Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Monday, 14 October 2013

New Job!

Um, just wanted to make a short post about my next career move.

I've been quite quiet recently due to some completely horrible stuff going on with the people I love which has dominated my attention and energy. I will always be profoundly grateful to my supervisors Sujatha Raman and Alison Mohr for keeping me moving forward recently - they have been hugely supportive and gone above and beyond the call of duty.

In the background, happening simultaneously, was my application to be a Provost Postdoctoral (Research) Fellow at UCL in their brand new Department for Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP). An extremely challenging application and interview process in August but actually, I had a massive buzz by the end of the interview day and was completely enthused. I loved interacting with the people there and could have happily sat down and started work on the day, so was thrilled to get an offer the following week. It is a great opportunity and I plan to absolutely make the most of it. I've started to see some of the people I'll be working with - loads of talent and very, very bad for my Imposter Syndrome.

My time will pretty much be split between individual research, group research and teaching. I won't say too much about the topics I'll be working on - given that this is a new Department these areas are still in development and will need to be negotiated, but if you know me at all you can imagine I will be hoping to gravitate towards more practical, materialised stuff. I like to work on things I can touch, and on how ideas get implemented in practice. But we'll see :)

I'm also hoping to reconnect with many colleagues from my pre-PhD career as well as with a whole new academic community and will be in London loads (commuting from Newark) so give me a shout from February..... just got a spot of writing to finish before then!

Friday, 30 August 2013

Here Comes The Future and You Can't Run From It, If You've Got a Blacklist I Wanna Be On It

I mentioned a trip to Cumbria in my last post. It's a long way up! The most NorthWesterly county in England. I was collecting my Dad's wife (is she a stepmum if you've never lived with her and you were an adult when you met her?) from her sister's where she'd been staying for a short break. I live on the border of Lincolnshire so I don't get to see many hills - the Cumbrian landscape is quite spectacular, worth the drive even when your SatNav (who you secretly call Margot because she has a posher accent than you) takes you round the coast road instead of further up the M6 and a 3.5 hour journey takes 5.5 hours.

ANYWAY the point is, I listened to alot of Billy Bragg. I've had a longstanding love affair with Billy, starting with Brewing Up With Billy Bragg, which was released around my 15th birthday. It's not his first album, but was my introduction. I love a good singer-songwriter anyway but there was something about Billy Bragg's lyrics that struck right to my 15 year old heart. At first, it was all about love (The Saturday Boy). Then, leaving school in the middle of Thatcher's Britain it was about politics too(Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards). And then, as life started to meander, the even more difficult things in life (Must I Paint You A Picture? or of course Valentine's Day Is Over).

His lyrics are whimsical, funny and so completely easy to relate to. I've been meaning to sort my Top 10 since Roger Kerry asked me this question about 2 years ago. And, prompted by the fact that I'll be seeing BB at Derby in November I've had a go.....

The temptation to take the precious things
We have apart to see how they work
Must be resisted for they never fit together again.

Must I Paint You A Picture? The Essential Billy Bragg (2003)

There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amount to nothing if together we don't stand
There is power in a union

There Is Power In A Union. Talking With The Taxman About Poetry (1986)
FOTD: This is based on a 150-year old Confederate song called 'Battle Cry of Freedom' popular in the American Civil War ....an altogether different Union here though.

In the end it took me a dictionary
To find out the meaning of 'unrequited'
While she was giving herself for free
At a party to which I was never invited

The Saturday Boy. Brewing Up With Billy Bragg (1984)

I'm sure that everybody knows how much my body hates me
It lets me down most every time and makes me rash and hasty
I feel a total jerk before your naked body of work

Sexuality. Don't Try This At Home (1991)
This was a very positive song at a time when we were starting to understand what HIV/AIDS was and the 'Safe Sex' mantra was everywhere. A song of its time.

