Laura Snyder, Ed Hackett and Alan Richardson: “Creating a Global Knowledge Society: Lessons from History, Philosophy and Sociology"

Fri., Feb. 17, 2012, 10:00am

“Creating a Global Knowledge Society: Lessons from History, Philosophy and Sociology"

Laura Snyder (St. John's University) Ed Hackett (Arizona State University) and Alan Richardson (Philosophy, UBC)
Room 116-117 (VCC West Building)

This session is part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is held in Vancouver, Canada, February 16-20, 2012

Session webpage HERE

Session Summary:
To address complex global problems, scientists must often work across disciplinary lines. Combining science from multiple fields is frequently crucial to the usefulness of particular scientific information. Yet how to do this well has always been a challenge for scientists, since science differentiated itself from other modes of inquiry in the 19th century and disciplines within science began to form. This symposium will take historical, philosophical, and sociological perspectives on past and current efforts to do interdisciplinary scientific work, focusing in particular on work geared towards achieving broader social goods. The symposium will discuss what can be gleaned from the study of both historical and contemporary efforts to address challenges that arise in interdisciplinary, public goal-oriented work, including how communication challenges when working across disciplines can be overcome and how the strengths of disciplines can be harnessed for more general public goals, despite disciplinary narrowness. The symposium will show that not all current challenges are new and cull lessons from earlier efforts for current practice, illuminating the functioning of scientific language in interdisciplinary efforts, the impact of organizational structure, and why interdisciplinary work is often the most effective way to do science for the public good.

Laura Snyder "Global Science and Public Good in the 19th Century: Meteorology, Tidalogy, and Magnetism"

In the nineteenth century, global scientific cooperation was spearheaded by the British scientists John Herschel and William Whewell. They were Influenced by the seventeenth-century philosopher and politician Francis Bacon, who believed that science should be for the public good, to bring about “the relief of man’s estate.” Herschel and Whewell saw global cooperation as necessary not only to uncover new knowledge but also to bring about a global public good. Their efforts led to international cooperation in studying meteorology, the tides, and geomagnetism. Whewell’s world-wide study of tidal patterns made it much safer for ships to sail the seas; Herschel’s work in promoting global meteorological research spurred research on the relation between weather and solar activity and the relation between atmospheric conditions and the intensity of terrestrial magnetism. Whewell and Herschel joined forces in promoting a network of global magnetic observatories to gather geomagnetic data. This information would, they believed, not only help uncover the nature of the universe’s fundamental forces, but also be valuable for navigation, in explaining and predicting the variation of the mariner’s compass. Their example can help us today in creating global knowledge societies that work for the public good.


Alan Richardson "The Unity of Science Movement and a Global Knowledge Society: Successes and Failures"

The theme statement of this year’s AAAS meeting enjoins speakers to think about complex global issues within a global knowledge society.  The theme is explicated within the language of “electronic communication” and “information resources.”  This suggests a model of human communication as simply the sharing of information.  We have a long history, going back at least to the 18th-century French Enlightenment, if not indeed to the medieval university, of sttempts at creating an international knowledge society.  Such efforts can, in the spirit of empirical inquiry, be mined for resources for the one envisioned in the AAAS conference theme.  This talk looks at a key moment in the effort to create a global knowledge society that occurred in the first half of the 20th century in the Unity of Science movement, especially in the work of Otto Neurath.  The successes and failures of the movement help to delineate areas in which philosophy of science can provide aid to science, most notably in helping to refine our models of human communication and to delineate with precision the conditions for use of scientific language in real communication within science and with the public.

Ed Hackett, "How Interdisciplinary Synthesis Happens in the 21st Century"

For nearly four centuries Salomon’s House has stood as an exemplar of empirical interdisciplinary inquiry undertaken for the benefit of society, inspiring the formation of scientific associations and research organizations in diverse nations and cultures (Bacon, c. 1623).  Changing circumstances impose new demands on the organization of science and engineering, on the institutions (rules, laws, principles, and ethics) that guide their workings, and on their engagement with other aspects of society.  Meeting emergent challenges will require dramatically new forms of research organization —a rethinking of the “architecture” of science, a redesign of Salomon’s House and its setting.  Organizational innovations are underway in the US and around the globe, and would benefit from a sturdier theoretical foundation and related empirical research.   Drawing upon published scholarship and original research conducted within a national synthesis center and an international environmental research network, this paper outlines a theory of intellectual fusion in collaborative research, illustrated with empirical examples, and discusses its implications for the design and operation of research organizations.  At its heart is a model of group interaction that achieves intellectual fusion through a combination of capital (cultural, intellectual, social, technological); diversity (of persons and their skills, attributes, and contributions), intensity (the energy, purpose, and clarity of interactions), and duration (of episodes and of a related series of episodes).  The talk explores how that model might operate within new forms of research organization (such as synthesis centers) and closes by imagining how Salomon’s House must look in order to meet the knowledge and technology challenges before us.

For more information about the AAAS meeting, or to register, see HERE