Thursday, May 19, 2011

Science in a Digital Society

Will the implications of postnormal situations also change the very nature of science, of the production of knowledge? Participants of the recent Hamburg workshop on "postnormal science: the case of climate science" were undecided on this question. The workshop  "Science in a Digital Society", which currently takes place in Lisbon, is based on the assumption that ICT (information & communication technologies) definitely will alter the ways knowledge will be produced. On the second Lisbon workshop this year, funded by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commision and the Gulbenkian Foundation, the answer is yes, science will change. Its program says (all quotes are from the workshop abstract):
 The workshop proposes to explore in an anticipatory mode how ICT technologies and their future developments will affect the conduct of scientific research in the future.

Postnormal science wouldn’t exist without ICT. Its ICT that trigger change, and it will change our understanding of science:

We have come a long way from the popular image of the Scientist as a lone bespectacled white male in a white lab-coat holding up a test-tube to the light and realising that he has discovered the cure for cancer. Science has become a major social institution, providing support to established institutions and intimately connected to underlying ideologies that hold society together. Along with its great benefits, it produces errors, some of them may lead to harmful situations; as an institution science shares the challenges and pathologies of the societies in which it is embedded. Science was once promising certainty and power on the basis of its valuefree discoveries. Today, in this post-normal age, it has to cope with uncertain facts and disputed values in the face of high stakes and urgent policy decisions. The social responsibilities of science and of scientists become ever more challenging in this new digital age.

In his opening words, Jerry Ravetz reminded the audience that in the 15th century Portugal was the center of navigation science. Science as a social activity is permanently changing it places and forms. In recent times, we experienced the transition from academic science to big industry science, and currently we see the transition from postnormal science to digital science:

Science is also changing very rapidly in its practice and self-awareness. While there are still some prestigious and vital ‘free’ sectors of science, the institution as a whole is now firmly ‘industrialised’, both its the scale of operation and in the tightness of its relations with commerce and the State. But whereas ‘big science’ once aimed at controlling of matter and energy, science in the digital age is largely defined by the emerging technologies of information. A deeper embedding of science in the society is no longer a utopian dream and is, today, naturally unfolding through new forms of learning, sharing, debating, contestation and even healthy exposure enabled by emerging digital technologies. These will create new relations of power, exploitation, consciousness and protest as they affect science.

The workshop is dedicated to Silvio Funtowicz, who has reached the age of retirement. It is amazing to see how his and Jerry Ravetz' concept of postnormal science suddenly is in the center of overall attention. New models of participation; citizen’s science; new ways of democratic decision making; access to knowledge for formerly excluded groups; wiki-encyclopedias and so on – the list is almost endless. Change is happening, no matter we find it good or not. The concept of postnormal science turns out to be indeed a great tool to check the reality of current science and to anticipate its future.


Hans Erren said...

In a digital society there is absolutely no excuse left to not publish complete data sets, methods an results.

Omitting even one item is like omitting a sentence in a mathematical proof: it renders it useless..

Hans von Storch said...

No more life reporting from the event?

Werner Krauss said...


Werner Krauss said...

Kaleidoscope of random notes from my Lisbon notebook. None of this is the responsibility of the workshop organizers, presenters or contributors. It's just stolen moments, thoughts, quotes.

What made us believe that peer-reviewed science has something to do with quality?

Science in peer-reviewed journals is linked towards the privatization of knowledge and not to knowledge as a public good.

Classical peer-review depends on trust (in a few boys); in digital peer review quality is relative.

One of the negative effects of Climategate is the fact that the IPCC is now too anxious to scout other forms of knowledge (as it is represented in non-peer reviewed literature).

There is a new book out called "How the hippies saved physics".

To ask "which forms of indigenous knowledge should we integrate" is already an arrogant gesture of power. Power to include and to exclude; power to define what reality is etc.

Science is a social activity. Academic science turned into big industry science; uncertainties turned science postnormal, and now we are in the age of digital science.

What happens when we move away from usual talk about problems; what happens when we take other forms of knowledge / expression seriously?

The future is already here; it is only distributed unevenly.

"Lisbon is my city"

Science is about naturalisation. Science says, in the end, everything can be reduced to nature and be explained by science.
Science ends conversation (or else asks for more funds). But science cannot explain completely why I love grandfather's watch. It can give partial explanations, but new question are legitimate.

Science loves disillusion:
You believe in God? I show you it's all crap.You believe in love? I show you it's all sex.

ICT is the key that turns the postnormal practical. Of course, the postnormal changes science itself.

