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Science, Politics and Responsibility: An Agenda for the Governance of Innovation and Technology
FINAL DRAFT - COMMENTS, SUGGESTIONS OR FEEDBACK ARE KINDLY ENCOURAGED ()
"When we go from 'daily life' to scientific activity, from the man in the street to the man in the laboratory, from politics to expert opinion, we do not go from noise to quiet, from passion to reason, from heat to cold. We go from controversies to fiercer controversies" (Latour, 1987:30).
It is beyond the scope of this essay to provide ultimate and definitive answers about the governance of innovation and technology. However, in response to the call for comments conducted by Critstina Grasseni, we will try to explore the tensions surrounding this debate and suggest some definitions to help the reader go through the maze of conflicting interpretations, hoping that it would provide some elements that can stimulate further discussion and support a constructive debate about such controversial themes. We would first start by asking: to what extent is the debate surrounding the division of the responsibilities of science and politics an innovation for policy making and risk communication? And how can a constructive discussion about these themes improve democratic forms of consensus and deliberation over otherwise un-reconciliable domains?
The culprits of such debate have been a series of shocking news regarding both the authorship and the validity of some papers published in notorious scientific Journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine, and specialist magazines such as Nature, focussed on recent innovations in the field of biomedicine. However, already in 2002, the Committee on Assessing Integrity in Research Environments of the Institute of Medicine at the National Research Council of the United States, issued a report titled 'Integrity in Scientific Research: Creating an Environment That Promotes Responsible Conduct' which attempts to define and describe those elements that encourage individuals involved in scientific research to act with integrity.
Looking at the recent developments within one of the pillars of the welfare state (the health sector) it seems that, fours years after, the reach of these issues not only has become a locus of cogent political struggles in the United States, but also in Europe and in the developing world. The latest news regard a South Korean stem cell scientist, Hwang Woo Suk, who faked his research on stem cells (used for embryo cloning experiments). The various facets of the governance of scientific innovation, the role of experts and non-experts in such process and their responsibility in the translation of a powerful technology in innovation, have been the theme of a series of articles published on web-site of the Giannino Bassetti Foundation. These controversies in science and technology are increasingly framed as ethical and moral rather than as merely technical disputes, but then spark also grand political debates.
Governmentality and innovation
The debate which divides politicians and scientists all over Europe extends beyond these considerations, which, looking at their immediate political impact, questions not just which source of evidence should be considered as legitimate science (the question of who politicians should trust), but also what should be the system of values to apply when deciding upon the policies deemed to be most appropriate to deliberate on the social impact of these technologies. Therefore, policies and regulations regarding the social impact of new technologies, which aim to minimise the sources of potential risks or dangers these may cause, have more than one domain of application, but are particularly sensitive areas because concern the life and death of millions of individuals. Biomedicine is but one of the untested territories in the field of science and technology studies that is propagating the feeling of uncertainty and indeterminacy that typically accompanies the introduction of a radical innovation. Especially because it is difficult to predict what the long term effects will be on human health, but also in the ecosystem of our planet. Think also how the concerns regarding the validity of research being expressed here for the field of biomedicine may also apply for the fields of biotech, genetics, nanotech, and technologies of information and communication.
The possibility to define a role for science and indeed also of scientists in issues of interest for the well-being of society has shifted the focus of public opinion only on the external representation of a limited understanding of the scientific domain. Take the example of a pharmaceutical company filing for the approval of a new drug, who would doubt about the importance of applying a scientific rationality (and indeed great precaution) before bringing the drug to the attentions of the regulators, and only when it has been tested and considered safe? Patti Lather (2004) reminds us that in Focauldian terms, policy is one of three technologies of governmentality, the others being diplomatic/military and economic. Governmentality is associated to the concept of biopolitics, where the state intervenes at a distance (i.e. via regulation) in the striking attempt to balance such intervention with a liberal approach to politics. Such 'political arithmetic' (Foucault, 1998) makes particular kinds of discourse both possible and necessary.
The debate regarding the responsibility and involvement of scientists in such decisions (or better said those scientists that fail to abide to the principles of Science with the capital 'S') probably would be hard to explain to historians that wrote about the Enlightenment (a period marked by scientific and technological discovery) after the Dark Ages. Since then science has been a power engine of economic development, advancing the status of human knowledge and capacity contributing to innovations that have raised the living standards of the population. The list of inventions that have transformed or revolutionised people's everyday lives is endless. One needs just to look at the office space today as opposed to ten years ago to start noticing some remarkable differences. And of course this is only part of a longer history of continuous improvement upon pre-existing discoveries.
