January 30, 2012

STS perspectives on the Green Revolution

Over the next few weeks, you'll be hearing a lot from me and some collaborators about the future of food and agriculture. Consider this a warm-up, although it's a bit academic. And if you're in the Phoenix area, check out this panel I'm participating in this week, "Feed 8 Billion."

The Green Revolution is an era of rapid agricultural innovation and diffusion that is critical to my own research, and I would argue, to the future of agricultural research. Narratives of the Green Revolution are invoked by different actors for different purposes; Robert Zeigler might invoke the Green Revolution as a reason to support public agricultural research. Activists like Vandana Shiva might invoke it to warn of the dangers of monocropped agriculture and top-down international development projects. I prefer to take the middle road, but the aim of my research is not to make a normative judgment about the Green Revolution. Instead, I aim to interpret how different visions of agricultural change and innovation drive organizations and technological development.

I have created a public folder of my essential Green Revolution articles, and I would also highly recommend these books by Kloppenburg, Perkins, and Cullather for an even richer perspective. There are so many things written about this topic, but I've attempted to cull it down to my favorites. I've also included my paper on the Green Revolution and the Population Bomb in Asia from 1960-1970, which I wrote for a class last year and hope to turn into a dissertation chapter. Please ask for permission if you'd like to cite or circulate my paper.

I'm going to highlight 3 papers for this post. They are articles I picked because they cover the basics of the Green Revolution, biotechnology, globalization, and some of the core STS concepts I want to explore in my research. The common theme between these 3 articles is agricultural innovation systems, and the dynamic between technologies and institutions/organizations.

Let’s start with Parayil’s 2003 paper on technological trajectories from the Green Revolution to the “Gene Revolution” (biotechnology and molecular techniques for plant breeding). Parayil borrows the concept of technological trajectories from a paper by Giovanni Dosi in 1982. The unique contribution of Dosi’s theory is that technological development occurs in a specific technological paradigm that both produces innovations, but also constrains these innovations to a specific trajectory. The physical properties of the technology and its path of development, the institutional environment that produce technologies, and the economic forces driving innovation all contribute to a specific technological trajectory. 

Parayil uses this theoretical framework to explain how the research organizations, technologies, and economic incentives during the Green Revolution are very different than today’s Gene Revolution. Other factors, like globalization, neoliberalism, and intellectual property rights also characterize today’s innovation environment. To Parayil, it is wrong and possibly dangerous to imagine the Gene Revolution as a continuation of the Green Revolution. I am proposing to empirically study an actual innovation system, using the case study of northwest India. What actors are involved in research, seed sales, and extension? To what extent are farmers included in participatory research, and does this feed back into the system? How do conceptions of biotechnology and the Green Revolution shape future imaginations of agricultural adaptation to climate change?

Onto the next article, Brooks (2011) on international agricultural research and global public goods (GPGs). Brooks discussed how the CGIAR (an international consortium of public agricultural research centers, several of which were critically involved in the Green Revolution) markets itself as a purveyor of GPGs and that the “CGIAR centres would now play a ‘brokering’ role in global, heterogeneous networks comprising a wide range of public and private institutions (Rijsberman 2002, 3). The implication was that ‘the CGIAR was uniquely placed to act as honest broker’ and steer these complex networks in directions consistent with a public goods research mandate (Brooks 2010, 4)” (Brooks, 2011, 70). Brooks frames her argument against a 2008 paper by Dana Dalrymple, an economist at the USDA who has promoted public international agricultural research since the Green Revolution. 

She uses the case studies of Golden Rice, iron biofortification, and the CGIAR’s HarvestPlus program to show how despite the CGIAR’s claims of knowledge brokering and new research paradigms, and despite ostensibly new research partnerships and institutional innovations, the CGIAR has maintained both institutional dominance (in a top-down paradigm) and technological and economic reductionism (assuming scale-neutral technologies, and silver bullet solutions to complex social problems). My research on climate change adaptation and agricultural research aims to uncover similar dynamics. How do international, national, and local agricultural research organizations (including public, private, and NGOs) use climate change as a leverage point for power? Have research paradigms actually changed because of climate change, or are the same technological and institutional goals maintained? 

