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Home > Focus > Journal of Responsible Innovation, Vol 7, Issue 3 reviewed - Part 1

Journal of Responsible Innovation, Vol 7, Issue 3 reviewed - Part 1

by Jonathan Hankins [1], 18 February 2021

December 2020 saw the release of Issue 3 of Volume 7 of the Journal of Responsible Innovation [2]. It was a bumper issue, with 25 articles and perspectives, a celebration of the journal's move to becoming an open access publication.

In this post we review the first half of the publication, offering an overview and summary of each paper, with part 2 to follow later in the month.

Editor in Chief Erik Fisher opens the issue with Closing out twenty-twenty on a positive note [3], an editorial in which he recounts many positive factors for the journal in its seventh year: As regular readers will know the Journal now has a very respectable impact factor, several high subject category rankings and has made the bold move into open access publication.

Fisher then breaks this enormous body of scholarship into several categories, with the collection including philosophical studies, theoretically informed empirical studies, the development and testing of methods, and scholarly opinions.

The first research article is The distribution of ethical labor in the scientific community [4], by Vincenzo Politi and Alexei Grinbaum.

After an opening section in which the authors introduce arguments about the moral responsibility of science, scientists' ethical thinking and the structure of scientific communities, they move on to classify the members of the scientific community into four 'Weberian Ideal Type' categories: heroic scientists, Golem-makers, Promethean scientists, and Faustian scientists.

Heroic scientists endorse the so-called value-free ideal. In their view, science and ethics are completely separated: they are concerned only with the former, never with the latter.

Golem-makers, by contrast, do not necessarily think that science and ethics are completely separated. They believe, however, that the pursuit of scientific truth always corresponds to the pursuit of the highest good.

Promethean scientists incorporate ethical reflection in their research activity.

Faustian scientists do not even believe in the possibility of ethical issues: they are immoral in the sense that they place themselves beyond good and evil or, perhaps the authors suggest, for them there is no good or evil.

After describing their classification, methodological challenges and future prospects in further detail, the authors move from description to prescription in the final section, concluding that the institutionalization of ethics in science should appreciate the ethical expertise of Promethean scientists without trying to make every single scientist a Promethean.

In Social license and synthetic biology: the trouble with mining terms [5], Jason A. Delborne, Adam E. Kokotovich and Jeantine E. Lunshof call attention to the problematic nature of the social license to operate (SLO) paradigm being drawn upon to conceptualize public engagement for synthetic biology.

The authors highlight that the operations for which a social license traditionally has been sought are industrial, extractive interventions in the environment, such as mining and forestry. While they acknowledge that the meaning of a term is never completely fixed, they argue that the trouble with mining the term SLO for use in the context of synthetic biology is that the conceptual and political baggage makes it a liability in envisioning the responsible deployment of technology. They then move on to explore the recent use of SLO in the synthetic biology literature, describe why it is especially unproductive in the context of environmental applications, and conclude with an exploration of paradigms of engagement that offer more promise.

The authors close by offering two examples of what they see as more appropriate RRI based approaches followed: Mice Against Ticks carried out through the ResponsiveScience project and further mouse related initiatives carried out by the Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents program.

In Emotions, values and technology: illuminating the blind spots [6], Steffen Steinert and Sabine Roeser address what they see as crucial emotional aspects that should be taken into account within responsible research and innovation and ethics of technology practices and studies.

The authors focus on emotional recalcitrance, affective forecasting, mixed emotions, and collective emotions and introduce the issue of their fittingness as an analytical perspective. They first outline some approaches to including emotions within RI and STS before focusing on these crucial overlooked aspects.

The concluding section presents a series of suggestions for techniques and approaches that could be used in the field, drawn from sociology, Value Sensitive Design, scenario methods, focus groupwork and other stakeholder involvement practices (amongst others).

Managing budgetary uncertainty, interpreting policy. How researchers integrate "grand challenges" funding programs into their research agendas [7] by Wolfgang Kaltenbrunner is the next offering, the author taking a detailed look at the effects of the move to mission-oriented funding on academics in two German University departments.

The author describes the two specific funding schemes that form the backdrop for this research and the specific affordances and constraints that grand challenges funding poses for the development of research agendas, based upon interview-generated data.

The article closes with a discussion in which the author raises some fundamental questions about alignment to the so-called 'grand-challenges', strategies aimed at the reduction of funding uncertainty and societal aspects of research agenda setting, concluding by asking the question of what the implications might be for these findings.

In When nature goes digital: routes for responsible innovation [8], Koen Bruynseels explores responsible innovation based on natural resources using the common pool resource framework, with the emerging field of biodiversity sequencing as an example.

After an introduction in which the author explains the various sections the article is divided into, he explains the meaning of digitalized natural resources as common pool resources and digitalized natural resources as substrate for innovation, allowing the introduction of the twin commons concept.

The author then moves to introduce responsible innovation into the twin commons concept, before offering an analysis of the concept's relationship to responsible innovation through the emerging field of biodiversity sequencing, using the example of the Earth Biogenome Project.

The issue continues with Inclusion in responsible innovation: revisiting the desirability of opening up [9] from Barbara van Mierlo, PJ Beers and Anne-Charlotte Hoes, an agricultural case study-based investigation into opening up and (the related) closing down as related to issue framing.