The artifacts of innovation surround us when we want to call our relatives or friends, book a flight or report a fault in one of our many gadgets. Such artifacts are, however, only the effect of a far more complex process of negotiation and confrontation between a diverse set of actors responsible for (or at least involved in) various degrees with their conceptualisation, design, development and production. Such actors belong to, as well as are part of, different and sometimes competing domains. From a Foucaldian perspective, what becomes of interest to disentangle their interaction is how such distinctions are created ('good' vs. 'bad'; 'responsible' vs. 'irresponsible') and upon which bases of knowledge do they build their authority. For simplicity, we can outline their agendas as related to Science, Politics and Technology.
Science, Politics and Technology
Distinguishing between Science, Politics and Technology leads to a different level of understanding the role between Science (with the capital 'S') and the politics of science, a particular area of scientific activity, which does not reflect the ideals upon which its aspiration is enacted within the fragmented existence of competing and conflicting communities. Beyond the ideal - Science - we find the existence of a 'varieties of science' hypothesis. In this context Politics is important because it defines who is important. However, Politics is not the same as 'policy', a more ambiguous term which can be used to refer to:
- Government, administration, the conduct of public affairs; political science;
- Political sagacity; prudence, skill, or consideration of expediency in the conduct of public affairs; statecraft, diplomacy; in bad sense, political cunning;
- A course of action adopted and pursued by a government, party, ruler, statesman, etc.; any course of action adopted as advantageous or expedient.
At this stage is thus important to make a further distinction between Science and Technology and especially their underlying objectives. By those who practice it, science can be considered a disinterested search for the pleasure of discovery, with the ambition to advance the status of human knowledge against the backdrop of ignorance which surrounds the sphere of knowledge of the laymen. Technology instead can be understood as expressing a different rationality, which is guided by an entirely different set of interests. In the Heideggerian conception, Technology can be interpreted as the construct of science, 'a power whose great role in determining history can hardly be over estimated' (Heidegger, 1976). Thus, when a reference to science is made, perhaps many consider 'scientific' the latter, not the former understanding which are sometimes confused in general discussions about this topic.
Unfortunately, it is not only a matter of academic debate because policies and regulations are based on definitions and are implemented as understood also by the (political) meaning which is assigned to them. A fascinating example of this case is made in an article regarding the level of safety of microwaves produced by mobile telephones. Interestingly, however tight or loose the definition of the level of acceptable exposure to the microwaves produced by mobile telephones, this does not seem to stop anyone from buying mobile telephones or reduce the growth rate of this sector, despite in some countries it already is a nearly saturated market. Despite the controversies, mobile phone sales worldwide have increased by nearly 150 million units sold in 2005 (21% more than the units sold in 2004) and the higher percentages of growth rates can be found in the fast developing areas of Latina America, Far and Middle East.
So there are indeed many ways to interpret the contours of the complex relationship existing in the space of interaction of science, politics and society. According to Richard A. Pielke (2002) a mutually reinforcing 'iron triangle' theory explains why science has become political. The theory can be briefly explained as follows: in a corner are the politicians, always careful about the opinions of their voters and generally seek to avoid the consequences of having to make a decision; in another are the scientists, which are empowered to provide policy answers with the funding they receive for their research; and in a third corner are interest groups and lobbies, which look for scientific evidence 'to provide a compelling justification for their political, societal, environmental or business goal'. Both precaution and responsibility apply to all of the groups identified by Pielke's colorful representation.
A British perspective on the governance of science
On the other hand, moving to another set of issues, these ideas do not necessarily apply to the whole of the scientific profession, and the generally accepted methodological prescriptions that can hold in a stable and predictable environment need not to apply when transitional activities are involved such as the definition of responsibilities in a new field of study or discipline. Acknowledging that also research is a human activity therefore means to understand first of all that researchers are human and therefore bring into the object of their investigation also their tacit knowledge, emotions, moral and political convictions that cannot immedialy be rationalised in methodological prescriptions. However, there are still relevant sources of risk that need to be taken into account both when evaluating as well as when producing research:
1. The risk of producing misleading information, previously mentioned in the Bassetti Foundation web-site by the name of the principle of precaution. This includes also the conflict of interests that could arise in conjunction with the definition of issues and terms may arise especially when setting regulations concerned with the level and standards of health and safety. 2. The potentially restrictive effects of method on criticality, alias the first step towards a responsible choice on behalf of the researcher to produce an account which is 'truth'. A responsibility towards putting aside a predictable set of values, beliefs and ideologies and engage with an unknown world.
