fredag 24 oktober 2014

The future of the sharing economy 12 times over

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My previous blog post listed all the guest lecturers that have visited our course "The future of media" during the first half of the autumn term. This year's theme is "The future of the digital commons and the sharing economy". Last week we had our last guests drop by and we also divided the students into no less than 12 project groups. They have by now worked together for 10 days and we met each group to review their project plans earlier this week. Some groups have probably already found their Great Idea that they will work with during the rest of the terms, while other groups still have work ahead of them trying to figure that out.

Below is a list of the 12 project groups together with the short descriptions that brought the students together. For several groups, these descriptions are already outdated, but they are still good enough to get an idea about what topics our students are working on now and will work on for the rest of the autumn term.


Trust and reputation systems. For sharing to be able to work, there has to be (justified) trust between strangers. So who should you trust? How do state-of-the-art reputation systems encourage and ensure the creation of “social capital” and mutual trust today (and punish free riders and cheaters)? How could such systems be further developed to support the digital commons and the sharing economy of tomorrow?

3D society. 3D-printers (and makerspaces and Fab labs etc.) will change society forever. Explore and explain how by finding, talking and participating with the Stockholm “scene”. Choose to explore the positive effects (Rifkin) and/or possible negative effects (printing guns and drugs, who has control over the printers or of the equivalent of the “ink”).

The future of learning. What is the future of learning and the future of universities in an age of free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on the Internet? What are the pros and cons of MOOCs compared to the alternatives?

A sustainable sharing economy. What is the relationship between sustainability and the sharing economy? How can a future sharing economy be shaped to be maximally sustainable?

Sharing motivations. Why do people share? For the noble good, for making some extra cash for myself, from dire need or for some other reason (or combination of reasons)? What does this imply for the future of sharing?

The end of big business. The sharing economy will undermine and topple some (or many?) of the giants of the 20th century industrial economy. Explore and explain how. Will collaborative consumption ruin old business structures and create a new economic system?

The future of crowdwork. Crowdwork is a powerful idea. Some work is done by voluneers for free (Wikipedia, Foldit), other work is done for profit (Amazon Mechanical Turk). What is the future of crowdwork? For for-profit crowdwork, how can such ideas be leveraged to be beneficial for employers and service providers (e.g. Amazon) as well as for employees?

The future of piracy. What is the connection (if any) between piracy and the commons? Do pirates perceive themselves to be “commoners”? Are pirates “liberating” things that should be in the common or are they criminals who should be stopped? Hunt down your very own pirates (and anti-pirates) and find the answers to how these things go together.

The future of trust. Trust might very well be *the* issue that determines the future of the digital commons and the sharing economy. How do companies (and non-profits) work with issues of trust today? What are the possibilities and what are the challenges?

The bottom-up revolution. Instead of installing expensive meteorological weather stations, why not let (many) ordinary users report the temperature and the shape of the clouds through an app (e.g. Shareweather)? And why not build bottom-up maps of pollution or congestion or where the nearest sushi bar or free wi-fi is? What are the implications of creating new commons through this bottom-up “revolution”?

The future of shared food. Can food production (locally cultivated organic food in gardens) and preparation/consumption (shared dinners etc.) be brought to the cities and mediated by ICT?

The future of work. What will happen to work (good jobs, bad jobs, no jobs) if the sharing economy expands? Will sharing create a better society for all or will it undermine safety and security in the job market, e.g. taxi drivers starting to work for Uber but with lower salaries)? What are the effects of the current sharing economy on job creation and the job market?
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söndag 19 oktober 2014

Future of Media 2014 line-up

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The first part of the project course I'm teaching, DM2571 "Future of Media", came to an end this past week and we are now moving from the start-up phase (with lots of guest lectures) to the project phase. We change the theme in the course every year and this year's theme - the 12th - is "The Future of the digital commons and the sharing economy". Last year's theme was "The Future of News / News of the Future".

Since we change the theme every year, we basically also deliver a new course every year. More specifically, we make a few changes in the format but replace all the content since the content is 100% dependent on the theme. Still, that means lots of work. This year has been particularly stressful since I was away on a sabbatical during the spring and could not start to plan the course during the latter part of the spring (which I usually do). Having the first part of the course come to a close is thus a huge relief. While there is still quite some work left to do, it will definitely be less from now on.

