Category Archives: science and philosophy

when the earth shakes…and science with it

the management and communication of uncertainty in the L’Aquila earthquake

new paper the Journal Futures,  with Bruna De Marchi

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In the spring of 2009, a strong earthquake shook the Italian city of L’Aquila and the region surrounding it. Besides the tragedy of human and material losses, the disaster triggered an unprecedented series of legal consequences. In this paper, we take the L’Aquila case, in all its psychological, social and legal controversies as exemplary for reflecting on how uncertainty can be recognized, treated and communicated in the context of mass emergencies. We examine the inherent path-dependency and multidimensional nature of uncertainty by projecting it along a number of axes, analyzing how the different components evolve and interact with each other. We show that contradictions, controversies and conflicts are bound to arise in the practice of expert advice for public policy as a result of: 1) the improper reduction of the overall situational uncertainty to its scientific component only; 2) the treatment and communication of scientific uncertainty as an independent variable that can be analyzed and computed in isolation from ethical, political and societal concerns. Finally, we provide some suggestions about a more integrated approach to expert advice for public policy.

what I cannot create, I do not understand @ GAM

lecture performance @  GAM – Galleria di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea – Torino

in Atlante Energetico – curated by Elena Mazzi for Fondazione Spinola Banna per l’Arte and GAM

video, still images, blackboard and words


The project inspired by Richard Feynman’s quote on his last blackboard at Cal Tech continues to develop in the shape of a multimedia lecture performance at the contemporary art museum of Torino.
It is a story about the delicate and mutable relationship between knowing and making; discovery and invention; science, technology and governance. Three chapters range from the making of the atomic bomb in Los Alamos (1940s), the Challenger disaster (1980s) and the emerging technologies in the field of ICT and synthetic biology (2010s).

what I cannot create, I do not understand @ SVT

Richard Feynman and the quality of science

public talk @  Post-Normal Times? New thinking about science and policy advice, SVT Bergen


A reflection about different ways to define and assess quality in science, through the transitional key figure of Richard Feynman. Renowned theoretical physicists, Nobel Prize recipient, great communicator and educator, Feynman has been the perfect candidate for granting the advent of new technoscientific endeavors with the epistemic and moral authority of Mertonian science, while at the same time redefining it from within: by intersecting and blurring the boundaries between knowing and making, discovery and invention, curiosity-oriented science, corporate technoscience and democratized DIY experimentation. A historical, epistemic exploration of the ‘real’, fictional and constructed role of Richard Feynman is performed ironically: by appropriating and interpreting parts of the available material by and about him, in episodes ranging from his (actual or symbolic) involvement in the Manhattan Project, the investigation of the Challenger disaster, the birth of nanotechnology and synthetic biology.

la demarcazione della scienza come problema pratico

seminario @ Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia di Milano

Corso di Comunicazione della Scienza per Ricercatori Vincitori di Borse Cariplo


Filosofi e sociologi della scienza si sono a lungo confrontati con il problema della demarcazione della scienza come questione analitica: l’identificazione delle caratteristiche uniche ed essenziali che distinguono i processi e i prodotti della ricerca scientifica dalle altre attività speculative. Tuttavia, la demarcazione della scienza può essere considerata anche come una questione eminentemente pratica: il tentativo, non solo da parte di filosofi e sociologi ma anche di scienziati, funzionari pubblici e imprenditori, di legittimare le proprie visioni del mondo, sistemi di conoscenza e potere, attraverso una varietà di repertori retorici. Queste strategie di demarcazione definiscono e implicano una varietà di possibili relazioni tra la scienza, la tecnologia e la sfera normativa della democrazia, lungo una traiettoria che trae le sue origini nella Rivoluzione Scientifica e l’istituzione dello Stato Moderno.

Come sono stati definiti nel tempo i confini che separano la ricerca e l’applicazione scientifica dalle altre attività umane? da chi e a quale scopo? Nell’indagare queste domande, si distinguono tre principi di demarcazione, tre assi che definiscono un possibile sistema di riferimento all’interno del quale esaminare i rapporti tra scienza e democrazia: la separazione, l’ibridazione e la sostituzione. Il primo si riferisce all’ideale separazione tra i fatti della scienza e i valori dei processi di governo, e al corrispondente duplice sistema di legittimazione che regola la relazione moderna tra il sapere e il potere. In questa prospettiva, l’incertezza e la complessità sono idealmente esternalizzate dall’ambito della conoscenza e ricerca scientifica. Il secondo corrisponde alla transizione dalla scienza fondata sulla curiosità, alla scienza industriale, la cosiddetta big science, in cui scienza e tecnologia, scoperta e invenzione, fatti e valori sono ibridati in imprese tecnoscientifiche. In questo caso, l’incertezza e la complessità non possono essere efficacemente estromesse, e sono ridotte e idealmente controllate attraverso la valutazione e la gestione quantitativa del rischio. Il terzo principio riguarda l’ideale sostituzione delle risorse naturali con gli artefatti tecnoscientifici, dei processi decisionali con la gestione dei dati, del comprendere con il fare, e da ultimo della scienza con la tecnologia. In questo scenario, i valori sono sostituiti con i fatti nel senso che le questioni normative sono ridotte e trasformate in problemi tecnici, da risolvere con strumenti tecnoscientifici. In questo caso, la complessità e l’incertezza sono riconosciute, per essere ingegnerizzate e idealmente eliminate.