Finally, Busch and Juska (1997) discuss political economy, actor network theory, and globalized food and agricultural systems. The authors frame their article against political economy approaches, which focus on social power. They claim that this approach generalizes and simplifies the range of actors involved, and demands that non-human actors (such as food and nature) are passive. Instead, they recommend embracing actor network theory, which seeks to remedy these oversights. They use the case study of Canadian rapeseed (canola) to show the relationships between scientific institutions (particularly plant breeding and organic chemistry), technologies, and nature that were necessary to make rapeseed oil edible for humans. Furthermore, the liberalization of global rapeseed markets led to shifts in production and consumption. I find the actor network theory approach to agricultural systems extremely helpful in empirically conceptualizing the connections between scientific research, commodity chains, and producers and consumers. In my own research, I plan on conducting a network analysis of rice and wheat research in northwest India. I’m not as interested in the global commodity chain, but rather the interaction between local, national, and international actors.

January 26, 2012

Links I liked, plus some musings on modernization

It's been a busy, stressful week for me. the good news is I've begun contacting potential research hosts in India. The bad news is my last fellowship essay is due on Tuesday. I've applied for three large fellowships this year, and I'm hoping at least one of them will come through. 

But you don't need me to get your fill of science policy news, right? Here's my round-up of links I liked this week.
  • My new (to me) favorite blog: New Security Beat. All about environmental change and national security. Check out some of their latest posts about climate change and security.
  • The New York Times has been running a series of articles on the dark side of Apple's manufacturing plants in China. For more on Apple and global markets, check out these posts by Pielke and Bellemare.
  • XKCD tackles the sustainability of "sustainable."
  • The Biology Files on "The science public information officer: it's complicated."
  • Kate Clancy on "Blogging while female." Online harassment is, fortunately, something I haven't had to deal with on my blog, but Clancy's blogs and others in the female-scientist-blogosphere always keep me on my toes about gender and science issues.
The latest "Food for 9 Billion" radio program by Marketplace features the Philippines, and the transcript is worth a read. There's also a cool interactive graph and timeline to play with. Of course, my favorite part was the interview with Robert Zeigler, director of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), who begins by talking about IRRI's role in the Green Revolution.
Robert Zeigler: I think in many ways we're facing challenges that dwarf what we were facing in the 1960s. 
[narrator] That's Robert Zeigler, director of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. This is where those high-yielding rice strains were first developed. Zeigler says with climate change and an increasingly crowded planet, the huge increases of the past may be harder to come by this time around. 
Zeigler: I don't think there's any question that we will want to feed these people and we want them to be well fed and we want them to be well nourished and we want them to be healthy. At the same time, we have to do this in a way that once populations do stabilize that the world we live in is a place we want to live in. 
[narrator] And this is where things get tricky. Zeigler says the demand for rice is expected to grow anywhere from 50-70 percent in the coming years. Meeting that demand without jeopardizing the planet's remaining ecosystems will take a level of coordination and foresight unprecedented in human history. For him, the technological Holy Grail is a bioengineered, photosynthesis-supercharged, rice strain. But such a breakthrough is decades away, if at all. And in the meantime the Philippines, and much of the world, is losing productive farmland, not adding it.
Something I'm really interested in for my own research is how the narrative of the Green Revolution and technological breakthroughs is used to talk about climate change. It is a fairly obvious strategy for agricultural research organizations, despite critiques of the Green Revolution. The sense of urgency due to climate change recapitulates what historian Nick Cullather refers to as IRRI's “Manhattan Project for Food” [source].

Speaking of Nick Cullather, I've become quite interested in modernization theory and Cold War geopolitics lately. So my nerd alert went off when I came across this roundtable discussion of Michael Latham's
The Right Kind of Revolution: Modernization, Development, and U.S. Foreign Policy from the Cold War to the Present. I will definitely have to check the book out.

Here is a particularly interesting excerpt from Corrina Unger's review of the book:
Development often served as an ideology, too, and ideas about development, especially about colonial development were often based on scientific discourses, theories, and concepts.3 There seems to be agreement that modernization was a scientized version of older development ideas, but Latham’s study does not fully explain which difference which kind of science made. Also, it would be worthwhile to inquire into whether we can identify a specifically American type of science behind modernization or if and how transnational and global experiences and encounters transformed its character. [see footnote below
Linked to this problem is the question of definitions, which, for an opaque term like modernization, is of course very difficult. Although Latham does not offer a precise definition, he does identify elements he considers characteristic of modernization: In his view, “the promise of acceleration” and the “perceived potential to link the promotion of development with the achievement of security” were what made American policymakers so enthusiastic about modernization. (3) This is in line with his thesis about the United States’ support of the “right kind of revolution”, a science-based revolution geared toward securing American global interests. Latham excels at contextualizing modernization and its many facets, thereby providing much more than a narrow history of modernization. His engaging account is of interest to anyone concerned with American intellectual, political, and international history.  
[footnote] For recent findings on the scientization of politics after 1945, see the contributions in Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 50 (2010). Also see Sheila Jasanoff, ed., States of Knowledge: The co-production of science and social order (London, New York: Routledge, 2004). On the United States’ transnational ties and its “looping effects”, see Ian Tyrell, Transnational Nation: United States History in Global Perspective since 1789 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).  