This time last year I took the opportunity to write a blog post that listed all the great guest lecturers we had had visit the course. Below is the 2014 line-up of our (no less than 18! guests lectures. Twelve different student project groups will present their visions of the future in the form of a larger (200+ persons) public presentation (welcome!) in mid-December. I will shortly write a follow-up blog post about the 12 different projects and the topics they plan to look into.


-------------------- Lectures --------------------

- Jan Forsmark, coordinator for the Transition Sweden network, "From Global challenges to local projects".

- Peter Jakobsson, Ph.D. in Media and Communication, Södertörn University, "Contested cultural commons: a political-economy perspective".

- Daniel Pargman, KTH/CSC/Media Technology and Interaction Design, "The digital commons, the sharing economy and collaborative consumption"

- Six Silberman, Co-maintainer for Turkopticon; PhD student at the Department of Informatics, UC Irvine, "Crowdwork and the 'sharing economy': a non-exuberant introduction to the commons".

- Christofer Gradin Franzén, Psychologist and master of science business and economics, "Co-creating the financial, social and psychological space for a paradigm shift".

- Visit to Dieselverkstadens bibliotek, Nacka where we we taken care of by Margareta Swanelid (CEO), Kalle Molin (librarian), Per Perstrand (librarian) and Anna Lundmark (librarian).

- Jan Ainali, CEO of Wikimedia Sverige, "Collecting the sum of all human knowledge - why and how?".

- Airi Lampinen, Postdoctoral Researcher at Mobile Life Centre, Stockholm University, "Social Interaction in the Sharing Economy".

- Kristina Alexanderson, project leader at Creative Commons Sverige, "Creative Commons: On leading a creative community with yourself as a ”guinea pig”".

Daniel Pargman, KTH/CSC/Media Technology and Interaction Design, "Checkpoint & looking forward towards the second half of the course".

- Roope Mokka, Founder of the think tank Demos Helsinki, "Smartups – sharing economy as part of a next wave of startups".

- Robin Teigland, Associate Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics, "The Sharing Economy and Collaborative Consumption".

- Daniel Wentz, VP Strategy, Schibsted Media Group, "Schibsted and the Peer 2 Peer Economy".

- Daniel Ljungstig and Anders Tyrland, founders and owners of 3DVerkstan, "3D Printing: Hype or a truly disruptive technology for the future? Our kids might have the answer!".

- Mattias Jägerskog, founder of Skjutsgruppen and #RidesharingDay, OuiShare connector Sweden, "The return of the Collaborative Economy".

- Karin Bradley, Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Studies at KTH, "The interplay between urban commons and digital commons".

- Anna Swartling, Usability architect at Scania CV AB, "Project TEAM work".

- Milad Hossainzadeh, Dip.MArch, White Architects, "Exception = Exceptional - alternative futures through big picture thinking in a creative process".


We unfortunately had a few guests cancel their lectures, and there was one person I really would have wanted to listen to, but alas, in the end he cancelled his lecture with short notice. 
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lördag 18 oktober 2014

Sustainability and Media Technology 2014 line-up

This time last year I published a blog post with a list of all the (guest) lectures in my course DM2573 "Sustainability and Media Technology". This blog post does the very same for this year's course. The last lecture (wrap-up and course evaluation) was held only yesterday and the only thing remaining is grading the exam and reporting the results. We have changed the course contents significantly this year so the majority of the lectures below are new for this year.

The course once more ended with a "gripe session" where we got a lot of feedback that will help us improve the course for next year. I hope me and Elina will once more write a paper about the course and submit it to a suitable conference. We have written two papers this far; "'It's not fair!': Making students engage in sustainability" and "ICT4S reaching out: Making sustainability relevant in higher education". I can see four different possible angles for a new paper right now but the fourth requires a somehow more extensive explanation (below):
1) a paper about our use of the GaSuCo board game that we have used in the course,
2) a paper that utilises the (literally hundreds of) seminar questions the students have submitted in the course,
3) a paper focusing on this year's use of social annotations systems in the course.
4) see below

