Workshop: Research Funding and the Good Life

It is by now common to observe that during the past three decades a gradual transformation has taken place in the way that scientific research is organized and discussed. In the traditional framework, which was common ground during World War II, researchers enjoyed independence, developing their own research topics and practices, the results of which were made available to society by means of publication and teaching. During recent decades, however, scientific research is increasingly understood as a research practice on which society depends for important benefits such as international competiveness, and the creation and preservation of wealth, and the enhancement of the quality of life. This is especially the case with technology research.

The altered relation between society and science also motivated a change in the ways in which research is evaluated. Scientific criteria such as originality and methodological rigor can not be the only criteria with which technology research is judged, when scientific technology research projects are required to respond to industrial developments, regional and governmental policies, individual and social needs. Scientific experts lack the competence to judge all these aspects of research. This is the reason why funding institutions in the Netherlands have showed an increasing interest in the inclusion of other parties – such as producers and users – within the evaluation committees which are thought to be able to identify the ‘social relevance’ of research. The effect is, however, that ‘social relevance’ is often understood to facilitate the connection between research and the market in which the researched technology should acquire a place.

In the US there is more interest in the ‘social relevance’ of technology research as well, but it is not referred to with that term. The National Science Foundation (NSF) in the US has formulated the so-called ‘second criterion’ that demand researchers to not only pay attention to scientific quality of technology research projects (which is the first criterion) but also to take ‘broader impacts’ into account. But the NSF remains unarticulated as to the content of these ‘broader impacts’, with the result that many scientists ignore them in their research proposals.

In this workshop we want to explore different ways to think about the content of ‘social relevance’ and ‘broader impacts’. On the basis of knowledge about the ways in which new technologies impact on the individual and social life of people, we want to explore and discuss how and to what extent research funding practices are able to contribute to the development of a research practice that makes reflections about the good life an accepted part of their daily routine. In order to make the discussion intellectually stimulating, but also practically relevant, representatives of the public research funding institutions that finance technology research within the Netherlands will be invited to participate in the discussion.

Possible questions to address during the workshop are:

  • How can ‘broader impacts’ or ‘societal relevance’ be ethically understood?
  • What is a reflective technology research practice and how does it differ from the present situation?
  • What are the obstacles to the formation of a reflective research practice in the Netherlands and the US? Which ones of those obstacles are brought about by the present evaluative objects of the funding practices?
  • Is it (and to what extend is it) the responsibility of funding practices to deal with questions about the good life?
  • What views of the good life are inherent to the present evaluation of research-projects by funding institutions? And what are alternative views to the good life?
  • What are the (practical) obstacles the funding practices face to make room for these alternative views of the good life?
  • In what ways is ethics understood in the present practice of research funding and what does this leave out of scope?

Organization:

  • Dr. Simone van der Burg (Dept. of Philosophy, University of Twente)
  • Prof. Dr. Robert Frodeman (Dept. of Philosophy and Religion Studies, University of North Texas)

This workshop is made possible by sponsoring from the 3TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology.

Advisory Committee:

  • Dr. Britt Holbrook (Dept. of Philosophy and Religion Studies, University of North Texas)
  • Prof. Dr. Carl Mitcham (Dept. Liberal Arts and International Studies, Colorado School of Mines)
  • Dr. Tsjalling Swierstra (Dept. of Philosophy, University of Twente)

More Information

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