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.
How do the boundaries that demarcate, define, legitimate science, technology and democracy have been drawn over time, by whom and for what aims?
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.
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
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.
Optimisation, substitution and the silver bullet approach
Invited speaker @ New Narratives for Innovation – Inspirational workshop 1
European Commission – Joint Research Center – Brussels – Berlaymont
The definition of innovation as the engine of economic, social and environmental wealth is the last semantic step of a pervasive narrative of progress that can be traced back – along a co-evolving epistemic and normative trajectory – to the emergence of Scientific Revolution and Modern State. The unchallenged economic policy aims of growth, productivity and competitiveness are fundamental ingredients of this scenario, implying the paradox of sustaining a steady increase in our global resource consumption within a closed, finite system, with limited stocks and bio-geo-chemical resilience. The current dominant narrative of innovation claims a way out of conundrum: natural supplies might be limited but human creativity is unlimited, and so is human power to decouple growth from scarcity, improving efficiency in the use of natural resources and ultimately substituting them altogether, with substantially equivalent, technological optimized artifacts. In this framework, technoscientific innovation allows then for a “sustainable growth” through the optimization and the substitution of our means, and through the deployment of suitable silver-bullets, protecting us from the complexity of socio-ecological problems as they arise. This work proposes an epistemic and normative analysis of this narrative of innovation, in order to open a space for reflection on possible alternatives. First, by assuming, as in a thought experiment, that the promises of optimization and substitution inherent in some of technoscientific platforms are thoroughly fulfilled. Second, by considering what kind of world – and populated by whom – is actually implied in these promises.
full report available here