January 22, 2012

States of Knowledge: Autism, bird flu, and co-production

This week for class we read selected chapters from the book, States of Knowledge: The Co-Production of Science and Social Order, edited by Sheila Jasanoff. It's important to first understand the concept of "co-production" in the context of science and democracy. Jasanoff's co-production is the co-evolution, co-dependency, and obviously co-production of science and social order. This is a useful conceptual tool for studying science, technology, and society because it refuses to cede to technological or social determinism that is present in other social science scholarship. For example, the theories of Thomas Malthus are social determinist because they disregard the human capacity for innovation. More recently, the controversies around eugenics and intelligence testing (as I discussed last week) assume that intelligence is a "natural," or genetically determined, trait. A technologically determinist perspective would be how technology ultimately shapes our society. For example, one might argue that the confluence of highways, automobiles, and fast food restaurants are the cause of obesity in America. But this ignores the social determinants of obesity, and also the social transitions in post-WWII America that co-evolved with a car-centric, processed food-based society.

Jasanoff further separates co-production into two facets: constitutive and interactional. Constitutive co-production helps explain nationhood and legitimacy of knowledge; more simply, what we consider nature and society, and why. Interactional co-production is more concerned with how we know things. This is broadly referred to as "boundary work"- or interactions between science and society/politics. Looking to the Science section of the New York Times, I can easily find articles that resonate with each category. One article describes how "New Definition of Autism Will Exclude Many, Study Suggests." The American Psychiatric Association sets the standards of mental health diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), with the newest revision causing fears of under diagnosis of autism or autism spectrum disorders. This really clearly demonstrates constitutive co-production, because the DSM definitions of disorders are shaped by both social norms and scientific knowledge. And there are implications for both science and society: presumably, the concern is that people who are not properly diagnosed will miss out on crucial health and social services. The scientific implications are also important: statistics will shift, doctors will change their practices of diagnosis, and new standards are institutionalized.

Another recent article helps demonstrate “interactional” co-production: “Scientists to Pause Research on Deadly Strain of Bird Flu.” As mentioned in the article, an absolute moratorium on research is seldom seen (even with stem cells, research could still continue under private funding). But it seems that cultural differences between America and Europe are playing a part. A Dutch virologist stated, “‘It is unfortunate that we need to take this step to help stop the controversy in the United States’… ‘I think if this were communicated better in the United States it might not have been needed to do this. In the Netherlands we have been very proactive in communicating to the press, politicians and public, and here we do not have such a heated debate.’” It’s funny how the same argument is used about agricultural biotechnology (genetic modification of foods); only switch the positions of the U.S. and Europe. And importantly, the article points out that although we have “never seen the scientific world so polarized, and that led him to urge the researchers to show good faith and flexibility by declaring the moratorium themselves.” This is a clear, although likely unintentional, reference to the idea that science governs itself, rooting back to Michael Polanyi’s “Republic of science,” and that science should be unfettered by government restrictions or impositions. In the realm of post-war science policy, old habits die hard.

January 16, 2012

Upcoming STS/Science Policy Grad Conference

FYI, shoot me a comment or email with questions or for more details!

The Organizing Committee of the STGlobal Consortium is welcoming submission of abstracts for papers to be presented at the 12th Annual STGlobal Conference for graduate student researchers (March 30-31, 2012 in Washington, DC).

Abstracts are welcome on issues relevant to science & technology policy (STP), science & technology studies (STS), and related fields including but not limited to health; energy and environment; space; information and communications; innovation; education; and ethical, legal and social implications of science and technology.

NEW!  Two submission options: "Completed research" or "Work-in-progress"
We are happy to announce that the papers submitted as completed research will be considered to be published in a special issue of the Journal of Science Policy & Governance.