Some day, boy, you'll reap what you've sown
You'll catch a cold and you'll be on your own
And you'll see that what's wrong with me
Is wrong with everyone that you want to play your little games on

Valentine's Day Is Over. The Essential Billy Bragg (2003)

In the Soviet Union a scientist is blinded
By the resumption of nuclear testing
And he is reminded
That Dr. Robert Oppenheimer's optimism
Fell at the first hurdle

Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards. Workers Playtime (1988)
[and every other word of this brilliant song, including the title of this blogpost]

Call up the craftsmen, bring me the draftsmen
Build me a path from cradle to grave
And I'll give my consent to any government
That does not deny a man a living wage

Between The Wars. Brewing Up With Billy Bragg (1984)

I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them but they were only satellites
Is it wrong to wish on space hardware?
I wish, I wish I wish you'd care

A New England. life's A Riot With Spy vs Spy (1983)

Don't be expecting me to put up shelves or build a garden shed
But I can write a song that tells the world how much I love you instead
I'm not any good at pottery, so let's lose the 't' and just shift back the 'e'
And I'll find a way to make my poetry build a roof over our head

Handyman Blues. Tooth & Nail (2013)
FOTD: The video to this is completely fab. Group therapy in a DIY store.

So that's my Top 9 Billy Bragg lyrics...what are yours?

[image available CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 from The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh http://www.flickr.com/photos/thequeenshall/8941747277/]


Blog Angst

Am feeling somewhat guilty and shamefaced as I return to this blog, like I've found myself visiting a kindly but undemanding Aunty I haven't seen for too many years.

One of my kindly and undemanding Aunties with my late Dad. Yes, she's Irish and yes, she looks exactly like Mrs. Brown

I had such high hopes - I'm over-opinionated and can string a sentence or two together so should be blogging away merrily. I was driving back from Cumbria yesterday asking myself why I don't blog more frequently and concluded that I overthink it. I feel like there is some audience out there I have to impress and satisfy. In fact, that's been drummed into me over many years - WHO IS YOUR AUDIENCE?! The truth is - I don't know. I work at the intersection of so many different fields it is actually a complicated question, and probably not one that can be answered in the singular. I often start posts but then then decide they aren't original enough, incisive enough, topical enough, polished enough. That's pretty exhausting! And there is the inescapable fact that by far the most read post I have published here was the one on Hoof Shoes.

I also realised this blog of mine has very little of my personality in it and this makes me a bit sad (and which is probably why it's a Place of Guilt). I sometimes blog over at Making Science Public, like many of us I'm trying to write scholarly articles and then there is my PhD write-up ..... it seems out of all of those things this blog should be the place where you can just get an inkling of who I am and what I'm interested in. And then if readers want, they can just give me a shout. That's how relationships work isn't it?

So this is my Grand Plan. I'm going to stop stressing about it, stop trying to second guess who will read it and just write when and what I fancy. And we'll just see what happens. Maybe I'll blog more frequently. Maybe more people will read it. And maybe they'll even have conversations with me. Who knows?

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Public Worth of STS: Drawing on STS Sensibilities to Inform the Design of an Ethical Surveillance System

You've probably gathered by now that I've been involved in the University of Nottingham's hosting of the Science in Public conference in July. It is all very exciting and looks like it is shaping up to be a busy event with around 90 papers - the draft programme will be announced and registration opened very soon .. perhaps even this week.

In this post I am flagging up the STS Breakfast that will be happening on the Tuesday morning (23rd July), and giving some of the details that can't fit on the registration page. The breakfast will be hosted by a team from Goldsmiths College and the following text is theirs.
We are a group of STS researchers (from Goldsmiths) working with a broad constellation of organisations from across Europe on the development of a new ‘ethical’ surveillance technology (the group includes activists, big technology firms, transport organisations, consultants and University based computer scientists, along with us STS researchers). The technology is based upon the science of algorithms (at once a computer science and in this project a science of spaces within which people and things move and associate). We have drawn on Actor-Network Theory and the notion of assemblage and Callon’s work on hybrid forums, to re-think the design configuration in which we are engaged. Within this work, we are interested in simultaneously exploring the making and non-making of (a surveillance) public, the making public of STS sensibilities, and the translation of STS sensibilities into a prospective public good (a putative of set of values with possible value, or what Stark terms worth).

Rather than singly define the worth of STS, we have sought engagements with a variety of audiences with whom we can engage in a demonstration/assessment exercise. So far this has included demonstrations to the ‘public’ (broadly construed), data protection officers and EU bureaucrats. However, we would like to take these engagements to STS audiences too. What do STS researchers make of what we have made of STS? We are interested in exploring the multiplicity of voices, accountability relations, deferrals and delegations of accountability that this might provoke.