Idea number 4 was inspired by listening to a podcast interview with Chris Martenson (Extranvironmentalist #81, Sept 2014, 81 minutes into the show). Chris said that during the last five years, he has come to realise that he is not in the information-sharing business, but rather in the belief-challenging business. Those two businesses are very different. Beliefs are not changed by information. Changing your own or someone else's beliefs rather has something to do with some sort of "emotional processing". This raises the question of what business we are in when we teach a course about sustainability. We share a lot of information that is potentially very worrisome for the students taking the course, but what are we - as teachers - supposed to do then? Leave them dangling and let them take care of it themselves? Or do we have a responsibility to - in some way - take care of their "emotional needs"? As university teachers we can do seminars, but a course at a technical university is not a "retreat", not an ashram and not a support group. If we tried to turn a course into any of those things, we would quickly land in trouble! I'm a researcher. I can read up and I can share facts and to some extent also my opinions about this-and-that, but, how good am I at meeting my students' emotional needs? 'Not very' I would say. This is something worthy of further reflection, and why not in the shape of a text?


Below is the 2014 line-up for our course (16 lectures + 1 panel).


------------ DM2573 - Sustainability and Media Technology - lectures ------------

Daniel Pargman (Ph.D., Assistant Professor in Media Technology, KTH/MID) and Samuel Mann, Associate Professor at Otago Polytechnic, New Zealand,
"Course introduction"
"Why sustainability is important for you!"

Josefin Wangel, Ph.D., Researcher at KTH/Division of Environmental Strategies Research (FMS),
"Sustainability and Sustainable Development - Defining the concepts"

Elina Eriksson, Ph.D., Researcher at KTH/Media Technology and Interaction Design (MID),
"Climate change and planetary boundaries"


Daniel Pargman, KTH/MID,
"Global resource challenges and implications for ICT and media"

Daniel Pargman, KTH/MID and Christian Remy, PhD Student at the People and Computing Lab at the University of Zurich

Pella Thiel, The Transition Network and Common Cause,

Cecilia Katzeff, adjunct professor at KTH/MID,

Marcus Nyberg, senior researcher at User Experience Lab at Ericsson Research,
"A networked society contributing to positive change"

Jorge Zapico, Post-doctoral researcher at KTH Centre for Sustainable Communications (CESC) and at the Linnaeus University,
"Data for sustainability"

Karin Edvardsson Björnberg, Assistant Professor of environmental philosophy at the KTH/Division of Philosophy and Elisabeth Ekener Petersen, PhD at KTH/FMS,
"Social sustainability and ICT"

Daniel Berg, PhD student in Economic History at Stockholm University,
"From Credit Crunch to Climate Crunch - How the ecology is acknowledged to suffer from overconsumption, and the economy is uniformly said to suffer from underconsumption"

Greger Henriksson, Senior Researcher at KTH/FMS and Björn Hedin, Ph.D., KTH/MID,
"Sustainability and behavioural change"

Daniel Pargman, KTH/MID,
"Rebound effects"

- Concluding panel discussion"Images of the future"
ModeratorDaniel Pargman, KTH/MID. 
Panelists
Peter Nöu, Senior Program Manager at The Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova)
Ambjörn Næve, Senior Researcher, KTH
Erica Öhlund, PhD student in Environmental Science, Södertörns Högskola

Daniel Pargman (teacher) and Elina Eriksson (assistant teacher)
Wrap-up of the course and gripe session
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söndag 12 oktober 2014

Birth of a research project

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We got funding for a three-year long research project last year - "Improved energy habits through Quantified Self" - and the time for starting up that project is now! The project is lead by my colleague Björn Hedin. Besides me, Henrik Artman also works in the project. Jorge Zapico is in the project too, but won't do any work in the project during the first year.

We've had two shorter start-up meetings this far and this blog post chronicles the early discussions in this project (recreated from my memory since my web browser crashed and I lost the ample notes from our meeting). This research project touches on no less than seven different areas:



- ICT (everyone)
- Quantified Self (Björn, Daniel)
- Behaviours and habits (Björn)
- Energy, energy use (Daniel)
- Climate and CO2 emissions (Daniel)
- Food (Björn)
- Advising, guidance (Henrik)

That's a lot of different areas. We decided that there should be some internal division of labour in the project (marked out above). Because of my prior interests, I will be the "point man" or the go-to person in the areas of energy and climate, just as Björn is the natural go-to person in the area of behaviour and habits. Looking at these seven different areas, some are more and some are less central to the project. Behaviour and habits is probably the most central area - it's difficult to imagine that we we will write a single academic paper based on this project that does not touch on that area. Still, there are many different possible overlaps so which particular area(s), journals and conferences should we aim for? We haven't really decided yet and I think that will be part of an ongoing discussion for at least the remainder of the year.