Extended Deadline for submissions: January 31, 2012.

Please see our website www.stglobal.org

We are looking forward to receiving your submissions!

- The STGlobal Organizing Committee

January 15, 2012

The lone inventor vs. groupthink

(The internet runs on cats)

Today the New York Times has an interesting article on "The Rise of the New Groupthink," which is the emphasis on teamwork over the individual. The author is interested in how introverts operate in environments dominated by groupthink like brainstorming sessions and open offices. Anecdotally, some of the most successful inventors are introverts, so it's important to keep them happy and productive. And empirically,
Decades of research show that individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and group performance gets worse as group size increases. The “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups,” wrote the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.” (source)
From personal experience, I have mixed feelings about groups. From my years working in environmental advocacy, I gained inspiration and a feeling of solidarity with my cohorts. But nearly every class project I'm part of, I feel that I'm held back by my teammates. Even if I end up doing less work, I somehow rationalize that it's because I couldn't go the direction I wanted to, or that my ideas clashed too much with others in the group. Two endeavors that I'm really excited about right now are the graduate group I'm part of, GISER, and a graduate student conference I'm helping organize. These groups work well because the leadership committees are experienced at organizing, and good at utilize everyone's unique skills without putting too much responsibility on one person. I could write an entire blog post on this, but three things that are crucial to effective leadership groups are transparency, delegation, and accountability.

I also think about my future as a scholar, and the importance of collaboration. Within my graduate program we have a good mix of group projects and individual nurturing, but my dissertation project will largely independent. My job working with MSU Extension for the past two summers was also a good mix of teamwork and independence. I tend to generate and refine ideas better during conversation (I think this means I'm an extrovert), but I carry them out better on my own. And while interdisciplinary collaboration may just be a buzzword to some,
Recent studies suggest that influential academic work is increasingly conducted by teams rather than by individuals. (Although teams whose members collaborate remotely, from separate universities, appear to be the most influential of all.) The problems we face in science, economics and many other fields are more complex than ever before, and we’ll need to stand on one another’s shoulders if we can possibly hope to solve them. (source)
In our world of post-normal science and wicked problems, teamwork is key.

January 12, 2012

Science in the 20th Century: An abbreviated tour

This week for a class we read several chapters from the book, Science in the Twentieth Century, edited by John Krige and Dominique Pestre. The 20th Century is, of course, my favorite century because of the developments in technology and agriculture. World War I and II are significant milestones for innovation in the 20th Century, as many of the authors noted. And much of the science policy that we operate by today is driven by our conceptions of innovation from the post-war era, and the famous science policy manifesto, Science, the Endless Frontier by Vannevar Bush.

Chapter 6 by Theordore Porter, “The Management of Society by Numbers,” dealt with the emergence of accounting and managerial science. Porter asserts that concepts such as statistics and cost-benefit analysis didn’t just emerge as a tool of capitalism, but rather the tools themselves co-evolved with ways to shape political order. Writing about nation-based economic planning, accounting, and growth, Porter writes, “Clearly such statistics have to do with regulating social and economic life, not merely with describing it” (p. 101). Turning often-nebulous concepts such as “cause of death,” race, and cost-benefit analyses into concrete numbers and statistics is a classic project of the Enlightenment, but Ported shows how exactly these tools had an impact on society. The extreme case of imposing technological order on society is demonstrated by eugenics, which Daniel Kevles explores in Chapter 16. Eugenics was the promotion of “good breeding” and sometimes coerced sterilization, but was eventually shunned after its central role in Nazi science. But IQ tests, initially developed to test soldiers in WWI for their leadership capacity, clearly played and continue to play a role in how we categorize and govern out citizens, and especially how we educate them.

What I found most profound about Porter’s chapter was how the rationalization of government projects and citizens is at once technocratic, but also transparent. Anyone with a bit of training can challenge scientific or economic results, imposing their own values on the intepretation. Porter writes, “such tools are not unambiguously friendly to elite experts. Expertise means not simply the ability to apply difficult technical methods, but also, or mainly, the capacity to exercise judgment with wisdom and discrimination” (106). To me, this is where the system breaks down. There is an expectation that scientists should be politically uninvolved and devoid of values. From the scientists’ perspective this is the “loading dock” model: you do your research, then drop it off at the dock and just hope someone picks it up and uses it. The problem, as we see with climate change, is that anyone can contest the results. We shouldn’t ask scientists to be advocates, but there should be more “Honest Brokering” of science and how we can use it as a tool for democracy, rather than stalemating policy.

