Yan Chen is wrapping up a few days in Singapore for the NSF-funded Research Coordination Network (RCN) in Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) on Putting Sustainability into Convergence: Connecting Data, People, and Systems. This international workshop has been diverse in attendees and disciplines. Yan reflected, “The most discussed question is how people from different disciplines can collaborate. There are many scholars like me, as social scientists who are using sophisticated data analysis models; while others are engineers working on social issues. We both, at a certain degree, struggle in ‘cultural shocks’ between different disciplines.” It’s been a great opportunity for her to workshop with similarly cross-cutting folks. She described her session as discussing, “data sources, sizes, validity, sharing, proxies, and so on. …. [agreeing] that data or method cannot develop only on the technologies, but has to answer certain questions. For social scientists, finding a good mechanism of data sharing or archiving may be very useful. Also, how to cope with the rapidly developing technologies will be another challenge for us.” Thanks to SSHRC for supporting Yan’s trip, via Mike Smit’s Insight Grant, on which I’m a CI, Assessing the social impacts of hydroelectricity-driven landscape changing using text, images and archives: a Big Data approach.
Very proud to read this opinion piece by Rob Sherren (damn straight, relation) in the Globe and Mail yesterday, The market doesn’t care about your community. A hard truth, and one that explains much industrially derived grief today from Alberta to Ontario to Nova Scotia. Industry is more than economy, it is culture and identity and community. I find it interesting that the bio lists Rob’s work as the ‘energy sector’, which in these days of government pipelines and bailouts is usually code for the oil and gas sector, but he develops wind farms.
I’m surfacing after going offline for a day to reflect on my recent lesson in Remedial Internet 101. I don’t tweet–simply haven’t the constitution for it–but merely keep record of my doings in this unfashionable corner of the blogosphere. I am ill suited to the multi-channel (and Janus-faced) modes of modern academic debate. I was grateful to be told directly that I had been hurtful with an analogy I used yesterday: when I’m wrong I apologize and try to fix it. It was a lapse in empathy on my part; the visual it had conjured pleased me for its aptness, blinding me to how it might feel to receive. Retractions never make the ‘front page’ of online discourse, however.
I hear now that I am being accused of gate-keeping and being against boundary work. With some reflection, this may be a fair accusation. If all this boundary work was going swimmingly I’d have little reason to complain; but it is not, and so sometimes I do. I think that the best boundary work is actually drawing on many skill-sets, and is thus interdisciplinary. I’ve argued before that disciplines, while they sometimes get a bad rap, are really useful. People are complicated. Disciplines create theory, norms, and progress critical to ‘interdisciplines’, and those interstitial domains are better if they can draw on healthy disciplines via integration-minded experts. Its like jellyfish: the floating medusa phase and the anchored polyp phase are both needed. But maybe I should stop using animal analogies.
Proud to be one of a strong list of applied social science experts co-authoring a paper out this week, Expanding the role of social science in conservation through an engagement with philosophy, methodology, and methods (open access). Led by the clear-headed Katie Moon, of UNSW Canberra, this new article responds to a special feature in Methods in Ecology and Evolution on qualitative methods for decision-making. Given the mix of methods they included (e.g. including Q-method and MCDA), it seems they used qualitative as if synonymous with social, which is one of my pet peeves. But there were more substantial issues with the special issue. I have written before that I weary of reviewing papers led by teams of natural scientists who wade into social science work without involving any experienced social scientists, so was really happy to weigh in with this great team.
Full disclosure: I joined the team late, and my rationale is not theirs; I speak only for myself. But it was a real joy to develop fellowship and debate ideas with this group, despite our far-flung geography. I’m sorry only that a poorly considered analogy fuelled an angry place online, already in oversupply, distracting from the value of this contribution and the good faith of its lead authors. Good response articles are not the result of indoctrinated voices speaking in unison, but rather a novel network of scholars working together to iron out some of the wrinkles that have been causing collective discomfort. And there is just nothing like slipping into freshly laundered sheets.