We discussed some of these highly controversial ideas with Prof. Nikolas Rose director of BIOS ,a multidisciplinary research centre analysing the practice and implications of developments in bioscience, biomedicine, biotechnology and society at the London School of Economics. As he elegantly put it:
'What biotechnology, genetics and technologies of information and communication have in common is that have been introduced without the possibility to predict what the medium to long term implications would be. No one though that these innovations would have advanced humanity and make available new sources of knowledge in the way the Internet did. However, no one thought that it would also help pornographers or be used to make public the sequencing of the human genome'.
And suggests that: 'For instance I am my collaborators at BIOS are researching on the economic drivers underlying the development of some of these technologies. Last year we explored the role of enhancement technology, this year we are looking at biotechnology and biocapital. The extent to which many of the developments in this field are being driven by tight speculative investments are at the centre of our discussions. One can think of the intersection between, on one hand, the political, and on the other the powerful economic drivers, but there is a demand side as well. 10 years ago the idea of having a kidney transplant was a rather unusual intervention, but now that it is possible, there is a general view that there is a world shortage of kidneys. Everybody almost feel they have a right to a kidney 'on demand'. And because there is a technological innovation that has made it possible, it also created a market and the general idea that the body is a set of replaceable parts. Therefore, we need to break down the areas of impact of biotechnologies, such as the use of biotechnology in industrial processes, biomedicine or the agricultural sector. Each of these areas poses new questions of interest about what should be considered legitimate science, not just any science, but science with the capital 'S'. What I would stress is that the governance of science influences the future very heavily and it is not surprising that every European government has set up huge task forces to work out the effects of the introduction of these technologies. There is clearly some wish, some endeavor to govern these technologies and the future of science.'
The challenges ahead
One perhaps should also reflect about what the challenges ahead will be, especially for those countries which do not invest enough in education and research and in how to improve the mechanisms of ethical accountability at the nexus between science and politics. Such responsibility involves improving the goals of the governance of technological innovation. As a consequence, one may ask how could it be possible to advance the objectives of the Lisbon strategy, which envisioned a raise of the resources available to science and education capping a 4-5% of the budget of the European Union? And especially if the ambitious objective of becoming one of the most progressive societies based on knowledge is to be reached? In this context one of the greatest challenges consists in developing the 'know how' necessary for discovery to become innovation, which requires a network of expertise able to produce new cohesive forms of knowledge, alias its actualisation which generally results from the intertwining of discovery with actuating power (Bassetti, 2003). But because the framework of reference is not any longer merely national, but increasingly transnational, the forces that need to be combined in order to achieve that are based, on one hand, on the development of an educational system open to learning and on the a skilful combination of national, regional and international expertise.
Hence, the relevant question here is 'how can science be part of the political process and yet separate from its Technology? A recently published book titled 'Nature's Experts: Science, Politics, and the Environment' by Stephen Bocking (2004) addressed a somehow similar question. Written by an environmental scientist, it addresses a theme of interest to all those that have a stake in the debate about the history of science and its future delineation. He explains an important point with an insightful quote from Dorothy Nelkin (which we reproduce below):
"As scientists debate the various sides of political issues, their involvement undermines the assumptions about the objectivity of science, and these are precisely the assumptions that have given experts their power as the neutral arbiter of truth".
However, something is missing from both Pielke's triangle and Booking's account, something that can the triangle a square: citizens and consumers living in the emerging knowledge society, which are redefining the cotours of the governance, risk acceptance and responsibility of the processes of governance of scientific and technological innovations. Over the Internet, the number and of sources available to evaluate the credibility of scientific research, its health risks and political impact has increased exponentially in recent years. Suggesting the need of a new maturity and a new sense of accountability on the side of anyone who becomes involved in the process of decision making that will affect the choices of civil society. Perhaps another danger resulting from the way in which the problem of science, politics and responsibility is framed with regards to the governance of innovation leads to the understanding that it can be fixed merely as administrative issue.