The session we will run in Nottingham will last an hour. It will include a video based demonstration of the technology, plus some presentation of the STS sensibilities that have fed into the design. The audience will be invited to join in a discussion on the project, what we have made and what we have made of STS. This will involve a direct Q and A session and we also have an anonymous web feedback mechanism that anyone is welcome to use.
Looks pretty great! And you'll even get a bacon/veggie roll or pastry and some coffee and juice etc. As someone who is interested in the way public(s) are imagined/used and how markets translate and manage some of the concerns STS-thinking raises I'll definitely be there.
If you have any burning questions on the ADDPRIV project please contact Daniel Neyland at Goldsmiths direct. If you have any questions about the logistics of the breakfast at Nottingham please feel free to contact me direct. In the meantime, make sure you look out for the chance to register for this free session when registration opens.

Monday, 29 April 2013

This is My2050 - What Will Yours Be LIke?

I have finally got around to having a go at the My2050 game. Let me just say from the outset, if you take this seriously it is really, really hard. The game lets you explore and test your preferred solution for reducing CO2 emissions to 20% of 1990 levels by 2050. Also, if you have the window open at the same time as writing a blogpost (like I have now) the music is really, REALLY irritating, so mute your PC/laptop/tablet.

The project is run by the Department for Energy & Climate Change and is a simplified version of the 2050 calculator which was tested around the country in trials and deliberative dialogues. Here is a DECC summary of the wider project and Sciencewise host a detailed account of the deliberative aspects.

So, first off, I really like this tool. I like that it’s open online to anyone who wants a go, its visual and fun to use, and I like that it involves trade-offs and gives a little indication of the consequences of your choices for both production and demand. Without having really thought it through, I was inclined towards nuclear energy as a comparatively secure and clean energy source (in my opinion). According to My2050 I’d built 50 – FIFTY – large new nuclear power plants and I hadn’t even reduced our carbon emissions by half. I had to rethink that. Going into My2050 I'd have said I have a few problems relating to land use from biomass, I don’t want to support 7x as much onshore wind and I don’t really want to put all my eggs into as-yet-unproven CCS and marine power. In maintaining that, you are left with a lot of fossil fuels or a very energy-frugal life. So, you have to rethink a lot of things you think you have a position on.

So without further ado, here is where I currently am. I’m actually interesting in benchmarking this for 12 months to see what I think in 2014 but in the meantime I’m sure you will all be gladdened to see that I have imagined a future for 2050 where our CO2 emissions are 19% of 1990 levels.

I have committed you all to: bioenergy crops on land half the size of Wales (I didn't want that but it's the baseline), half the fossil fuels we use now (half of which are storing their carbon), 13 new large nuclear power stations, an extra 5,000 onshore wind turbines, 40000 offshore wind turbines, 10m solar panels per person and 27000 wave machines. It takes some imagining, doesn’t it? And that’s just the supply side.

In terms of demand, I’ve doubled our manufacturing industry and half of it stores its carbon (gulp). 75% homes have additional insulation and our average indoor temperature is maintained at 17 deg C. 9 in 10 domestic heat systems are electric, cars are used for a maximum of 60% of journeys and 4 in 5 cars are powered electrically or by hydrogen fuel cells.

After you have manoeuvred the levers you still have to ensure you have balanced your energy security (including that your demand choices are not incompatible with your supply choices). Once you’re happy you can choose to submit your pathway to DECC, you can have your own preference e-mailed to you and you can share either the general website or your own preferences on Facebook or Twitter. Then, once you’ve submitted you can compare your choices to the submitting population and to high profile participants (in my case this was swimmer Duncan Goodhew who, incidentally, I was photographed with at the local swimming baths when they were still called swimming baths). My choices were alot closer to those of the "2050 Project Manager" but I bet s/he hasn't got an Olympic medal.