One important task for the remainder of this year is for all of us to read up in our chosen areas of expertise as well as to read and discuss some articles together so as to build up a common ground. I'm a supremely structured reader (which comes as no surprise for the regular reader of this blog). I will start to think about how to go about to read up and will then start to work my way through articles. While I like to read in general, this time around it's also a job that has to be done. We will probably create a structured form where we will enter a few sentences about project-relevant articles we read, for example: author, title, main argument, relevance to our project just to keep track of stuff. We have also created a shared folder in Google drive as well as a shared folder in KTH Box (KTH's own "Dropbox").

In our application, we promised the project would have some kind of presence on the web and we will have to discuss the level of ambition. It could be a (for the most part) static homepage or it could be something almost as ambitious as this blog (for example with every project member writing a blog post each every month).

Me and Björn had a discussion about what we personally want to accomplish with this project and "becoming experts" and publishing papers in high-quality journals came out high for both of us (Björn also raised "changing the world" which indeed is a worthy - but hard - goal). I have already decided that the area of expertise that I work towards is situated in the intersection of computing (Human-Computer Interaction) and Sustainability. That means that Sustainable HCI and ICT4S are important areas for me. I could imagine that I will broaden my interests and add something more to that mix through this project - even though I don't know exactly what yet.

Even though we are starting to work on this project now (October), Björn was quick at defining a few bachelor's thesis topics already at the end of last year and no less than three couples of students worked on three different projects during the past spring. One couple was very successful and they were funded by the project also during the summer and part of this term. That means the project already has results to present and part of what we will do during the rest of the year is to read up - and to write up! The students' project could (should) result in two papers. We will for the most part aim for journal articles but we should perhaps also plan for a paper to next year's ICT4S conference? We also give high priority to defining new topics for masters' and bachelors' thesis topics and to have students work within (for) this research project during the coming spring.

Since this is a project about changing people's habits and since me and Björn have a long-standing interested in topics such as procrastination, life-hacks and in utilising our own working hours more effectively, we also plan to work on our own work habits within this research project. We have set aside one day per week for the project and we will try to work together during that one day. We will probably experiment with different methods to get things done and I very much look forward to that and to forming new (research) habits within the project. Who needs the Panopticon when we can surveil and discipline ourselves? We have only had two (short) meetings this far but it feels like we have gotten off to a great start!
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söndag 5 oktober 2014

Articles I've read (June)

Below are the last articles I read earlier this year, in June, on my sabbatical at UC IrvineHere is my previous blog post about the articles that I read back in May. I've been busy after the summer vacation and haven't read any more articles. That means I have finally caught up with writing about articles I've read!

Each asterisk before the name of an article implies that there is a quote further down on this blog post!