Increased awareness and capacity on the side of previously excluded sections of society, are now calling for a new and overt role in the way in which previously closed and relatively unaccountable decisions were taken. The opportunity of greater participation in the context of the knowledge society reinforces the need to focus our attention on the constitution of appropriate mechanisms that can promote a new ethic of (political) responsibility in the way in which decisions affecting the sphere of human life and health may be taken. This understanding of the complex relationship animating the 'be sidedness' (to use the expression suggested by Mario Castellaneta, a reader of this Blog) between science and society is indicative of an emergent new paradigm of knowledge production and validation.
In such process, science is not anymore closed and unaccountable (the ivory tower referred to by Bassetti in his article on 'New Science and New Politics'). Having said that and with reference to the issues that have been addressed by the previous articles, is thus necessary to make an important distinction between Science, Technology and Politics and their underlying objectives without generalising the occurrence of exceptions. However, in the traditional duality expressed by the principle of precaution and the principle of responsibility my fear is that, as Chrisanthi Avgerou of the London School of Economics puts it, the more we are preoccupied with perfecting particular principles of research legitimacy, the more we stifle the possibility for critical debate across diverse socio-cultural settings and disciplines. In other words, the reason why such perspective may be of distinct quality that it is not appropriate for advancing knowledge in society, but that they advance too well knowledge that serves unquestioned social ends that may be of dubious political and moral status.
Richard Feynman, Noble prize winner in 1956 for quantum physics and a pioneer in nanotechnology, supported the idea that it was absolutely coherent to be uncertain and scientific at the same time. The freedom of doubt is what he considered to be one of the greatest achievements of science and in that responsibility towards society he saw a close relationship with the fundamental principle of democracy. Nevertheless, this would need to take into account also the new security environment after the terrorist attacks both in New York and in London and the necessity to balance the appropriate provision of public support for research (an administrative matter) without transforming at the same time such openness and the public availability of results, into weapons which may lead to catastrophic acts of terrorism (a do-it-yourself nuclear weapon). However difficult and unpopular this may prove to achieve, one should nevertheless consider the fruits that can result form having scientific knowledge available in the public domain. Helga Nowotny, chairwoman of the European Research Advisory Board of the European Commission says that such new paradigm is 'socially distributed, application-oriented, trans-disciplinary and subject to multiple accountabilities'. This is a timely issue to discuss as one of the challenges ahead, considering the imminent launch of the new European Framework Programme.
Investment in science remains an important prerequisite to promote innovation. However, innovation brings into play new forms of dangers or risks that civil society should debate openly. Balancing the views, interests and values of all the participants to innovation is what legitimises also the knowledge required to influence its path. Acknowledging these dynamics leads us to suggest the inclusion of a certain element of criticality in future policy initiatives. Giving immediate priority to frame the discussion in the political domain and to find a political answer that is sometimes escaped.
If politics is considered as the locus of reconciliation of ethical and economic dilemmas, which resolves the dispute in terms of equity rather than efficiency it is not necessarily true that involvement of science means to look only or primarily upon issues of administrative efficiency. Should the decision of the right of the level of minimal health care assistance be a political decision or a scientific one? Should in this case science be called to express an opinion, or a judgement? Will this be enough to avoid a political struggle between such two different rationalities? However, ethical and political studies are still 'scientific', although not necessarily in the term implicit in the realm of technocracy. The latter can be considered as an attempt to rationalise and deliberate on issues which cannot be rationalised without an increasing sense of responsibility on the side of those who have the responsibility to govern innovation.
In conclusion, we have tried to shed some light in the processes animating the debate about science, politics, responsibility and the governance of technological innovation. A quote from Giuseppe Longo seems appropriate to conclude this essay, hoping that it will be the beginning of a constructive debate: 'in order to populate the market the technology does not wait any longer for science and its patents of legitimacy'. It is also worthwhile reminding that the universal social value of science and research consists also in its reflexivity. An inward look to the process of discovery itself and not just an investigation of the world of innovation and against the universally preconceived values of method, is essential in what may be considered good science and good research. In doing so we have highlighted that in nearly all circumstances the way in which the term science is used is misleading without a proper definition and therefore it is perhaps appropriate not to define the debate in terms of governance of science or of politics, since that is not what reflects the responsibility of such governance according to the Heideggerian definition of Technology.