"In Open-Source software development, Creative Commons property, and the whole Wiki
movement, new relations of property and governance emerge. The
hierarchical corporate command structure becomes diluted by networks of collaboration with fully-competent workers who also want to have fun." (J.Ravetz)

Of course, we want evidence based policy. Of course, we get policy based evidence.
(R & D started with eugenics)

We don't need better models; we need better ways to use models.

Achilles' heel of computer modelling: the TAO cannot be named.

Uncertainties are either amplified or down played.

1) uncertainty is not the opposite of quality
2) uncertainty acts in both ways; NGOs and producers; scientist and public.
3) find uncertainty before it finds you

Darwin / Spencer believed in the survival of the fittest. Kropotkin believed that evolution depends on mutual aid.

Everyone is in the knowledge game now.

There is something definitively wrong in the world of science.

Nuclear science / experts and risk: Harrisburg? Sellafield? Chernobyl? Fukushima? Some people remember, some forget.

Crazy mathematics are running the financial world.

There is slow food citizen's science and there is fast food citizen's science. You have to institutionalize quality control.

Science for the people’ could at last become a realistic programme. For some idea of what it could be like, we can think of the Reformation, enabled by the invention of cheap printing whereby every man could interpret the Bible and also think of publishing a pamphlet about it. (J. Ravetz)

The future as pattern recognition.

Sustainability is desirability: emergent property of the world we want to live in; sustainability is only partially informed by knowledge on ecological, practical, economic processes.

Landscape is story land. Low carbon worlds are story worlds.

Emergent cultures of the blogosphere.

As we have always done: taking the stars as reference.

Anonymous said...

Just as a negligible footnote -- since I don't believe it will change much and I think scientists (as is irritatingly mostly the case...(as far as we hear usually from the media)) got the ball rolling -- I just spent some more or less boring hours with the internet respectively on the fairly new GottiPlag-Wikia site (not to be confused with GuttenPlag-Wikia). There I could ask -- even with my poor skills both in English and in structuring -- some questions which will be perhaps answered sometimes by someone. But already I'm quite sure I was able to learn something -- by reading and doing. There are for sure more thrilling things to do with the internet than only looking if one can find sources or plagiarism. But even these activities are -- or can become -- a kind of quality control or quality assurance for sciences.

Scientists, watch out and be happy! You are not alone and there will be major breakthroughs, also without you at some time or another.

Hans Erren (#1), I think you stated it well, again.

Later perhaps more (from me).


Anonymous said...

Because the chance is relatively high that someone here can help me out of this "digital community," I allow myself one question: Does anyone have access to the "peer reviewed" International Journal of Global Energy Issues (IJGEI),* or can someone tell me whether the issue no. 4, Vol. 19 (IJGEI, 2003) is still on-line available (see f.ex. also Ingentaconnect)? (My budget is too small to buy that paper.) That is a paper by Hans W. Gottinger with the same title and abstract as Gottinger's working paper " Economic damage control for greenhouse gas emissions" (2001). The follow-up question is whether the published paper by IJGEI is of the same content as the working paper? The working paper is almost over the entire 13 pages identical to the paper "Indices for comparing greenhouse gas emissions: integrating science and economics" (1996) by Milind Kandlikar but obviously it is not considered as plagiarism (cf. f.ex. here).

* The refereed IJGEI was initiated in 1990 by UNESCO. It is currently produced with the cooperation of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (Energy Division), and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). The Board of Directors, among others, includes John P. Holdren and Rajendra K. Pachauri.


Anonymous said...

Hi SysOps,

please free my comment (May 24, 2011 8:29 PM) from the spam filter! (The comment includes further observations and follow-up questions to my comment number 5 above.)


My thoughts to comment number 4 above or the so-called peer review:

In sciences and especially in the "peer review" process of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) we can see some quite common but also awful myths (see f.ex. Donna Laframboise's pieces here or here).

I wonder whether a peer review process would be trustworthier if it is carried out anonymously altogether?

I tend to believe if all who are involved in the review process (from 2 to 3 -- or probably hundreds of -- people) would stay anonymous it would be perhaps more responsible -- at least perhaps better than a "one sided" or even an almost arbitrary handling like we can see it now in some cases. In my opinion it would be also more reliable (with less space for conspiracy theories) if all people would know each others identity.

I am convinced that when it it becomes "peer to peer" or "pal review" (think for instance of: "...but they have never asked for it...") the review process can be "hijacked", undermined or corrupted easily.

Perhaps "we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is !"?


Anonymous said...

Sorry, my bad!

The link for the working paper ("Economic Damage Control for Greenhouse Gas Emissions") cited in comment nr. 6 should be:
(I hope that link will work)

, and the working paper is apparently from May 1999

(and not 2001 (