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.

41yt4Gt7myL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_
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 

REVIEW; What Makes People Tick?

What Makes People Tick?
Chris Rose, Matador, 201141I8H5-RO4L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

In “Values Modes” theory there are three ‘worlds’ of Settlers, Propsectors and Pioneers who are separated by different ‘values’:

  • Pioneers – need to connect actions with values, explore ideas, experiment. Networking, interests, ethics, innovation.
  • Prospectors – need for success, esteem of others then self-esteem,. Acquire and display symbols of success. Look good and have fun.
  • Settlers – need for security, safety, identity, belonging. Keep things small, known, controllable, and avoid risk.

(summary on page 23). Continue reading

Blogging as academic public policy engagement – a personal journey (Part 1 – 2009-2013)

Cambridge Policy Lab

Almost a decade ago, in 2009, I decided to experiment with blogging as a way of engaging with public policy and management debates.

It wasn’t easy.

I was an academic employed by Manchester Business School, University of Manchester.

I said I wanted to start a blog. They said – no you can’t. I asked why? They said, first we don’t know how to and second we don’t want you freelancing and possibly “damaging the brand”.

Let’s back-track a bit to see how I got to this point.

I am not a conventional academic. I left school at 16 with only 5 “O” Levels and went to work as a Lab Tech with what was then ICI Pharmaceuticals research in Alderley Edge.

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Paradoxes of Human Nature and Public Management Reform

Paradoxes of Human Nature and Public Management Reform – Talbot 2005

This is a book chapter based on a key note speech I gave at the launch conference of the Network of Asia-Pacific Schools and Institutes of Public Administration and Governance (NAPSIPAG) in Kuala Lumpur in December 2004.

It tries to draw a link between evolved human social nature and the contradictory tides of public management reform

It was published in this book which is sadly no longer available (although I have a PDF of the entire book if anyone wants it).

The model of human social instincts I use here, which was also used in my book “The Paradoxical Primate“, has since changed as I explain elsewhere on this blog .

 

 

A Very Short, Easy and Free Guide: How to Plan a Dissertation

[I wrote this short note for UG and PG dissertations students I supervise. If it’s of any use to anyone else, please feel free….with acknowledgement of course. Wouldn’t want you falling foul of TurnItIn.]

Having an outline – a road map – that tells you and your supervisor what you expecting to cover in your UG or PG dissertation is an invaluable aid to thinking, researching and writing. Continue reading

Mobilsing Social Science Research for the Media – The Other Research Bureau?

orb

In a “post-truth” political world, facts have never been more important. Some are easy to find, others require some skill and knowledge to locate and analyse.

Media organizations and journalists are under ever greater pressure to produce sound, fact-based, reporting to counter the tidal wave of fake news and half-truths spread through social media.

They also have less resources to employ their own investigative teams.

There are, however, thousands of well-trained social scientists in the UK – inside and outside of academia – who have the skills and knowledge to unearth the real story. Many young researchers have much to contribute and could always do with a little extra cash. They also can – sometimes – respond quickly to requests. I have worked with several in this way myself.

So, we are thinking of creating a service that brings the demand for quick, efficient, investigative research from media organizations and journalists together with those social scientists who are willing to provide quick but quality access to or digests of the information the media needs. Or, in some cases, to carry out more in-depth investigations?

A sort of “Trust a Trader” or “Rated People” platform for social scientists and the media. We have a preliminary name and logo (above).

We envisage an on-line platform where requests can be made (with a fee offer) and social scientists respond if they can help.

We should stress this would not be investigative journalism – we’ll leave that to the media. This would be background research to help journalists write their stories.

We are interested in hearing from

Media folk if you think this sort of service would be useful and would you or your organizations pay for it?

Social scientists who might want to participate (we’re thinking especially here of early career researchers maybe?) – for payment, obviously.

We want to know if this is a bonkers idea, or something worth trying?

Comments welcome here or directly to me at colin.talbot@manchester.ac.uk 

Who Does Social Inquiry in the UK?

Our new initiative on Deliberative Public Policy has been launched as a separate blog and resources site. Here’s the first post.

Cambridge Policy Lab

Colin Talbot

16 Nov 2016

A lot of public policymaking is based on at least some form of social inquiry – how do Governments know what is going on in their societies and what do they want to do about it?

With academics and research Councils – especially the Economic and Social Research Council – obsessed at the moment with ‘impact’ of our research, its impact on policy has become a central issue.

Recent national controversies like the “Brexit” debate have – as a side issue – also focussed on the role of “experts”.

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