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Society for Social Studies of Science

4S News

President’s Message, November 2013


Please join me in thanking Trevor Pinch (Cornell U, USA) for his superlative leadership as 4S President 2011-2013.   We have for the first time video links from the prize plenary, thanks to Wes Shrum (LSU, USA).  I detail some of Trevor accomplishments there.

Thanks and appreciation go to outgoing Council members: Laurel Smith-Doerr (Boston U, USA), Steve Zehr U Southern Indiana, USA), and Linda Layne (Rensselaer, USA).  Please consider forwarding your name to the nominating committee for election to Council.  It’s a good place to both learn about and contribute to building STS!

Hearty thanks and gratitude to Roli Varma (U New Mexico, USA) for her excellent service as program chair!

Finally, preliminary thanks to Wes Shrum for his 27-year service as 4S Secretary/Treasurer and new role as Program Officer.  More on this below.

Congratulations to our new Council members (2013-2016): Abby Kinchy (Rensselaer, USA), Claire Waterton (Lancaster U, UK), and Sulfikar Amir (Nanyang Technological U, Singapore).  And thanks to the other candidates who stood for election.  Thank you for your past, present, and future service, and please consider standing for election again!

4S Prizes

Highlighting the meeting was the Prize Plenary, held as a separate session for the second time.  Please join me in acknowledging these fine scholars.  Also, follow links to the available award presentations!

John Desmond Bernal Prize: Distinguished Contribution to the Field. Awarded to an individual judged to have made a distinguished contribution to the field.
2013 recipient: Sandra Harding (UCLA, USA)
Presentation by Paul Edwards (U Michigan, USA)

Ludwik Fleck Prize: Awarded for the best book in the area of science and technology studies.
2013 recipient: Isabel Stengers for Cosmopolitics I & II
Presentation by Donna Haraway (Emeritus, UCSC, USA)

Rachel Carson Prize: Awarded for a book-length work of social or political relevance in the area of social studies of science and technology.
2013 recipient: Tim Choy for Ecologies of Comparison (UC Davis, USA)
Presentation by Laurel Smith-Doerr (U Massachusetts, Amherst, USA)  

David Edge Prize: Awarded for the best article in the area of science and technology studies.
2013 recipient: Joan Fujimura (UW Madison, USA) and Ramya Rajagopala (UW Madison, USA) for “Different differences: The use of ‘genetic ancestry’ versus race in biomedical human genetic research
Presentation by Knut Sørensen (NTNU, Norway)

Nicholas C. Mullins Award: Awarded for an outstanding piece of scholarship by a graduate student in the general field of Science and Technology Studies.
2013 recipient: Nadine Levin for “Multivariate statistical practices and the  enactment of biological complexity in the metabonomics laboratory” (U Oxford, UK)
Presentation by Laurel Smith-Doerr (U Massachusetts, Amherst, USA)

2013 annual meeting, San Diego

As Roli Varma pointed out in her report, the San Diego meeting had 250 concurrent sessions over three days.  Its 1,200 registrants made it 4S’s largest stand-alone meeting.

The follow-up survey evaluation, our first, attracted roughly 300 responses, including 163 comments.

The main finding is that many things are working well.  These include abstract submissions, open panel submissions, online registration, online program, customer service, and mentoring program.  Most importantly, 76% percent of respondents judge the quality of presentations to be high. 

In each category, however, someone was made invisible or otherwise had unfulfilled expectations or desires.

The comments are revealing, mostly elaborating concerns.  Some highlights, with responses:

  • 12 minutes is too short for a presentation.  Planning 18 minutes for Buenos Aires!
  • Parallel sessions put related topics in conflict.  Co-program chairs from Buenos Aires are alerted.
  • Bi-modal judgments about venue: concerns about isolation, cost, quality, food, ADA incompatibility, sessions in two locations.  Other hotels closer to restaurants were out of our price range.  Buenos Aires has numerous restaurant options. 
  • Concerns about reception and banquet.  Tentatively planning to replace the banquet in Buenos Aires with nightly receptions that include some free food and a drink ticket
  • Why hotels?  Virtually impossible to get university space in the U.S., unless during the late summer (when the American Sociological Association meets). 
  • Cost of registration.  Hotels require minimum room reservations and minimum food/beverage expenditures.  The Program Officer, Wes Shrum, is working to negotiate prices that keep registration reasonable.  Request for additional categories of registrant noted and under consideration.

Changes in 4S governance

Council accepted the recommendations of the 4S Governance Review Committee (Wiebe Bijker [chair; Maastricht U, The Netherlands)], Sheila Jasanoff (Harvard U, USA], Mike Lynch [Cornell U, USA], Judy Wajcman [London School of Economics and Political Science, UK]) to modify 4S governance, as follows:

  • Split the Secretary/Treasurer roles into two functions, fulfilled by two members
  • Appoint a new Secretary (will do November 15)
  • Appoint a new Treasurer (will do November 15)
  • Appoint a new Program Officer to serve as meetings planner
  • Establish a spring meeting for Council
  • The President will consider appointing additional members to prize committees, to ensure the committee has the scholarly qualifications to award the prize.
  • Draft a new statement of purpose for 4S

Bottom line: Wes is relinquishing his duties as Secretary/Treasurer after building the society for 27 years.  Come to Buenos Aires to participate in a more appropriate thank-you than an electronic communication!

Because the 4S is healthy, Council decided to focus on steady-state management.  This includes a judicious mix of new initiatives (e.g., possibly an electronic journal and 4S blog) and reduced income (e.g., by keeping registration fees as low as possible)

2014 joint meeting in Buenos Aires with the Sociedad Latinoamericana de Estudios Sociales de la Ciencia y la Tecnología (ESOCITE)

News bulletin:  We recently lost access to our second hotel in Buenos Aires.  To avoid having to add four new small hotels two to three blocks away, we are adding an extra day to the meeting.   We will also need to rely significantly on roundtable sessions.

The joint meeting now begins Wednesday morning August 20!  More on this soon.

Thanks in advance to Leandro Rodriguez Medina (UDLAP, Mexico) and Pablo Kreimer (CONICET [National Council for Scientific Research], Argentina: ESOCITE) for serving as co-program chairs of this tri-lingual meeting.

Thanks to Ezequiel Benito (Maimonides U, Argentina) and Hugo Ferpozzi (Maimonides U, Argentina) for their extensive work in local arrangements.

Particular thanks go to the members of the 4S Latin American Network who used a 4S New Initiatives grant to undertake pre-planning for the 2014 meeting at a workshop in summer 2011.  The lead 4S representatives at this meeting were Christina Holmes (Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France), Ivan da Costa Marques (U Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Rick B Duque (U Vienna, Austria). 

Critical participation

In my remarks at the 4S Prize Plenary, I announced that the theme of my presidency is critical participation.  More on this next month.

Come to Buenos Aires!
Gary Downey