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Home > Focus > Volume 2, Journal of Responsible Innovation, a review

Volume 2, Journal of Responsible Innovation, a review

by Jonathan Hankins [1], 20 January 2016

The close of the year saw the publication of the third and final issue of Volume 2 of the Journal of Responsible Innovation. In this article we review the volume.

Early in 2015, Volume 2 opened with the publication of issue 1. Articles included 4 research articles and a special perspectives section: responsible research and innovation for synthetic biology. A full review is available here [2].

Issue 2 [3] was released in the summer months.

As expected the issue opens with an entertaining editorial piece by Journal Editor in Chief David H. Guston. In Want, Settle, Get, an analogy is drawn between a presumed film director looking to cast for her new feature, and the course of innovation development. What actor do I really want? What actor would I settle for? What actor do I really get? The editorial review follows this line of thinking as it outlines the issue's contributions, before concluding that "the RI community is engaged in such work as related in this issue - grappling with high level European policy, bringing RI to canonical theorists, understanding how governments react to alarms and scholars react to artistic takes on RI, and finding evidence in the literature for a progressive scholarly agenda - makes me hopeful that we are avoiding the traps of "settle" and "get" for RI, and that we may be creating the community of scholarship and influence we want".

The first research article is Innovating Innovation Policy: the Emergence of 'Responsible Research and Innovation' by Stevienna de Saille.

The paper explores the processes through which RRI has been incorporated into Horizon 2020 as a policy framework for the European Research Area (ERA) which promises that technological innovation will be shaped towards social goods.

The author first discusses the formation of the ERA and then the process through which RRI was developed as a policy framework by the European Commission. The paper concludes by discussing some of the tensions between RRI and policies emanating from other EU institutions, highlighting areas which may impede RRI's progress towards its goals.

The second and third research articles address similar problems, as they both look at the potential conflict between moral responsibility and economic contribution.

In Towards principled Responsible Research and Innovation: employing the Difference Principle in
funding decisions
, Doris Schroeder and Miltos Ladikas argue that RRI puts values into a controlling position of decision-making. They go on to argue that:

''When looking at RRI from a 'principled' perspective, we consider responsibility and justice to be important cornerstones of the framework. One could describe them in the following manner:
Research and innovation should be conducted responsibly.
Publicly funded research and innovation should be focused fairly on socially beneficial targets.
Research and innovation should promote and not hinder social justice''.

The main aim of the article is to suggest a method of realising these principles through the application of a limited Rawlsian Difference Principle in the distribution of public funds for research and innovation.

The paper is in three parts. The first part discusses the above principles and introduces the Rawlsian Difference Principle. The second part identifies how RRI is currently applied by public funding bodies. The third part discusses the operationalisation of the Rawlsian Difference Principle in responsible funding decisions, offering some working solutions for the implementation of the authors'ideas.

In Justice and innovation - Towards Principles for Creating a Fair Space for Innovation, Rafael Ziegler also uses a critical discussion of Rawls' theory to identify the double role innovation plays for justice: ''to contribute to the long-term stability of society and to find ideas that specifically improve the benefits for the least advantaged in the present''.

This paper is also divided into sections: Section one introduces Rawls' framework and the role of innovation in the background of his theory of distributive justice, Section two looks at recent work in innovation studies to establish the roles of various actors, section three focuses on the possibilities of the just state to engage in processes of innovation that lead to stability but aimed at the least advantaged, while Section four adds a final aspect to the critical examination of the innovation process, in looking at changes to rules, norms and cognitive frames.

Ziegler raises the interesting question; "are some ideas blocked, not given a chance even though their potential for justice is large?"

The third and final research article in this issue is Governance Strategies for Responding to Alarming Studies on the Safety of GM crops by Ruth Mampuys and Frans W.A. Brom.

Starting from the current governance structure of GM crop production, the authors investigate how European governments have responded to such alarming studies in the past and look into the consequences of these strategies on the course of the debate in order to identify lessons and pointers for the future.

The authors argue that alarming studies are unsuitable vehicles for a wider democratic debate about technology, and that other platforms are needed to enable conversations about responsible innovation.

They then go on to distinguish four phases in which the government and advisory bodies have an opportunity to make choices: preparation (monitoring), first response (timing and opening gambit), obtaining advice (gather expertise and data) and finally the phase of response (communication and follow-up actions).

The authors come to several conclusions, including that alarming studies about the safety of GMOs will always make the news because the GM debate has never settled due to multi-level disagreements about facts and values, that because it is not possible to determine straight away whether the results and claims in alarming studies are valid or not, their credibility and validity will always have to be investigated, and that a (re)assessment by scientific bodies of the study or the GMOs concerned is not sufficient to bring the debate to a satisfactory closure.

The issue continues with a pedagogy piece. In Macroethics Exploration with Impact: Technological Innovators Reconsider Profound Personal and Societal Questions after Viewing the Film FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement, Kathleen Eggleson and Seth A. Berry report the research results of a pre- and post-intervention (group viewing of the documentary film FIXED) survey administered to faculty investigators and doctoral students directly involved in research pertaining to biologically inspired future computer architectures applied to devices interfacing with humans.

The article presents a large series of results, with bar graph comparisons of some of the findings, and the evident differences are described and discussed.

The issue closes with two book reviews, the first of which is written by the Foundation's own Jonathan Hankins.

Hankins reviews Innovation and Responsibility: Engaging with New and Emerging Technologies, the fifth and most recent collection of papers from the annual meetings of the Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies, including refections upon where the volume sits within the series and following various authors through their RI publication history.