I thought it was a very interesting exercise. Yes, it trades off some sophistication for utility, but it is still effective in relaying the scale of what it means to reduce our carbon emissions. Another thing I like about the calculator is that tens of thousands of pathways have been submitted to DECC which when you think about it is pretty amazing. I love that (a) I can share my thoughts with you and maybe have a debate, and (b) you can see links to preferred pathways of key stakeholders (although these are mostly derived from the 2050 Calculator, a slightly more complex predecessor of My2050 Pathways). There are pathways from, for example, Mike Childs - Friends of the Earth, Duncan Rimmer – National Grid and author Mark Lynas.

What a great communication tool for NGOs, "thought leaders" and anyone wanting a public debate. What a great stimulus! Come on then, let’s have some debate – what do you think of my choices? And what do you think of the tool?

Friday, 19 April 2013

Messy Research and Why I Love Science & Technology Studies

I'm writing up my PhD research at the moment. As I plan to finish by the end of the year it is my current top priority and - as is the nature of these things - I am becoming more absorbed by it as each week passes. Now I come to write in earnest, I'm wrestling with the challenge of how much has changed over the three and a half years I have been looking at public engagement with science in Scotland.

Firstly, the political landscape in Scotland is quite different now to how it was in Autumn 2009 when I started my studentship. In May 2011 the Scottish people elected their first majority government, led by the Scottish National Party. The SNP's victory has impacted my research through their energy policy and their pursuit of independance. The SNP commitment to ambitious renewable energy targets has been an important contextualising factor, as is the role of energy in Scotland's future. I will hopefully have wrapped up my PhD work by the time the Scots come to vote on independance in September 2014, but the arguments are already in full swing, and energy always been an absolutely critical piece of Scotland's economic jigsaw. So, the stakes are high on Scotland's low-carbon transition and - depending on your persuasion - energy has become a symbol of an affluent future or an example of a leadership hell-bent on a policy that will destroy what is special about the nation. To be perfectly honest, when I planned my research, the "Scottishness" of it was not really on my horizon. This niaivity lasted only as long as my very first interview when the interviewee - reflecting on informal science as a leisure activity - said,
"I think it comes from our Calvinistic heritage, this need for things to be useful as well as enjoyable".
The legacy of Scotland's national identity on its current science landscape is a PhD in itself (although strangely, outside innovation studies this kind of work seems a little out-of-vogue), but I have enjoyed thinking about what is distinctly Scottish and what is not (I have found the work of Charles WJ Withers and David Livingstone useful here).

Secondly, the energy landscape has changed. Electricity production from renewable energy rose by 28% between 2009 and 2012, the amount of onshore wind has doubled and The Scottish Government (TSG)'s CO2 emissions reduction and renewables targets have been revised. Now, TSG aim to generate the equivalent of 100% Scotland's gross annual electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2020. This has not been unproblematic and reasons for opposition vary (as I have blogged previously) but it is fair to say that the policy targets have evolved more quickly than the accompanying public engagement programme. In the last few years a Public Engagement Strategy for a Low Carbon Scotland has been promised, produced and quietly forgotten, recently replaced by a Low Carbon Scotland: Behaviours Framework.

And thirdly, the practical exercise of public engagement is looking quite different to three or four years ago. When I started my studentship, I think there was a clearer distinction between science communication and public engagement, and/or there was a greater appetite for distinguishing between the two. Now, it seems any event that has a scientist and a member of the public within 10 metres of each other can be called public engagement. I think this is a shame, and worry we are in danger of forgetting how to articulate the importance of science communication on its own merits. The Beacons for Public Engagement (including the Edinburgh Beltane) had just been launched as I started my research. Now gone, Beltane leaves behind permanent structural and cultural changes. There has been an explosion of informal science communication events from universities and science centres, and over the last 2 years The Scottish Government has sought to reposition its public engagement grant scheme towards projects that are more dialogic and community-based. Public protests against renewable energy projects have become more organised, more networked, the arguments more broadly based, and they can mobilise more quickly.

These are of course just tasters of unstable ground in governance, energy and science-public relations. So how do you do justice to research that has ended up examining a national level live experiment?! In essence of course, this is really just the messiness of social research and in particular the thing we call Science and Technology Studies. The integration of evolving technology, changing political landscape and a study of how that impacts - and in turn is impacted by - different parts of society is absolutely core to the STS philosophy. The way in which these areas are all evolving quickly, sometimes independantly and sometimes linked, is what becomes the interesting question.