Robust Scientists

Publikation: KonferencebidragPaperForskning

Birgitte Gorm Hansen

The concepts of “socially robust knowledge” and “mode 2 knowledge production” (Nowotny 2003, Gibbons et al. 1994) have migrated from STS into research policy practices. Both STSscholars and policy makers have been known to propomote the idea that the way forward for today’s scientist is to jump from the ivory tower and learn how to create highflying synergies with citizens, corporations and governments. In STS as well as in Danish research policy it has thus been argued that scientists will gain more support and enjoy greater success in their work by “externalizing” their research and adapting their i
nterests to the needs of outside actors. However, when studying the concrete strategies of such successful scientists, matters seem a bit more complicated. Based on interviews with a plant biologist working in GMO the paper uses the biological concepts of field participants as the analytical framework for descri
bing the complex relationship between academic science and its so called “external” habitat. Although relational skills and adaptability do seem to be at the heart of successful research management, the key to success does not lie with the ability to assimilate to industrial agendas and concerned citizens. By contrast, it is precisely by not becoming dependent on public opini
on, political interest or corporate agendas that a group of Danish GMO researchers managed to survive decades of political resistance and scarce resources. The paper makes a comparison between the development of the danish GMO research group and one of their objects of study: A toxic moth capable of adapting to a hostile environment. Insect strategies for survival are not unlike those deployed by the GMO scientists who study them. The
paper argues that scientific ecologies respond to policy change in ways that are unpredictable and difficult to control. Few Danish GMO scientists survived the commercializationwave initiated by neoliberal research policy. However, the ones who did seem to have become more or less resistant to policy change
s and public opinion. Rather than promoting socially "robust knowledge", Danish research policy seems to have helped develop politically and economically "robust scientists". Scientific robustness is acquired by way of three strategies: 1) tasting and discriminating between resources so as to avoid funding that erodes academic profiles and push scientists away from their core i
nterests, 2) developing a selfsupply of industry interests by becoming entrepreneurs and thus creating their own compliant industry partner and 3) balancing resources within a larger collective of researchers, thus countering changes in the influx of funding caused by shifts in political and industrial intere
sts. The paper concludes by stressing the potential danger of policy habitats who have promoted the evolution of robust scientists based on a competitive system where only the fittest survive. Robust scientists, it is argued, have the potential to become a new “invasive species” in the scientific ecosystem and may threaten the bio diversity of academic research.
Antal sider30
StatusUdgivet - 2012

ID: 146343844