimistic picture:

Far from the pessimistic caricature, precaution actually celebrates the full depth and potential for human agency in knowledge and innovation. Blinkered risk assessment ignores both positive and negative implications of uncertainty. Though politically inconvenient for some, precaution simply acknowledges this scope and choice. So, while mistaken rhetorical rejections of precaution add further poison to current political tensions around technology, precaution itself offers an antidote – one that is in the best traditions of rationality. By upholding both scientific rigour and democratic accountability under uncertainty, precaution offers a means to help reconcile these increasingly sundered Enlightenment cultures.

via Why the precautionary principle matters | Andy Stirling | Science | guardian.co.uk.

Stirling’s work on the precautionary principle is some of the best out there, and Adam Briggle and I cite him in our working paper on the topic. I look forward to reading the rest of Stirling’s series. Although I’m a critic of the Enlightenment, I don’t reject it wholesale. In fact, I think rational engagement with the thinkers of the Enlightenment — and some of its most interesting heirs, including Stirling and Steve Fuller, who’s a proponent of proaction over precaution — is important. So, stay tuned for more!

Science, Freedom, and the American Way | iCHSTM 2013 blog

Conferences, lecture tours, exchange programs, textbook translations, and science clubs promoted the idea that science functions best without government oversight. More than a vague postwar ideology, this was official U.S. policy, both at home and abroad. Of course, in reality, U.S. investments in applied R&D, particularly for military applications, dwarfed funding for basic research by several orders of magnitude, but this fact did not deter American science attachés, State Department science advisors, embassy officials, and other low-level diplomats from actively promoting a vision of science that stressed independent, undirected scientific research.

But with the end of the Cold War, scientific self-governance no longer packs the same ideological punch. Appeals to scientific freedom are comfortable and familiar, but they’re not going to save the NSF.

via Science, Freedom, and the American Way | iCHSTM 2013 blog.

NISO to Develop Standards and Recommended Practices for Altmetrics – National Information Standards Organization

Can we talk about this? Or if I suggest standards are a double-edged sword, will no one listen?

“For altmetrics to move out of its current pilot and proof-of-concept phase, the community must begin coalescing around a suite of commonly understood definitions, calculations, and data sharing practices,” states Todd Carpenter, NISO Executive Director. “Organizations and researchers wanting to apply these metrics need to adequately understand them, ensure their consistent application and meaning across the community, and have methods for auditing their accuracy. We must agree on what gets measured, what the criteria are for assessing the quality of the measures, at what granularity these metrics are compiled and analyzed, how long a period the altmetrics should cover, the role of social media in altmetrics, the technical infrastructure necessary to exchange this data, and which new altmetrics will prove most valuable. The creation of altmetrics standards and best practices will facilitate the community trust in altmetrics, which will be a requirement for any broad-based acceptance, and will ensure that these altmetrics can be accurately compared and exchanged across publishers and platforms.”

“Sensible, community-informed, discipline-sensitive standards and practices are essential if altmetrics are to play a serious role in the evaluation of research,” says Joshua M. Greenberg, Director of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Digital Information Technology program. “With its long history of crafting just such standards, NISO is uniquely positioned to help take altmetrics to the next level.”

NISO to Develop Standards and Recommended Practices for Altmetrics – National Information Standards Organization.

The post on Snowflake Indicators is coming …