June 20, 2012

Uncertainty, R&D vs. innovation, and Science literacy

Here are my favorite science policy links of the week:
  • Why policymakers and scholars ignore each other, and what should be done about it, by Francis J. Gavin and James B. Steinberg. This longish article strikes so many chords with what I've learned about science policy advising, uncertainty, communication, scenario construction, and interdisciplinary. Long story short: academics, stop being so egotistical, start working with other fields, and stop promoting grand-unified-theories. History isn't on the side of grand-unified-theories, and there's sometimes more gained from "muddling through" and being a fox, rather than a hedgehog. Slog through the foreign policy bits and read the full essay!
"Enter technology. It can be absolutely liberating. It lets you juggle multiple commitments and not worry about certain things. You can watch the programs you care about without having to fiddle with the VCR. You don’t have to bother other people. For e-books, you suddenly don’t have to go to the bookstore. It will come to you. Some women describe this as a kind of guilty pleasure, like beating the system."
  • R&D is not Innovation by Roger Pielke, Jr. A good, clear example of why R&D (or "basic research") spending does not equal innovation or market success.
  • And for academic article of the week, here's Uncertainty: Climate models at their limit? by Mark Maslin and Patrick Austin (h/t Erik Conway). A short, readable piece that is very much related to scientific uncertainty and policy, and of special interest to you climate change folks. You'll need online access to Nature magazine, or email me and I can send you a copy.

June 5, 2012

Starbucks, Women in tech, Nanny states, and Green peacekeepers

This post is going to be a bit of a hodge-podge of topics, but I hope you will enjoy it!

Let's start with Starbucks. Starbucks is a great example of a highly innovative firm. Their innovation is not just an invention, but a system of processes that have fundamentally changed parts of the economy. It has given Americans a "third place" to work, relax, and socialize away from work and home. Their success at this model has backlashed however, to the point where every time I go to the Starbucks on Mill Ave. in Tempe I see people "hanging out" for really long periods of time. Last time I was there, I saw someone sleeping inside, and I was harassed by a Starbucks transient while sitting outside. So Starbucks is trying out a new "'let’s make it slightly uncomfortable' model" (Forbes). While fast food places like McDonalds are moving towards the coffeeshop model, I wonder how this will work out for Starbucks? On a related note, Roger Pielke Jr. explains why Hooters' business model is another good example of innovation-- and why we shouldn't always equate "innovation" with "technology."

Next up is the NYTimes article Lawsuit Shakes Foundation of a Man’s World of Tech. This article brings up some good points about how tech start-ups are very male-dominated-- to their own detriment, as I've heard before and the article mentions that these start-ups are less interested in female-centric innovations such as online shopping, fashion, etc.-- but there is a lot of unnecessary "mansplaining" about the sexual harassment suit. And of course, the author really unfortunately chose to start the article with the phrase, “MEN invented the internet.” Fortunately we have writers like Xeni Jardin to lay the smackdown and explain why phrases like this are not only patently false, but continue to perpetuate myths about women in technology. I also love the immediate response from the Twitter-sphere, which even further highlights our STS-y concept of co-production of knowledge and social order.

You probably know by now how much I admire Marion Nestle, her take on food politics, and why the debate over sugary beverage sizes in New York is like mental candy to me. So here's a few more links from her on anti-Bloomberg propaganda (see image above) and Weight of the Nation: the new “Hunger in America”?

This week I also enjoyed the NYTimes' 32 Innovations That Will Change Your Tomorrow, which has a great introduction despite the somewhat linear thinking of the content. Being a bike geek, I took issue with their bike-related innovations. Just because these ideas sound good doesn't mean they will catch on (anti-theft handlebars, grease-free chains, and one-piece frames-- by the way, 2/3 of those are already produced by Trek). See the end of this post by my favorite sarcastic bike blogger, Bike Snob NYC. And speaking of bikes, this article on Chicago's goal of zero traffic fatalities also has some interesting fodder for socio-technical systems theory.

Ok, just a few more quick links!