An extract from the Oxford English Dictionary about the definition of the term 'policy'
III. 8. attrib. and Comb., as (sense 5) policy decision, document, -maker, -making, statement; policy-making adj.; policy science (see quot. 1951); hence policy scientist. 1960 I. JEFFERIES Dignity & Purity iv. 66 Their purpose is the application of scientific method to policy decisions. 1964 GOULD & KOLB Dict. Soc. Sci. 510/1 Current interest centres on such questions as the nature of policy decisions... Policy decisions are contrasted, for instance, with judicial decisions by reference to the relatively greater freedom of choice in the former. 1974 S. GULLIVER Vulcan Bulletins 11 A policy decision had meant more careful buying. 1976 Burnham-on-Sea Gaz. 20 Apr., Mr Shore..can hardly have had time to read the policy documents before he was expected to stand up and defend them in the House. 1943 J. S. HUXLEY TVA xix. 137 The Board was always a policy-making body. 1946 Nature 9 Nov. 646/1 Authoritative information which those..at the policy-making or executive level might be expected to need. 1950 N.Y. Times 20 Apr. 1/3 The cataloging of persons eligible for policy-making positions would be..done without regard to their party affiliations. 1968 E. A. POWDRILL Vocab. Land Planning ii. 5 Policy~making and technique are a symbiosis, but it must be supported by wise and sound administration. 1951 H. D. LASSWELL in Lerner & Lasswell Policy Sciences i. 4/1 We may use the term 'policy sciences' for the purpose of designating the content of the policy orientation during any given period. The policy sciences includes (1) the methods by which the policy process is investigated, (2) the results of the study of policy, and (3) the findings of the disciplines making the most important contributions to the intelligence needs of the time. 1964 I. L. HOROWITZ New Sociology 30 Sociology cannot be a 'policy science' 1970 Nature 19 Sept. 1189/2 There will have to be changes in the ways in which 'prime television time' is allocated so that the policy scientists can have their say..when people are most likely to be glued to their television sets. 1979 Bull. Amer. Acad. Arts & Sci. Mar. 28 International consultants and policy scientists serve as the conveyors and preservers of these untested staff papers until their ideas, approaches, and methodologies develop a life of their own.
On the Governance of Scientific Innovation and the Avoidance of Irresponsibility (PART 2)
It is widely acknowledged that in a number of countries trust in political organisations has recently declined. Some are under attack as a result of their non-compliance with issues of representiveness and accountability, which in turn questions also their relevance and perceived impact in representation of the electorate. But if on one hand the process of economic globalisation inflicted a powerful 'shake up' within various levels of such organisations, it is the new principles operationalised in the framework of the knowledge society that highlights the maladies associated with them. Legitimacy and effectiveness tend to be established as a result of trust in the politics and institutions of democracy, which are not pre-determined and do not seem to "biopoliticise" the will of constituencies at the local level.
Therefore, what seems to be happening is indeed a fundamental realignment of the forces operating in society, government, science and technology (an atmosphere similar to the end of World War II or at the edge of the Cuban crisis of 1962). But the redefinition of the spaces of their governance cannot be captured solely by new forms of trickle-down rhetoric. In the knowledge society in the spotlight is the emergence of a global civil society movement, which redefines its influence on old and new areas of government activity. Similarly, in the definition of a space of debate (or a forum) about the appropriateness of technological innovations and the time span of their effects, it means that policy makers need to apply extra elements of precaution. For instance, the need to encourage investment in important areas of technological expertise in the attempt to promote social and welfare objectives should be weighted against the effects of an unrestraint focus on commercialisation and the benefits coming from supporting public university research.
Let us consider the following example to explain some of the mechanisms at work in redefining the space of scientific and technological governance. In the political arena, the biological life span of human beings is considered the longest term time horizon to formulate decisions on the risks and effects of the introduction of innovations such as Genetically Modified Organisms, making the effort to manage and control these risks bound by uncertainty at the outset. In such a setting no one can take any responsibility for the outcomes because none of those making decisions today will be anymore able to be held accountable for the side-effects that these innovations may have in the future. Nevertheless, an emerging trend sees governments around Europe to give less support for basic research in the public sector, while considering research that lead to faster commercialisation both a way to generate good science as well as strong economic growth. To be sure, if science becomes involved in the formulation of complex political decisions, even if scientists do not have any responsibility of the impact of their discoveries, the outcome could be more irresponsibility rather than less.
