Consilient Science? Confronting Global Challenges

41QCRQTJF7L._SX299_BO1,204,203,200_Many of the big challenges and issues confronting humanity are only solvable using all available knowledge – across disciplines and paradigms of knowledge. Edward Wilson set out an agenda for better integration of all sciences in his book “Consilience” two decades ago.

In 2018 the World Economic Forums annual global risk assessment was published. It identified a large number of issues. The top eight concerns are listed below. If we crudely divide academic disciplines into three groups – physical sciences, engineering and technology and social sciences (including humanities) it is easy to see that any solutions to any of these eight issues require inputs from all three areas of academic research and expertise (see below).

WEF Annual Global Risk Assessment – Top Few Risks and Possible Contributions from the sciences?

Top global risks according to WEF 2018

Physical
Sciences

Engineering & Technology Social
Sciences

Extreme Weather

x

x

x

Natural Disasters

x

x x

Mitigation failure

x

x

x

Water shortages

x

x

x

Cyber-attacks

x

x

x

Ecosystem failure

x

x

x

Mass migration

x

x

x

Food crises x x

x

There are some who would argue that it is sufficient for individual academic disciplines to make their distinct and unique contributions to these problems and their policy solutions and leave it to others – policymakers? – to integrate their offerings.

More-over many of the most interesting developments in knowledge, of both practice and theory, are coming from inter- or trans-disciplinary domains.

There have been huge developments in the practical integration of knowledge across many disciplines often outside of academia – examples like rare species preservation, ecological management, space exploration, etc come to mind.

In addition the existence of multi-disciplinary social science ‘vocational’ University departments – like social work, business administration, public administration and public policy – have encouraged more cross-disciplinary working and created their own ‘spaces’ (conferences, journals, etc) where such fusions can occur (although that is not a given even in these schools – disciplinary boundaries can still persist).

There have also been increasing attempts to address the theoretical issues involved in integrating knowledge across disciplines, especially in the social sciences. Some adopt what might be called a strong inter-disciplinary approach – that is that individual disciplines such as anthropology, economics, political science, social psychology, and sociology should maintain their separate identities but collaborate more across disciplinary boundaries.

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Others have taken a more radical approach to trans-disciplinary, or even fully integrated, social science – which is more in keeping with the approach of ‘Consilience’ – i.e. the unity of knowledge. Although few acknowledge it explicitly, this is precisely what has happened in practice in the big applied fields of business, public administration, public policy and many specific domains such as health services, education, criminal justice and other policy and practice arenas.

Such efforts at integration have, however, been made even harder by paradigmatic differences (which cut through many academic disciplines, especially in social sciences). By paradigmatic differences we mean the big debates over ontological, epistemological and methodological issues.

Integration Across Disciplines and Across Paradigms?

Single Discipline Inter- or Trans-Disciplinary

Single Paradigm 

Simple

Moderately simple

 Multi-paradigm/method Moderately challenging

Very challenging

A variety of terms and concepts are used to characterise this paradigmatic cleavage (indeed the term ‘paradigm’ is itself controversial): positivism versus post positivism; scientific realism versus social constructionism; etc. We would contend that cross-paradigmatic dialogue and integration is in many respects far more challenging than cross-disciplinary working within the same paradigm? (See Figure 1)

It might be thought that adding an additional challenge – that of making integrated knowledge accessible to policy-shapers – would make things even more difficult. On the contrary, we would argue that adding a practical focus to the problem of cross-disciplinary and paradigmatic working provides a spur to better integration.

The big examples of successful bringing together of various knowledges for practical purposes – whether it be landing humans on the Moon or preserving rare species, of managing complex businesses and government agencies or addressing complex policy problems – suggest it is this practical focus that provides the incentives needed.

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This will be the focus of a new journal we are developing: Consilient Science.

The purposes of CONSILIENT SCIENCE are:

To promote dialogue and integration amongst academic disciplines through a focus on significant problems and challenges to humanity

To promote dialogue between academia and policymakers to enable both sides to better understand both possible challenges and feasible solutions

To critically but positively examine the processes by which both of the above take place to improve them.

CONSILIENT SCIENCE will be open to all academic disciplines but its focus is on trans-disciplinary contributions and dialogue. (This does not exclude contributions from a single disciplinary perspective, so long as they also engage with other disciplinary viewpoints).

CONSILIENT SCIENCEwill be academically rigorous, through open peer review, but also to accessible to both academic and non-academic audiences, especially policy shapers and makers in the media, politics, business, civil society and the wider public.

