the management and communication of uncertainty in the L’Aquila earthquake
new paper the Journal Futures, with Bruna De Marchi
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.
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 is it like to be a bat? @ Impossibile, Spazio Bianco, Torino
“Conscious experience is a widespread phenomenon. It occurs at many levels of animal life, though we cannot be sure of its presence in the simpler organisms, and it is very difficult to say in general what provides evidence of it. (Some extremists have been prepared to deny it even of mammals other than man.) No doubt it occurs in countless forms totally unimaginable to us, on other planets in other solar systems throughout the universe. But no matter how the form may vary, the fact that an organism has conscious experience at all means, basically, that there is something it is like to be that organism”.
“Without consciousness the mind-body problem would be much less interesting. With consciousness it seems hopeless”.
Thomas Nagel, 1974
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.
photography workshop @ Green Routes for Taranto and Palagianello
A workshop about photography as a way to learn about the individual unique experience of looking at the inner and outer world. The city of Taranto and the surroundings of the castle of Palagianello are explored with a group of educators in charge of different non-profit organisations operating on the local territory. Photography can become a participatory tool for creating new imaginaries to value and transform the social and environmental landscape towards more sustainable futures.
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.
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.
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.
poetry and photography as quality evidence
performance work with David Waltner-Toews @ New Currents in Science: The Challenges of Quality / Joint Research Center / European Commission
As the artist Cyrilla Mozenter has written regarding Volker Harlan’s conversations with Joseph Beuys, the word aesthetic can be understood as the opposite of anesthetic or numbness: then the artist and the art process have to do with aliveness. In Harlan’s words: art making “links…to responsibility not as a moral imperative, but to response-ability, or the ability to respond”.
Art making and fruition can emotionally, intuitively and cognitively encourage the capacity to locally and contingently embrace change and complexity, while creatively adapting to them as they unfold.
Photography and poetry can be considered as generating quality evidence related to the experience of place, and integrating it. Good policy can emerge where scientific generalizations meet place based quotidian life.