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Society for Social Studies of Science

4S News

4S President’s Message – March 2017


4S Boston Meeting Update

I write this month’s message in the context of two recent developments, the first one heartening and the second a continuation of our collective (albeit differentially distributed) troubles. To begin with the good news, the March 1st deadline for submissions to this year’s meeting in Boston has brought a record number of responses, with just under 1600 paper abstracts and 52 Making and Doing presentations. The review process is now underway thanks to Heather Paxson’s thoughtful and conscientious leadership, as is the exploration (by the indomitable Wes Shrum) of possibilities to expand our meeting space so that we can accommodate more participants.

This of course leads us back to the trouble, having to do most immediately with ongoing border crossing concerns, as well as conflicts of conscience, for prospective participants outside the US. On Monday, March 6th Donald Trump issued a new Executive Order that no longer targets green card holders or American citizens, but reiterates a ban on individuals from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States (exempting only Iraq from the previous list), suspends the US refugee program for four months, and slashes the number of refugees who can be admitted to the US in 2017. Amnesty International has declared this new Order ‘the same hate and fear, with new packaging,’ and efforts are redoubling to challenge the latest Order in the US courts (among other things as a violation of the US Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which bans discrimination against immigrants on the basis of national origin), and to support that with action at airports and in the streets. 

In response to the earlier invitation from 4S Council, we have received a number of thoughtful and interesting suggestions for ways that we might respond to these developments around and through the 4S conference, from new modes of remote participation, to special events, to provisions for legal and other support for STS scholars entering at US borders. We have a Council meeting coming up on March 13th at which we’ll discuss all of these possibilities, as we also continue to consult with Heather and the rest of the program committee. More details will follow with the return of review results between now and the 15th of April.

4S Council Nominations now open

In January 4S members were asked to vote on a change to the size of 4S Council from 9 to 12 members, to be achieved through a progressive increase in election slates over the next three years. This amendment to the 4S charter received almost unanimous approval (with just 1 dissenting vote). This means that we’ll be asking for your vote on a slate of 4 candidates for Council at the next election in June.

We would now like to invite you to submit nominations for new members of 4S Council. Self-nominations are welcome. Please send names and a brief description of the nominee’s background to 4S Secretary Steve Zehr by Monday April 10th, 2017.

Metrics and the latest issue of ESTS

You may have received a notice last month regarding the latest edition of Engaging Science and Technology, which includes a Thematic Collection (guest edited by Max Fochler and Sarah de Rijcke) examining the question of academic performance metrics. The contributions mobilize the analytic resources of STS to think about the workings of assessment regimes, and consider the knowledge politics of metrics as they affect our field and the academy more broadly. As one small but significant bit of good news from the UK, an Amendment has been put forward in the House of Lords opposing the use of universities’ performance in the Teaching Excellence Framework (among the latest extensions of the UK’s ruthless audit culture) to set the rate of tuition fees that universities are allowed to charge. In defending the Amendment, Alison Wolf, Baroness of Dulwich (yes, it is the House of Lords) commented, “I remind people who have not already heard it of Goodhart’s law, which basically says that any instrument, measure or metric used for making decisions or allocating funds which are of high importance automatically becomes unreliable.” As part of this initiative the National Union of Students called for a boycott of the National Student Survey, arguing that such surveys treat students like customers rather than learners, and that “‘Satisfaction’ is the wrong thing to measure in a university. What counts is whether the student has been intellectually challenged in a supportive environment.” I trust that these sentiments resonate with related struggles internationally to resist the dangers (including the seductions) of the ‘indicator game,’ as a divisive project to further institutionalize the neoliberal university. 

regards on International Women’s Day,