Batch/week 1 - mixed papers, mostly critical analyses of new phenomena
Mostly these are papers that have been "thrown at me", thereby constituting an eclectic mix of different topics.
    • Kelly, S., & Nardi, B. (2014). Playing with sustainability: Using video games to simulate futures of scarcity. First Monday, 19(5). */ Using examples from commercial simulation games, post-apocalypse first-person shooters, multiplayer survivor horror games, and historical recreation games, we identify narratives, themes, and game mechanics that would be useful for exploring sustainable practices in possible global future of scarcity." This paper was fun! "The willingness to entertain strong notions of societal decline along with the energizing nature of gaming and its can-do attitude are promising means for designing and thinking through scenarios of possible futures." /*
    • * Irani, L. (2013). The cultural work of microwork. New Media & Society, 1461444813511926. */ "Like "cloud computing" services more generally, AMT [Amazon Mechanical Turk] offered immediate, on-demand provisioning of computational power accessible through computer code. In  this case, however, the computational power was human." "AMT [obscures] workers behind code and spreadsheets." "AMT has allowed canonical AI projects to proceed by simulating AI's promise of computational intelligence with actual people." This article is a great analysis of crowdwork in general and AMT in particular. Is this the future of work? Highly recommended! /*
    • Fabricatore, C. And López, X. (2014). A model to identify affordances for game-based sustainability learning. To be presented at the upcoming 8th European Conference on Games Based Learning  (ECGBL), Berlin. */ "in this paper we present a model for the identification and analysis of game-based sustainability learning affordances. Our model can be used to support he selection of games for educational purposes ... our model was extrapolated through an iterative process of analysis .. of the contents of 30 games." Since we have used a game in our course on sustainability and ICT, I should have liked this paper more than I did. It was unfortunately hard for me to see the practical use I could have of the article. /*
    • Alperovitz, G. (2011). The New-economy movement. The Nation, 13, 20-24. */ "Over the past decade ... a deepening sense of the profound ecological challenges facing the planet and growing despair at the inability of traditional politics to address economic failings have fuelled an extraordinary amount of experimentation by activists, economists and socially minded business leaders." Interesting overview and analysis of under-the-radar counter-movements. /*
    • Timberg (2014). Astra Taylor’s radical Internet critique. Salon.com. */ Who would have thought that really thoughtful critique and analysis of the Internet, journalism, surveillance, commercialism etc. would have have come from a documentary filmer who has read up? I had never heard of Asta Taylor before but her book is on my to-buy list now! "So okay, you may not feel like you're being exploited by Facebook ... but value is being extracted from us, value is being extracted from areas of life that were once unprofitable, like conversing with your friends." /*
    • Fry, C. (2014). Jobs and the maker movement: A tale of two economies. An unpublished essay I was recommended to read. */ Treats very interesting questions head-on such as the relationship between 3D printing and the maker movement and the future of capitalism, production and work. The paper is fun to read but very utopian and differs significantly from what I personally believe since it strongly posits (a specific) technology as "the saviour". /*


        Batch/week 2 - mixed papers.
        The papers below cover a range of topics; ICT and sustainability, (ecological) economics and more. Mostly these are papers that have been "thrown at me", thereby constituting an eclectic mix of different topics.
        • Raghavan, B. and Ma, J. (unpublished document). Are we greenwashing green networking? */ much of [the work in "green networking" research] aims to optimize a single metric: the electricity consumption of deployed devices, ignoring other significant environmental costs involved in the manufacture, installation, operation, and disposal of networked systems." Another great paper by Barath Raghavan. It's unpublished but we have discussed some of the ideas in this paper so perhaps part of the line of reasoning presented here will make it into a future paper of mine and Barath's...? /*
        • Hilty, L. M. (2011). Information and Communication Technologies for a more Sustainable World. In Haftor and Mirijamsdotter (eds.), Information and communication technologies, society and human beings: Theory and framework. */ "a reduction of the input of natural resources into industrial production and consumption by a factor of 4-10 is a necessary condition for Sustainable Development. This paper discusses the potential contribution of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to such a dematerialization of the industrial societies" "the global economy will have to learn to produce more quality of life with less input of material and energy." Very good paper. Should have been part of the course literature in the course we are giving right now. /*
        • ** Daly, H. E. (1991). From Empty-World Economics to Full-World Economics–Recognizing an Historical Turning Point in Economic Development. Goodland R, Daly H, El Serafy S, von Droste B (1991) Environmental Sustainable Economic Development: Building on Brundtland. UNESCO, Paris, 29-38. */ It's disappointing that someone who "says it like it is" in such a terse and logical language has not had a greater impact in the 20 years that have passed since this short text was written... "The evolution of the human economy has passed from an era in which manmade capital was the limiting factor in economic development to an ear in which remaining natural capital has become the limiting factor." "The complementary nature of natural and manmade capital is made obvious by asking, what good is a saw mill without a forest? a refinery without petroleum deposits? a fishing boat without populations of fish? ... the limiting factor determining the fish catch is the reproductive capacity of fish populations, not the number of fishing boats" Highly recommended! /*
        • * Daly, H. E. (2005). Economics in a full world. Scientific american, 293(3), 100-107. */ Daly basically says that same thing again, but 15 years later. The message is falling of deaf ears once more. "Properly functioning markets allocate resources efficiently, but they cannot determine the sustainable scale; that can be achieved only by government policy." /*
        • Daly, H. (2011). Growth, debt, and the World Bank. Ecological Economics, 72, 5-8. */ Unveiling problems and contradictions at the very core of the idea of an institution such as the World Bank. "Why, one might ask, would a country borrow money at interest to make policy changes that it could make on its own without any loans, if it thought the policies were good ones? Maybe they did not really favor the policies, and therefore needed a bribe" /*
        • Stokols, D., Lejano, R. P., & Hipp, J. (2013). Enhancing the resilience of human–environment systems: a social–ecological perspective. Ecology and Society, 18(1), 7. */ In this article, we briefly trace the emergence and core themes of social ecology as a basis for understanding and enhancing the quality of people-environemnt relationships". Discusses different kinds of "capital" including economic capital, natural capital, technological capital, human capital, social capital and (new for me) "moral capital". /*
        • ** Sanguinetti, A. (2012). The design of intentional communities: a recycled perspective on sustainable neighborhoods. Behavior and Social Issues, 21, 5-25. */ "[Intentional Communities] and be defined as a deliberate attempt to realize a common, alternative way of life outside mainstream society". An in-depth analysis of intentional communities in relation to B.F. Skinner's 1968 paper "The design of experimental communities". /*
        • Rahm, L. (2014). Dystopia for the Unprepared, Utopia for the Prepared: Why zombies are no promise of monsters. Immediacy. */ "Dystopias and utopias can not be understood without considering who will win and who will lose." "prepping although coloured by a dystopian veiw of the future (and the present), is not primarily characterized by pessimism, but rather by an optimistic belief in the capacity to survive ... real hazards." Interesting paper about the use of and the danger of using the metaphor of a "zombie apocalypse" when thinking about the breakdown of society as this view/metaphor legitimizes individualism and violence. /*