Nell’esplorare lo spazio definito da questi tre assi, è possibile aprire delle strade di riflessione comune sul mutevole significato del termine ‘scienza’, spesso definito e legittimato – i.e. demarcato ­– in modo implicito e non condiviso.

do we really want and need to be smart?

public talk @ Human Entities – Culture in the Age of Semi-Autonomous Machines

Lecture Series organised by CADA in partnership with the Architecture Triennale Lisbon


Emergent information and communication technologies (ICT), such as the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), constantly redefine the texture of our culture, society and lifestyle, raising a number of fundamental epistemic, normative and ethical issues, in a constant co-evolution. These technologies are constructed, named, offered, and ultimately regulated, according to and through specific techno-scientific imaginaries, here defined as collections of visual and verbal metaphors that are created and communicated both in the specialized literature and in the mass media for the public at large.

Wonder, power, control and urgency can be defined as standard imaginaries of techno-scientific innovation: the fundamental axes defining an ideal space in which the multifaceted vision of the IoT can be projected and analyzed, in terms of what we want (wonder), we can (power and control) and we need (urgency) to be smart. Within this ideal space, we will examine together a variety media available on the web and produced by some of the key actors of the IoT revolution.

This exploration leads to an open-ended reflection on the underlying aims and contradictions of the ICT enhancement, in relation to the possible decline of some of the fundamental attributes of our integrity and agency.

sustainability and technoscience

what do we want to sustain and for whom?

new paper available published in the International Journal of Sustainable Development

with Silvio Funtowicz


We analyse the relationship between the mainstream framings of sustainability and techno-scientific innovation. Focusing on sustainability, we discuss the need to shift from predicting and promising what to do (in the future) to a political resolution of how we want to live together (in the present). Next, we turn our attention to techno-science, examining the normalising forces emerging from the modern framing of sustainability and the strategies that standardise the envisioning of our techno-scientific future, and the risks and promises of innovation. Concentrating on two emergent technologies, along two main drivers of innovation: optimisation (for new pathways of ‘sustainable’ competitiveness and consumption) in the field of smart technologies, and substitution (for new resources) in the field of synthetic biology. Finally, we provide some suggestions about the role of complexity and quality vs. efficiency and functionality, for reopening the democratic debate about what is to be sustained and for whom.


demarcation in Vatnahalsen

How do the boundaries that demarcate, define, legitimate science, technology and democracy have been drawn over time, by whom and for what aims?

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A session on science and demarcation as guest lecturer in the PhD course on the Philosophy and Ethics of Social Sciences in Vatnahalsen, by SVT – University of Bergen.

with Silvio Funtowicz

A dynamic system of forces constantly and implicitly moulds and redefines the boundaries between science and technology, justification and application, discovery and invention. An historical overview of these mutable and flexible boundaries is provided through the lens of the demarcation problem, as a starting point for reflection and conversation. Three main demarcating principles are identified and discussed as guidelines: separation, hybridization and substitution. A number of past and contemporary case studies are analysed and discussed within the same framework, ranging from nanotechnology and space exploration, to emergent Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and synthetic biology.

never lost, never late and never unprepared

new book out on amazon

science on the verge

A crisis looms over the scientific enterprise. Not a day passes without news of retractions, failed replications, fraudulent peer reviews, or misinformed science-based policies. Societal implication are enormous, yet this crisis remains largely uncharted – until now.

“Wow. This penetrating, thought provocative, and irrefutable view of the debasing of science cuts to – and through – the bone. Every producer, consumer, and believer of ‘science’ should read this book, whether interested in pesticides, GMOs, nuclear power, climate change, psychology, or fiscal policy”. Philip B. Stark / Associate Dean, Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences / University of California Berkeley


the impact of GM salmon: from risk to quality

new paper out on visions for sustainability

with Giuseppe Barbiero


The word “impact” entails the idea that something is already into the world and it is “pressing” against a target.

The idea is then to divert our focus from the possible targets and the consequences of the impact, to the impacting object itself, considering the driving forces that bring it into being and determine its trajectory.

In other words, we propose to suspend for a moment the scenario of the future developments, risks and promises, and ask in what kind of world a specific technoscientific product – a genetically engineered, fast-growing salmon – has a meaning that justifies the scientific and economic effort of actually fabricating it, proposing to sell it and being confident that someone will buy it.

These issues have to do with how we collectively value the salmon at stake and therefore with it’s quality: as a living being embedded into a net of socio-ecological systems, as a technoscientific commodity, and as food.