Whereas an accepted definition renders in durable form the process of translation of scientific discovery, an irresponsible involvement of science in political decisions may result only in those discoveries which can be ex ante perceived acceptable by political discussions. Typically, it would be more effective to create coalitions based on the established characteristics of their members where the internal governance of the participating organisation(s) is just as important and their external stability and should not be disregarded as an important element within the discussion of the governance mechanisms used for the creation of such 'nested' mechanisms of representation. In an article written in 1996, but still insightful today, Richard Nelson and Paul Romer stress the way in which the economic threats of war increase the need of domestic security, which in turn is historically associated with a re-alignment of science and technology policy and with a major change in the economic role of academia.
Because the governance of science emerges as a very important aspect of the knowledge society to minimise the failures of the market, which may lead to endemic and systemic failures when, as Beck puts it, society become a laboratory where nobody responsible for the outcome of the experiment, this is an important call for society as a whole to act on the principle of democratic responsibility. However, Beck has not fully acknowledged in his work that the playfield has changed too and how the shift of alliances, coalitions and oppositions is now reconfiguring over different spaces of governance. Science has the responsibility to use its knowledge, power and instruments to delineate scenarios which citizens can use also to evaluate the impact of scientific discovery. Their participation is therefore essential to define the appropriate spheres of democratic interaction within the emerging knowledge society. In such setting, the meanings that different actors place upon risk controversies are negotiated in a dynamic interaction within the political and governmental context of the country in which specific issues are discussed, but also among the varied standpoints and attitudes adopted by individuals and groups within social settings outside the borders of their nation.
It should also be made clear that such involvement has great political implications which may alter the nature of the rights of future generations by affirming the superiority of populist mechanisms of deliberation opposed to scientific independence from ethical, political and religious matters. To be sure, in the myriad of opinions and competing models even scientists risk to become lost on the way towards the 'truth'. But it is the acceptance from society which ultimately deliberates on the innovative capacity of a discovery and albeit we can discuss of these processes of acceptance in abstract terms, it is difficult not to note the effects of another emergent innovation, which is transforming the mechanisms used to decide over the governance of science itself.
Many questions are still left unanswered in relation to the problematisations expressed here. Especially about the redefinition of the playing field and the transitory 'irresponsible' phase before there will be a multi-effort steering towards a new definition of its spheres of governance especially to link innovation and responsibility, research and reality. It is not surprising that the economic decline of many countries around Europe is the result of the lack of attention from national governments to education and research in percentage of their countries' Gross Domestic Product. New forms and structures of cooperation will be critical to address this concern, not just to increase funding for research, but also to maintain the vitality of science and scientific communities and their valuable contributions to the society that supports it. Therefore, what I would ask to Ulrich Beck is: how can a dialogue be built during the transition for the creation of a process of joint-responsibility? How can different cultures be involved from the realms of politics, ethics and science and what deals constitute proof under the present condition of uncertainty?
In the context of the knowledge society this means re-framing the concept of governance, alias a combination of physical and virtual spaces and flows of interaction where the relationships among and between entities called to express their opinion and participate in the process of decision making is radically different and transcends altogether traditional types of governance. Paraphrasing Soshana Zuboff's comments in a special issue of the Harvard Business Review about the role of research and innovation, governance can be enabled by technology, but it needs legitimacy from society. In conclusion, however we envision the role of science and scientists, it is up to society, its constituencies and elected representatives to have a say on how science can be beneficial to support the advancement of a responsible and sustainable progress. This, however, cannot be solely a function of science because of the political nature which defines the roles and responsibilities of the effects of scientific discoveries and the decisions about the policies to minimise the side-effects of innovations. And because the life span of the effects of these innovations is often difficult to define, scientific knowledge remains central. Therefore, existing and new forms of governance have essential and complementary roles to deliberate on the definition of scientific innovation in order to govern systemic market failures and avoid irresponsibility.
Nelson, R.R. & P.M. Romer (1996) Science, Economic Growth and Public Policy, Challenge, March-April 1996.
