Ahead of the Curve // John J. Reilly Center // University of Notre Dame

Ahead Of The Curve: Anticipating Ethical, Legal, and Societal Issues Posed by Emerging Weapons Technologies

April 22-23, 2014

University of Notre Dame

“Ahead of the Curve” will provide a forum to discuss the “action-oriented” chapters of the soon-to-be-released National Academy of Science’s report, “Emerging and Readily Available Technologies and National Security.” The report was commissioned by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in order to begin a discussion about the conduct and applications of research on military technology as well as their unforseen and inadvertant consequences. Speakers will include members of the NAS committee that wrote the report, along with distinguished experts on the ethics, law, and social impacts of new weapons technologies and representatives of agencies and organizations that are home to cutting-edge weapons research. Presentations will address the ethical, legal, and societal issues that policy makers, researchers, and industries need to anticipate as new technologies arise, specifically in fields such as robotics, autonomous systems, prosthetics and human enhancement, cyber weapons, information warfare technologies, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology. Our primary goal is to help government agencies, institutions, and researchers grow the expertise necessary for early and continuing engagement with the ethical, legal, and societal implications of new weapons technologies as they are planned and developed. We also aim to generate a broad public audience for the NAS report, this being an area in which public education is necessary, as is elevating the level of factually well-informed, public discourse.

via Ahead of the Curve // John J. Reilly Center // University of Notre Dame.

Measuring the Impacts of Science | AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy

I’m looking forward to moderating a panel on day 1 of the AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy.

2:00 Current Issues in S&T Policy (Breakout Sessions) 
(A) Measuring the Impacts of Science   
• What are the policy relevant challenges, tools, and approaches to measuring the social impact of scientific research? • How can improved indicators capture change in science, technology, and innovation? • Are altmetrics the solution to measuring social impacts? 
Moderator: J. Britt Holbrook, Visiting Assistant Professor, School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology; and Member, AAAS Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility
Kaye Husbands Fealing, Professor, Center for Science, Technology and Environmental Policy, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota; Senior Study Director, National Academy of Sciences, Committee on National Statistics; and Member, AAAS Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy
Gil Omenn, Director, Center for Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics, University of Michigan
Mike Taylor, Research Specialist, Elsevier Labs


How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science | Randy Schekman | Comment is free | The Guardian

These journals aggressively curate their brands, in ways more conducive to selling subscriptions than to stimulating the most important research. Like fashion designers who create limited-edition handbags or suits, they know scarcity stokes demand, so they artificially restrict the number of papers they accept. The exclusive brands are then marketed with a gimmick called \”impact factor\” – a score for each journal, measuring the number of times its papers are cited by subsequent research. Better papers, the theory goes, are cited more often, so better journals boast higher scores. Yet it is a deeply flawed measure, pursuing which has become an end in itself – and is as damaging to science as the bonus culture is to banking.

via How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science | Randy Schekman | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Thanks to my colleague Diana Hicks for pointing this out to me.

The last line of the quotation strikes me as the most interesting point, one that deserves further development. The steering effect of metrics is well known (Weingart 2005). There’s growing resistance to the Journal Impact Factor. Although the persuasive comparison between researchers and bankers is itself over the top, the last line suggests — at least to me — a better way to critique the reliance on the Journal Impact Factor, as well as other attempts to measure research. It’s a sort of reverse Kant with an Illichian flavor, which I will formulate as a principle here, provided that everyone promises to keep in mind my attitude toward principles.

Here is one formulation of the principle: Measure researchers only in ways that recognize them as autonomous agents, never merely as means to other ends.

Here is another: Never treat measures as ends in themselves.

Once measures, which are instruments to the core, take on a life of their own, we have crossed the line that Illich calls the second watershed. That the Journal Impact Factor has in fact crossed that line is the claim made in the quote, above, though not using Illich’s language. The question we should be asking is how researchers can manage measures, rather than how we can measure researchers in order to manage them.

Peter Weingart. Impact of bibliometrics upon the science system: Inadvertent consequences? Scientometrics Vol. 62, No. 1 (2005) 117-131.

Peter Higgs: I wouldn’t be productive enough for today’s academic system | Science | The Guardian

To what degree is quantity being substituted for quality in today’s research assessment exercises? This strikes me as a symptom of the overvaluation of efficiency.

Higgs said he became \”an embarrassment to the department when they did research assessment exercises\”. A message would go around the department saying: \”Please give a list of your recent publications.\” Higgs said: \”I would send back a statement: \’None.\’ \”

via Peter Higgs: I wouldn't be productive enough for today's academic system | Science | The Guardian.

Thanks to Lance Weihmuller for pointing me to the article.

Where are the senior women in STEM? | Dawn Bazely

So, here\’s the thing: I\’m a female Biology professor, and when I was an undergraduate (1977-81 UofT), there were more or less 50:50 male to female students in my classes. This bottom-up input of women into Biology has been happening for decades. So, thirty years on, where are the other female Full Professors? In fact, where are the senior women in the government, industry and even in Biology-related NGOs?

via Where are the senior women in STEM? | Dawn Bazely.

Lethal Autonomous Robots (“Killer Robots”) | Center for Ethics & Technology | Georgia Institute of Technology | Atlanta, GA

Lethal Autonomous Robots (\”Killer Robots\”)

Monday, 18 November 2013 05:00 pm to 07:00 pm EST


Global Learning Center (in Tech Square), room 129

WATCH the simultaneously streamed WEBCAST at: 


Debate and Q&A for both

Lethal Autonomous Robots (LARs) are machines that can decide to kill. Such a technology has the potential to revolutionize modern warfare and more. The need for understanding LARs is essential to decide whether their development and possible deployment should be regulated or banned. Are LARs ethical?

via Lethal Autonomous Robots ("Killer Robots") | Center for Ethics & Technology | Georgia Institute of Technology | Atlanta, GA.

Apparently NSF Grant Applicants Still Allergic To Broader Impacts

Pasco Phronesis

The Consortium of Social Science Associations held its Annual Colloquium on Social And Behavioral Sciences and Public Policy earlier this week.  Amongst the speakers was Acting National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Cora Marrett.* As part of her remarks, she addressed how the Foundation was implementing the Coburn Amendment, which added additional criteria to funding political science research projects through NSF.

The first batch of reviews subject to these new requirements tookplace in early 2013.  In addition to the usual criteria of intellectual merit and broader impacts, the reviewers looked at the ‘most meritorious’ proposals and examined how they contribute to economic development and/or national security.  For the reviews scheduled for early 2014, all three ‘criteria’ will be reviewed at once.

Since researchers don’t like to be told what to do, they aren’t happy.  But Marrett asserts through her remarks that this additional review will not really affect the…

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