I also enjoyed Chapter 12 by W. Bernard Calson, titled “Innovation and the Modern Corporation.” Carlson traces some of the major inventors and innovators back into the 1800s, showing the differences between the lone-inventor of Thomas Edison to today’s research laboratory style of corporate innovation. The most interesting thing was the co-evolution of technologies and organizational structure in major firms like GE and Bell Laboratories. There is a delicate balance between letting inventors and scientists have enough creative mobility, but also channeling their work into a commercial product. This is one of the key tensions of science policy, and the supposed divide between “basic” and “applied” research. In Deborah Fitzgerald’s chapter on the history of agricultural science, she reveals similar themes. During the 20th Century, agricultural science went from not being a science at all (farmers didn’t use scientific management or breeding), to an informal network of public and private scientists in the 1920s, to now the highly technological system of agriculture and the dominance of private corporations. The organizational structure of agricultural science, as in most technological industries, is both dependent on and determining of the type of technologies that emerge from these enterprises.

January 7, 2012

Energy Innovation and the Department of Defense

Last spring I spent a lot of time learning about military history. Not really by choice, but rather in an effort to better understand technological innovation. In my classes with Dan Sarewitz and ASU's president Michael Crow, we constantly discussed how many of the core innovations of the 20th century had military origins. In other words, "Steve Jobs didn't just invent the computer in his garage" (paraphrasing my professors). Both computers and the internet have a distinct military heritage. 

The military often plays a role in technological innovation because most technologies need an "incubation" stage before they are commercialized. Since private firms are sometimes unwilling to take on this risk, the federal government often plays a role in incubating technologies (many of which will turn out to be failures) through research and development contracts (called procurement). Because of this connection between military spending and technological innovation, Sarewitz describes the possible backlash if defense budgets get cut in a NYT article yesterday. The article states, 
As the Pentagon confronts the prospect of cutting its budget by about 10 percent over the next decade, even some people who do not count themselves among its traditional allies warn that the potential impact on scientific innovation is being overlooked. Spending less on military research, they say, could reduce the economy’s long-term growth.
This is not good news, but Sarewitz and others are not calling for more weaponry, but rather more public-good oriented investments, such as in renewable energy. Because the military is a key user of technology, it has a stake in developing commercial technologies from airplanes to computers to renewable energy, which we reap the benefits of. And this shows the difference between the military’s capacity to promote technological innovation and, say, the Department of Energy’s (DoE). The DoE is ultimately not the end user, and is driven by different scientific and public policy motivations. This, plus relatively declining investments in renewable energy through the DoE, result in a stagnant pool of innovation. Yet soldiers’ lives depend on fuel efficiency, sources, and transportation for military aircraft and vehicles, prompting the Department of Defense to pay very close attention to energy issues and even climate change. 

There is an ongoing question throughout the history of science policy on the relationships between the military, industry, and universities. Eisenhower famously warned about the “military-industrial complex” in 1961. Yet regardless of the military applications of alternative energy technologies, this presents an interesting strategy for commercializing technologies on a national, if not global, scale. Many environmental advocates envision the government supporting an Apollo of Manhattan Project for clean energy. The Department of Defense can take on projects with a high risk of failure that other agencies and companies can't, because of their access to research and development funding.

We can relate energy systems back to Freeman and Louca’s work on Kondratian waves and core inputs in our sociotechnical system. They discuss how coal and iron became integral to England’s national industrial infrastructure only after railways brought down prices. Even so, there was political and cultural resistance to steam engines in some places (just like now, there's resistance to windmills, and other NIMBY issues with alternative energy). Energy is one of the most essential core inputs, and a change in this could fundamentally alter our society in ways that we cannot imagine (like how two-hundred years ago, it would seem preposterous that we could get fertilizer from the air). The military could play a role in incubating new alternative energy technologies that are not yet technologically possible or commercially viable. I agree with Sarewitz that I don't necessarily want to see more guns, but I also don't want to see energy security fall by the wayside.

Further reading: 

Chris Freeman and Francisco Louca,
As Time Goes By: From the Industrial Revolutions to the Information Revolution.

David Mowrey, Paths of Innovation: Technological Change in 20th-Century America.

Vernon Ruttan,
Is War Necessary for Economic Growth?: Military Procurement and Technology Development.