Nature' Special Report on "Science & Africa: A message to the G8 summit"
See in this web-space the article 'The Democratic Responsibility of Scientific Power.
Please write me if you have any comments, ideas or feedback.
On the Governance of Scientific Innovation and the Avoidance of Irresponsibility (PART 1)
At the centre of the debate within the EU as well as across the Atlantic is a rising problematisation of the definition of roles and responsibilities over the way in which innovation in the scientific and technological field should be governed. Recent innovations in the method of production and dissemination of knowledge can provide an interesting point of departure, however, the logical consequences of such understanding, requires us to look at the structures and dynamics of the emergent pattern of governance linking individuals and organisations from a variety of fields and domains.
I would argue that the nature of 'struggle' for the capacity to govern has not changed. In order to govern, competing political coalitions aim to extend their influence in new and more promising fields. That generally translates into more markets, more customers, more voters, more power and so on. It is therefore not a breakthrough to admit that, but I would argue that what has changed instead is the playfield, alias the fact that we now live in a knowledge society. As a consequence, the basis upon and degrees in which the struggle is expressed is essential to improve our understanding of the issues at stake as well as the definition of a trend toward wider collaboration in order to promote outcomes beneficial to society as a whole.
Governance can be conceptualised in a situation where the overarching rules of the game are known by all players, but the redefinition of the playfield and the present situation of emergence create uncertainty as to what and how the rules should be. Presently, science, and especially empirical investigations used as a starting ground on which to base policy decisions, has not fully acknowledged 'non-expert' new methods being used to deliberate over sensitive policy areas. And especially their impact on the governance and the delineation of the responsibilities of new actors and organisations. Such a redefinition is polarised not only between by the perceptions of old and new actors within contemporary society, but also between society itself.
Citizens armed with new sources ok knowledge over the internet, civil society groups representative of various public and private sector stakeholders, networked individuals and other 'knowledge agents' are gaining increased recognition as a result of their ability to be more responsive to the challenges posed by the knowledge society. However, public perception is not just intended to signify a form of legitimation of political decisions - especially in the highly contested areas of governance of the effects of innovation and technology - but also as a mechanism of feedback of the effects of the same.
This understanding leads to the analysis of a further problematisation. Deliberating on the effects of any new technology means to define first the time span upon which these effects can and will be felt. But how can we define the time span of the effects of a technology such as genetically modified organisms and nanotechnologies? If we follow a precautionary approach, one would argue that science is not able to provide any certainties on these issues. Lobbies and other political actors might influence the process of scientific discovery, the mechanisms of funding of scientific research are not transparent, and therefore scientific governance is considered a highly sensitive area not only within scientific circles, but also in political ones.
The definition of a space of governance immune from this pressures is what the advocates of the precautionary principle prescribe. The famous sociologist Urlich Beck explains that 'definition' is central to govern the conflicts that may arise in the process. But it is the knowledge society globally, nationally as well as locally which is the battleground of the definition of such new playfield of politics. Science is involved at all levels to provide a definition over a thread of issues pertaining the effects of major technological breakthroughs, but the present one transcends all other major innovations of societal, political and economic organisation.
In a recent presentation at the London School of Economics, Bronislaw Szerszynski of the Institute of Environmental and Public Policy at Lancaster University explores the idea that the twenty-first century will be a key site to test the chaning nature and role of politics, which, according to his argument, are becoming geared to shape and optimise vital forces within society. Technology plays a primary role in such new politics, or 'biopolitics' as he says, suggesting that the state has a new role in relation to the use of technology not as a stabiliser, but on the contrary in the nurturing of networks which foster market activity. Is this true?
It is widely known that the internet is an incredibly powerful instrument to access knowledge and information, but what is probably not fully considered is how it impacts also in other areas of scientific discovery. For instance, internet based discussions are becoming an important node to legitimise the definition and the allocation of ethical and political responsibilities over the introduction of new technologies in a variety of activities (see for instance biotechnologies in farming , nanotechnologies -- in this web-space -- and genomics in health care -- in the "Topics" section of the website). The consequences of discussions in extended panels of representatives of various organisations have altogether different and more immediate effects because people's perceptions are transparently known and appropriately channelled. These issues are open to discussion, but I would tend to think that the extent to which this can be conceptualised as a 'market' activity is questionable.
- END OF PART 1 -