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Society for Social Studies of Science

4S News

4S President’s message – April 2016


6S Workshop funded

At our Spring 4S Council meeting in March, the Council enthusiastically approved funding to support a graduate student pre-conference workshop, co-sponsored by 4S and EASST, at the EASST/4S joint conference in Barcelona this August 30th. A planning committee comprised of the PhD student representative to the EASST Council, three EASST member students based in Barcelona, and Erika Szymanski from 6S have been meeting regularly since January to discuss ideas and plan the event. In keeping with the conference theme, the workshop title is ‘PhD by other means.’ The pre-conference workshop will begin with breakfast, introductions, and a conversation with churro makers (if you’re unfortunate enough not to have encountered a churro, see who have been working with a local STS researcher on a project about broadening ideas of expertise in churro-making. The draft program looks fabulous, and is (almost) enough to make me wish that I were a PhD student again! 

4S/ASIST collaboration

Following an invitation from Nadia Caidi of the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto and President of the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIST), I’m pleased to announce that David Ribes will participate in a panel co-sponsored by 4S and ASIST at the annual meeting of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents (CSSP) in Washington, D.C. May 9-11th, on topics related to data The panel will address issues of 'data science' broadly speaking (including critical data approaches), data curation, open data/data sharing, and the future of scholarly publishing. I’ve conveyed some of the issues that have arisen in earlier discussions within 4S, and provided the following statement to Nadia for publication in the ASIST Bulletin:

‘The Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) welcomes the opportunity for interdisciplinary dialogue and debate, with ASIST and related scientific societies, regarding the complex issues surrounding data archiving, sharing and interpretation. Our concerns include the question of what we mean by ‘data,’ not (only) as a theoretical matter but also in terms of the contingencies of data production, and the practical politics of naming (particularly qualitative) research materials as alienable data. We are committed as well to addressing concerns and initiatives beyond North America, the UK and Europe in our discussion.’ 

I’ve asked David to prepare a report on the panel for Backchannels, and in the meantime want to thank him for agreeing to represent us. 

Campaign to ban lethal autonomous weapons

I’m off to Geneva April 11-15th for the third Informal Meeting of Experts at the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, a body debating the possibility of a ban on lethal autonomous weapons (LAWS). LAWS are weapon systems in which the identification of targets and use of force are fully automated; killing machines in other words that operate without any form of meaningful human control. I’ll be testifying on a panel on the topic of ‘autonomy,’ emphasizing differences between humans and machines in their capacities of what in the military is named ‘situational awareness,’ particularly with respect to the rule of distinction between combatants and non-combatants that is foundational to International Humanitarian Law. It’s sad in my view that we need to argue against these weapons, and of course I don’t even like the ones that are fired by humans, but that’s a larger campaign. While I won’t be officially representing 4S on this occasion, the perspectives of STS are central. I’ll report back in a future issue of Backchannels, and look forward to continuing this work within the society.

Meanwhile I hope that you’re all enjoying the signs of Spring.