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Home > Focus > Journal of Responsible Innovation, Volume 4 Issue 3

Journal of Responsible Innovation, Volume 4 Issue 3

by Jonathan Hankins [1], 8 February 2018

Late 2017 saw the publication of the latest issue of the Journal of responsible Innovation [2]. In this post we review the collection of articles.

In his editorial Politics of Scientific Reflection, Editor in Chief Erik Fisher addresses the problem of asking scientists to reflect upon a host of normative questions such as the social use of science and purpose, questions that cannot themselves be answered bu science.

He describes how this JRI issue "takes up questions about what societal reflection currently looks like in scientific practices, what effects it may be having on research choices and dissemination activities, and how best to conceptualize the relations between scientific innovation, social responsibility, and political change", before moving on to introduce the three articles and review that make up the issue in turn.

In Nothing really responsible goes on here: scientists' experience and practice of responsibility, Cecilie Glerup, Sarah R. Davies and Maja Horst describe their findings from research carried out into how publicly funded scientists perceive and practice responsibility.

The authors describe the 'Scientific Social Responsibility' (SSR) research project, funded by the Danish Free Research Council, a project that explored the operationalisation of and meanings attributed to discourses of responsibility in emerging science and technology, in particular within synthetic biology and nanotechnology in Denmark, the UK and the USA.

The paper describes how scientists use bottom up approaches to their scientific process that deal with responsibility but are not framed as doing so. They argue that the framing of the current RRI approaches tends to be seen as external to scientific practices, even though much of the work carried out included strategies that would fit very well within an RRI framework.

Based on these findings the authors we have made two recommendations: "that RRI scholars such as ourselves become better at developing a shared language of responsibility with scientists; and that RRI scholars more actively consider the contemporary political situation at modern universities, where time for outreach and reflection competes with time for making industrial partnerships and patents".

The issue continues with Exploring attitudes to societal relevance: the effects of reflection on research practices among Swedish environmental scientists by Joacim Rosenlund, Peter Notini and Giangiacomo Bravo.

This paper investigates whether reflection on societal relevance within scientific practice and the scientific community actually occurs and has a measurable effect on the choice of research and on dissemination activities performed by scientists.

The article is based upon the findings drawn from a survey of environmental scientists in Swedish Universities, and proposes and tests several hypotheses based upon the the question of how environmental scientists in Sweden perceive the increasing pressures to do 'useful' research:

H1: Environmental scientists do reflect upon the social and environmental relevance of their research.
H2: The reflection upon this relevance influences the scientists' choice of research.

Reflecting upon the argument that pressure to collaborate with non academic partners leads to changes in dissemination practices they authors propose one further hypothesis:

H3: The degree of dissemination activities is affected by the extent of the scientists' reflection on the social and environmental relevance of their research.

Much of the paper uses statistical analysis terms that are not easy to grasp without training, with several different techniques described and demonstrated, but the discussion section is easy to follow and raises some interesting questions about the effects of the social relevance question and associated (possible) pressure.

In conclusion the authors argue that analysis of the survey supports all of the three hypotheses above, although argue that their "linearly framed hypotheses may actually conceal the presence of relevant feedbacks between the various constructs".

Their conclusion seems to be that reflection is crucial in explaining choices, a finding that resonates with the various RI and RRI approaches practiced in the broader scientific community.

The third and final paper in this issue is Responsible Innovation in light of Levinas: rethinking the relation between responsibility and innovation by Jan Peter Bergen.

In this article the author theorizes a relationship between responsibility and innovation by positioning innovation within the ethical phenomenology of Emmanuel Levinas. Bergen argues that it is itself an ethical and political response to the demands of the Other, leading him to argue that innovation and responsibility are intrinsically related in at least three important ways:

"First, they are related foundationally because responsibility is metaphysically prior to innovation and as such, a precondition for it. Secondly, they are related ethically since innovation is driven by responsibility, that is, by the Other calling on us to innovate for the better. Lastly, they are related structurally in the sense that the outcomes of innovation form the structures through which we can actually attempt to fulfill our responsibilities to others. Conceptualizing the relation between responsibility and innovation in this fashion establishes innovation as a response to responsibility, albeit one that should be seen as provisional and open to future innovation".

This leads the author to conclude that responsibility cannot simply be added to innovation because "It is already built into the experience of innovation and should also be an integral part of the process of innovation" He also argues that his analysis confirms the need for both technological as well as political/institutional innovation in RI, arguing that the framework presented enriches our conception of the normative status of innovation in RI.

He concludes that "while innovation is motivated by and necessary in light of responsibility, it is also inevitably provisional, and falls short of the responsibility that inspired it. On top of this, innovation's roots in responsibility and justice make it cautious of measuring RI's success in purely economic terms" and that "the authority of the Other calling innovators to responsibility can provide a counterweight to power asymmetries in RI processes".

The issue closes with a Review of RRI tools project by Christopher Groves.

In his review Groves describes how the RRI tools project approached the problem of building a database and access point for best practices in RRI. RRI tools was a large project and gathered input from across the spectrum of these approaches, in a field that was (and indeed still is) extremely broadly drawn, with this experience allowing the author to present an overview and critique of the processes enacted. This is a short and informative piece that delivers plenty of food for thought to all those interested in practicing RRI today.

As ever the JRI offers high quality articles from a broad range of perspectives and approaches, and open access to a range of articles. On behalf of all of those here at the Bassetti Foundation we would like to congratulate the editorial team and in particular Editor in Chief Erik Fisher, and look forward to volume 5.


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  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jonathan Hankins
  2. 2] http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tjri20/4/3?nav=tocList
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Journal of Responsible Innovation, Volume 4, Issue 3
Articles by:  Jonathan Hankins
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