Finally, Jolita Čeičytė reviews Responsible Innovation in South East Europe Countries, a collection of research-based chapters edited by Norbert Buzas and Miklos Lukovics. Čeičytė favourably describes the depth and currency of the research presented, which addresses not only the concept of RI but applications in such diverse areas as finance, food, and energy.

The Volume's final issue [4] was published as last year drew to a close.

In his editorial People, Persons and Publics, David H. Guston outlines a debate about publics and their contstruction, people, persons and legitimacy, and their relationships to responsible innovation, before describing the issue's research articles and perspective piece through this lens.

The first research article is Responsible Innovation: An Approach for Extracting Public Values Concerning Advanced Biofuels by Gabriela Capurro, Holly Longstaff, Patricia Hanney and David M. Secko.

The aims of this article are to explore how a deliberative mini-public views the need for advanced lignocellulosic biofuels and their recommendations for supporting or opposing its development and production. Participants of the study engaged in four days of deliberation on their value-based considerations concerning the social acceptability of this technology, before developing a series of recommendations.

Five key factors were first identified that support the need for public deliberation, the event recorded and transcribed and a list of stakeholders, benefits and concerns drawn up from the data. A further task was to set the agenda for further deliberations, with nine distinct issues identified. The authors follow up with a discussion of their findings and reflection over the process.

The article concludes "by emphasizing that the public values reported here are not only important to global discussion over the future of advanced biofuels, but are also one approach to meet the challenge of their, politically legitimate, extraction as part of socially responsive RI frameworks''.

The second research article is Policy Decision-making, Public Involvement and Nuclear Energy: What do Expert Stakeholders Think and Why? By Nan Li, Dominique Brossard, Leona Yi-Fan Su, Xuan Liang, Michael Xenos and Dietram A. Scheufele.

This article explores how a series of social, cognitive, and communication factors relates to expert stakeholders' attitudes toward public involvement in energy policy-making. Implications of the findings with respect to promoting a two-way dialogue among citizens and expert stakeholders in science policymaking are discussed.

The study intends to identify all relevant stakeholders involved in making high-level decisions on managing the nuclear fuel cycle in the USA, and examines how stakeholders with specialized knowledge and professional experiences develop their attitudes toward public participation as a function of institutional identity, perception of public opinion, and media use. Data were collected with a mail survey of 557 US expert stakeholders involved in making high-level decisions on nuclear energy and other uses of nuclear power, and tables of results are published that the authors follow up on with a discussion.

In the conclusion the authors state that ''non-profit stakeholders and scientists working for various institutions value public involvement regardless of their perceived split in opinion climate, whereas governmental stakeholders are more likely to embrace the input of a divided public than a united one. Governmental stakeholders usually serve as the conduits between lay citizens and other expert stakeholders and are primarily responsible for initiating any form of public form''. They go on to argue that their ''study offers a baseline understanding of the effects of online media attention on expert audiences'' and that ''expert stakeholders' attitudes toward public involvement in decision-making related to nuclear energy is shaped by a range of social, cognitive, and communication factors. The issue of involving members of the lay public in science policy-making merits further exploration. Given the close relationship between public opinion perception and online media use, it is worth exploring the causal links between online discourse of energy issues and elites' perceptions of public opinion or other dimensions of public sphere. Also, how these factors would ultimately influence the quality and outcome of policy decisions is a more intriguing question to answer''.

The third research paper in the closing issue is Anticipating the Ultimate Innovation, Volitional
Evolution: Can it not be Promoted or Attempted Responsibly?
By Lantz Fleming Miller.

The author investigates the ethical status not of constituting publics but rather of re-constituting people, using the term 'volitional evolution', which means 'for humanity to take the reins of evolution into its own hands and dictate to nature what it wants to become'.

In his editorial, David Guston describes how Miller argues that its tie to a specific and durable scientific agenda makes volitional evolution a more appropriate and tractable concept for inquiry than the more general and mushy 'human enhancement', arguing that should it be too weighted down with such problems, volitional evolution might be charged as a fraud; but if it is not fraudulent, it is most certainly irresponsible.

The author describes the tradition of the use of the volitional evolution terminology and its context, before addressing the gap between normativity and science and need for clarifications. Miller then addresses the term's relationship to responsible innovation, before concluding with a section on the ethics of promoting volitional evolution.

The volume concludes with an article in the Perspectives section of the journal. In An Empirical Exploration of Scientists' Social Responsibilities, Mark S. Frankel describes a survey conducted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in which scientists, engineers and health professionals offer their views on the social responsibilities of scientists and engineers above and beyond the responsible conduct of their research.

The author presents a selection of findings, before describing the next steps for the AAAS and their follow up survey that will ask the question of what opportunities and challenges do scientists identify as affecting their ability to fulfil their social responsibilities effectively?

The Bassetti Foundation would like to recommend the journal to all of our readers. Several of the articles reviewed above are freely available through the journal website [5], and many others on their author's personal websites. We would like to congratulate Editor in Chief David Guston, all of the members of the Editorial Board and many contributors on another fascinating volume, and we look forward to both participating and contributing in 2016.


ALL THE REVIEWS of the Journal by Jonathan Hankins:

Volume 1 part 1 [6] / part 2 [7] / part 3 [8]

Volume 2 part 1 [9] / part 2 & 3 [10]

Volume 3 part 1 [11] / part 2 [12] / part 3 [13]

Volume 4 part 1 [14]


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Volume 2, Journal of Responsible Innovation, a review
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