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Home > Focus > Luck as a challenge for the responsible governance of science and technology. JRI Special Issue part 2.

Luck as a challenge for the responsible governance of science and technology. JRI Special Issue part 2.

by Jonathan Hankins [1], 27 May 2021

In this post we take a look at the second recent Open Access Special Issue offered by the Journal of Responsible Innovation: Luck as a challenge for the responsible governance of science and technology.

In their introduction and overview [2] of the various contributions to this Special Issue, Editors Martin Sand and Samantha Copeland describe the problem of luck in RI and the history of its appearance in RI literature before describing the interesting and varied approaches tackled by the authors of the various articles and perspectives.

The piece initiates discussion into a series of problems that the issue articles continue, amongst them that of luck from the perspective of practicing scientist and individuals, different mechanisms for funding allocation and the question how can we be both lucky and responsible?

The first research article is On the scientist's moral luck and wholeheartedness [3] from Alexei Grinbaum. The author opens with an analysis of the difficulties posed to scientists of objective and subjective dimensions of moral luck, before moving on to discuss the (possible) ethical doom provoked by the situation and possibilities for its transcendence through 'wholeheartedly trying'.

In The lottery in Babylon-On the role of chance in scientific success [4], Martin Reinhart and Cornelia Schendzielorz offer the issue's first perspective. In a very entertaining piece, the authors discuss the introduction of lottery systems into Scientific research funding (in practice in Germany and New Zealand and more broadly discussed in various publications), the opposition voiced by what they describe as a majority of scientists and some possible advantages and drawbacks of such an approach.

The argument continues in Lotteries make science fairer [5], as Peter Gildenhuys argues that peer review systems for assigning scientific funding make things less fair than lotteries that assign funding to research proposals at least partly on the basis of chance. The author clarifies that he believes that a lottery system would make the broader institution of science fairer as it would negate the advantages and possible special treatment that well known (or previously successful) applicants may receive (knowingly or unknowingly).

Gildenhuys raises another interesting aspect for RI when he questions whether the responsibility lens should not be used to look at the institutions that produce scientific research, and not just the research itself. How closely do the practices within these institutions resemble RI approaches?

The discussion takes a turn with Collective improvisation as a means to responsibly govern himprovisation [6], in which Sabrina Sauer and Federico Bonelli focus on how collective improvisation, as a play with situational affordances and constraints, can facilitate or elicit luck in social innovation processes.

They propose the social innovation practice Trasformatorio, a site-specific performance research lab that aims to 'work on real world problems with real people in a real location'. After a discussion of Living Lab approaches, aims and practices, the authors explain the connection between innovation and serendipity within these types of settings and the related implications for responsible governance, before moving on to an in-depth description of the Transformatorio methodology.

Narrating the experience of running a Transformatorio lab in Sicily Italy, the authors demonstrate how retrospectively recognised serendipitous insights are the outcome of complex socio-technical improvisation practices. They argue that improvisation practices can be governed within social innovation trajectories by making the play with structures or affordances and constraints more than merely part of the innovation process by ensuring an explicit focus on reflection on how this play informs the innovation process.

In Scientists' views on (moral) luck [7], Martin Sand and Karin Jongsma offer exactly what the title suggests based on a series of focus groups carried out with scientists. The authors present their theoretical underpinning, research methodology, most significant results and a discussion of their findings, before drawing some conclusions related to the debate about moral luck in science and the responsible governance of science and technology.

Their results are presented within the categories of Luck, control, responsibility, and science policy, with luck described as more present in the social dimensions within science rather than the scientific work itself, control based on scientific skills and virtues, the virtue of hard work praised as necessary in relation to responsibility and the importance of prizes discussed and disputed in terms of incentivization and policy.

The conclusion offers recommendations for future research and reflections on the responsible governance of science in relation to the usage of lotteries for research funding allocation (returning to a central argument in this Special Issue).

Another research article follows. In Luck and the responsibilities to protect one's epigenome [8], Luca Chiapperino criticizes backward- and forward-looking responsibilities approaches aimed at protecting an individual's epigenome.

After an analysis of backward and forward looking personal responsibilities in which the author explains that commercially available epigenome tests are currently available that can show historical habits (smoking for example) as well as traits, the author moves on to discussing some of their possible uses and problems and their relationship to moral luck.

The author then looks at collective responsibility through the same lens, presenting another set of intricate and complex problems, before moving to a conclusion in which he summarizes how factors beyond one's personal control intervene in the constitution, circumstances and results of actions affecting one's epigenome, but that similar problems arise for collective responsibility claims too.

In Moral luck and responsible innovation management [9], Jan Franciszek Jacko discusses the three roles of normative assumption in the theory and practice of innovation management: (1) they define the value of innovation, (2) specify its luck, and (3) determine some goals and methodologies of managing the luck of innovations.

The key questions the author asks are What does 'luck' mean in theories of innovation management? What is luck in the practice of innovation management?

After a description of the problem and state of current research, the author moves on to describing the terminology 'value preferences,' 'normative assumptions,' and 'utility', before looking at human needs and the role of luck in satisfying them, moral responsibility and its relationship to control and luck management in innovation.

After a short section on responsibility and ethics, A brief conclusion summarizes the passages.

The issue closes with Two dogmas of peer-reviewism [10], a perspective piece from Lambros Roumbanis.

The author shines new light from a different perspective on the previously developed question regarding peer review and grant awards, asking the question of how we should organize our research activities, and to which extent we want academic culture to be shaped by funding issues. The articles discusses two dogmas the first being that grant peer review is more legitimate than all other conceivable methods because it relies on meritocracy through expert judgments and the second that grant writing and the peer review process is valuable in itself, because it fosters excellent research.

Once more this free to download [11] JRI special Issue offers plenty of food for thought and entertainment delivered through high quality articles and perspectives. We congratulate the authors and reccommend the issue to our readers.


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  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jonathan Hankins
  2. 2] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1848848
  3. 3] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1805266
  4. 4] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1806429
  5. 5] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1812485
  6. 6] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1816025
  7. 7] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1799623
  8. 8] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1842658
  9. 9] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1846972
  10. 10] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1855806
  11. 11] https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tjri20/7/sup2?nav=tocList
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Luck as a challenge for the responsible governance of science and technology. JRI Special Issue part 2.


Articles by:  Jonathan Hankins
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