The initial Editorial Advisory Board includes:

Honorary President: Edward O. Wilson (Harvard)

Members: Diane Coyle (Cambridge), Brian Cox (Manchester), Athene Donal (Cambridge), Robin Dunbar (Oxford), Steven Pinker (Harvard), Dan Davis (Manchester), David Sloan Wilson (Binghampton), Henry Mintzberg (McGill), Mariana Mazucato (UCL), Mike Kenny (Cambridge), David Schultz (Manchester), Mark Collard (Simon Fraser), Jennifer Rubin (ESRC UK), Beryl Radin (George Washington), Kiyoshi Yamamoto (Tokyo), Reito Gotoh (Hitobashi), Edward Slingerland (British Colombia), Bobby Duffy (Kings, London), Lord Michael Bichard (London), Geoff Mulgan (NESTA, London), Ralph Heintzman (Ottawa), Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh (Cambridge), Catherine Rhodes (Cambridge)

(*All those listed have all agreed to participate).

If you want to follow how this develops, sign up to our twitter feed @ConsilientS 

The Interdependence Party?

 

TIGersThe new break-away group of ex-Labour MPs have called themselves “The Independent Group” (TIG).

This may make sense in a narrow, Westminster, way. They are clearly not trying to capture the Labour brand by calling themselves ‘Independent Labour’ or some such. And they are leaving the door open for Tory MPs of like mind to join them.

But ‘Independent” has unfortunate connotations outside of the Westminster bubble. Continue reading

NAUGHTY NUMBERS – How Politicians Spin Public Finance Stats

Another Budget – another torrent of numbers twisted to suit the arguments of all varieties of politicians. So here’s a simple ‘bluffers guide’ to how to understand some of the figures, and how they can be “massaged”.

Let’s start with a few definitions. Continue reading

The Invisible Hand of Government?

Don’t worry, this isn’t some paranoid fantasy about the ‘Deep State’ so beloved of conspiracy theorists of the far right and far left. It’s about me and you and our everyday lives and the part Government plays in them.

I can’t recall who it was, but it was an American academic colleague who gave me this idea from something he used to do with his students.

At the start of courses that had anything to do with Government I’d ask my students to put their hand up if they’d had an encounter with Government so far today?

Generally, they’d look a bit blank – especially if it was an early morning course. A few brave souls would put a hand up and I’d ask what it was. Usually it was something obvious like a student loan letter.

Then I would say simply: every single one of you is wrong because you have all had multiple encounters with Government. You just don’t recognise them. Continue reading

Christopher Pollitt RIP

ChristopherMy friend, mentor, critic and collaborator and great scholar Christopher Pollitt has died after a long illness. You will be hugely missed Christopher.

My thoughts go out to Hilkka and the extended family.

Christopher had a wonderfully dry sense of humour. When my wife Carole became pregnant with our son Alex (my first biological offspring), I emailed Christopher with the news. His response was typical: “don’t worry, the first 30 years is the worst”. Continue reading

Putin, Trump and Cyber Warfare – Sir David Omand’s dramatic warning

Prof. Colin Talbot, Research Associate, University of Cambridge

Sir David Omand, former Director of GCHQ and former Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator for the Government, is to issue a strongly worded warning about threats of external subversion and internal sedition being enhanced by cyber-warfare techniques.

untitledIn a lengthy article published in the Journal of Cyber Policy,* Omand warns that the Russian government is continuing in the tradition of the Soviet Union in engaging in ‘hybrid warfare’ and ‘active measures’ (aktivinyye meropriatia) to subvert European and American governments.

(*Which I was given pre-publication access to by Sir David, for which thanks).

These can include highly targeted propaganda and misinformation; attacks on ‘critical national infrastructure’ and increasingly extending into the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) – all assisted or enabled by cyber-space. Continue reading

REVIEW: Post Truth – the new war on truth and how to fight back. Matthew D’Ancona

41Kdn5n-8GL._AC_US436_QL65_The idea we are now living a “post truth” era has become something of an accepted truism itself, and D’Ancona’s book is one of several to explore this phenomenon.

Let’s start by saying this is a very good book and well worth a read. I haven’t read all of the other ‘post-truth’ books (yet) but this is certainly one I’d recommend.

As you may have guessed, there is a “but” coming, or to be more precise several “buts” which I hope will be seen as constructive criticisms. Continue reading