After offering a theoretical perspective that includes discussion of framing and RRI dimensions and the efficacy paradox, the authors describe the research process. The case studies involve industrial food producers based in the Netherlands working within the Sustainable Dairy Chain program and the Market Driven Greenhouse Sector initiative.

After a detailed historical explanation of actions and political developments in the first dairy case, the authors conclude with an overview of opening up and closing down, before moving on to the second greenhouse sector case study and conducting the same analysis.

A discussion follows in which the authors reflect on their findings in the context of responsible innovation and discuss the implications for the field before a short conclusion.

Embedding responsible innovation within synthetic biology research and innovation: insights from a UK multi-disciplinary research centre [10] by Mario Pansera , Richard Owen , Darian Meacham and Vivienne Kuh follows, with the authors (many of whom will be well known to regular readers) document how responsible innovation discourse evolved over the period 2014-2019 at a UK Synthetic Biology Research Centre.

The article describes research based at BrisSynBio, an EPSRC and Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC) funded Synthetic Biology Research Centre, based at the University of Bristol. The aim is to develop insights and lessons for the 'translation' of RI/RRI from ideas into practices.

The article is structured in sections, section 2 introducing the institutional settings and the broader socio-political context, section 3 dedicated to research design and methods, section 4 the main themes that emerge from the analysis and concluding with section 5 in which the authors reflect on their findings and their implications for a broader understanding of RI/RRI institutionalization in research conducting organizations.

The authors describe an arts-based approach that includes the use of theatre and artists in residence, as well as what we might imagine as regular institutional approaches, offering lots of interesting ideas and experiences, before discussing actual changes in research practice. The authors close with a discussion and conclusions section.

In Social labs as an inclusive methodology to implement and study social change: the case of responsible research and innovation [11], Job Timmermans , Vincent Blok , Robert Braun , Renate Wesselink and Rasmus Øjvind Nielsen propose a social lab methodology that would enable the parallel investigation and propagation of responsible innovation.

After outlining the circularity problem that responsible innovation faces in not being able to demonstrate enough empirical data to justify its own promotion because it does not properly exist, the authors propose a dedicated research methodology based on the idea of social labs, that embraces circularity as its founding principle.

After introducing RRI, the authors describe social labs and their fit to purpose for the research proposal, before outlining a methodology. In their conclusion, the authors call for empirical testing of their social lab approach, focusing on 'what' constitutes a social lab and 'how' it can be implemented.

The issue continues with Open science for responsible innovation in Australia: understanding the expectations and priorities of scientists and researchers [12] by Justine Lacey, Rebecca Coates and Matthew Herington.

The authors present results from a survey of 171 Australian scientists, researchers and other professionals on their expectations and perspectives of transparency and openness in current scientific research practice, outlining the rationale for conducting their research, the research methods and approaches, key findings and priorities on transparency and openness, before discussing the limitations of the study and opportunities for further research.

After an in-depth description of their methodology, the authors present and discuss their results. Some results seem to suggest a discrepancy between what the survey participants expect from scientists, research delivery agencies and research funding agencies in terms of transparency and openness, and what they perceive to be happening in the current practice of these stakeholders, while others offer suggestions for how this discrepancy could be addressed.

The authors conclude with a discussion on the implications of this research.

In Values in responsible research and innovation: from entities to practices [13], Marianne Boenink and Olya Kudina explore the understanding of values in Responsible Research and Innovation. Based on an analysis of approaches favoured first by von Schomberg and secondly Stilgoe et.al the authors argue for a practice-based take on values.

The authors argue that values are not out there, waiting to be used, but constructed in a human process. They are lived realities, but that literature in RRI does not address them as such, leading them to call for their practice based approach, before discussing the methodological implications for RRI and concluding that a practice-based approach to values can complement existing RRI approaches by bringing into view the complexities of valuing, as well as the hermeneutic work involved in identifying values for RRI purposes.

The authors close with an appraisal of their proposed methodology, including limitations and weaknesses, before reflecting on the type of RRI settings for which the approach might be suitable, and concluding with an example.

Responsible innovation between virtue and governance: revisiting Arendt's notion of work as action [14] by Wessel Reijers is the twelfth article in this issue, and the final one described in this first part of our review of issue 3 of Volume 7.

Reijers argues that the focus on governance in responsible innovation has led to overlooking the dimension of virtue, in particular in relation to governance, using Hannah Arendt's ontology of the Vita Activa to shed light upon this relationship.

The article opens with The Problem of the Responsible Innovator, in which the author problematizes responsible innovation, and rather reflecting the Foundation's interests and approach, brings the issue of politics and working practices in innovation to the fore. The author goes on to explore how the activity of responsible innovation is made possible by a constitutive relation between governance and virtue, using another form that is well known here in the Foundation, narrative structures, before concluding remarks draw the argument together and offer some thoughts on future actions and approaches.

The second half of this publication will be reviewed in part two of this post [15].


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  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jonathan Hankins
  2. 2] https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tjri20/7/3?nav=tocList
  3. 3] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1848336
  4. 4] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1724357
  5. 5] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1738023
  6. 6] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1738024
  7. 7] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1744401
  8. 8] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1771144
  9. 9] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1780409
  10. 10] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1785678
  11. 11] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1787751
  12. 12] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1800969
  13. 13] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1806451
  14. 14] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1806524
  15. 15] /en/focus/2021/02/review_journal_of_responsible.html
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Journal of Responsible Innovation, Vol 7, Issue 3 reviewed - Part 1.
Articles by:  Jonathan Hankins
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