        There's usually a week 3 and sometimes a week 4 but alas, this is what I had time to read before the summer break. As noted above, I have not had the time to read any more articles since June but will pick up that habit again in two weeks when the courses I teach wind down. Not the least since I need to read the 15 articles I should have read this past summer, since we are starting up a new 3-year long research project and I need to read up and since I will give a ph.d. course on ICT and sustainability in the spring (more info on that later).



        ---------- QUOTES ----------

        ----- On "microwork" as the next step in the exploitative regime of a global marketplace for outsourcing work -----

        "In 2006, CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos ... introduced a twist on digital data services. Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT) would enable technology builders to farm out massive volumes of small data processing tasks, including transcription, image labeling, pornography categorisation and informational research tasks. ... Like "cloud computing" services more generally, AMT offered immediate, on-demand provisioning of computational power accessible through computer code. In this case, however, the computational power was human.
        ...
        Where AI has fallen short, AMT compensates by construction a new frontier on which the software industry can invest i high-growth startups, intelligent software, and low-risk labor. AMT also helps ameliorate the contradictions of intensified labor hierarchies by obscuring workers behind code and spreadsheets.
        Irani, L. The cultural work of microwork



        ----- On natural resources as limiting factors in today's world -----

        "A standard assumption of neoclassical economics has been that factors of production are highly substitutable. ... consequently the very idea of a limiting factor was pushed into the background.
        ...
        The switch from manmade to natural capital as the limiting factors is ... a function of the increasing scale and impact of the human presence.
...
The complementary nature of natural and manmade capital is made obvious by asking, what good is a saw mill without a forest? a refinery without petroleum deposits? a fishing boat without populations of fish? Beyond some point in the accumulation of manmade capital it is clear that the limiting factor on production will be the remaining natural capital. For example, the limiting factor determining the fish catch is the reproductive capacity of fish populations, not the number of fishing boats; for gasoline the limiting factor is petroleum deposits, not refinery capacity and for many types of wood it is remaining forests, not saw mill capacity."
        Daly, H.E. From Empty-World Economics to Full-World Economics:
        Recognizing an Historical Turning Point in Economic Development

          

        ----- On the long overdue shift from empty-world to full-world economics -----

        "The evolution of the human economy has passed from an era in which manmade capital was the limiting factor in economic development to an era in which remaining natural capital has become the limiting factor.
        ...
        Why has this transformation from a world relatively empty of human beings and manmade capital to a world relatively full of these not been noticed by economists?
...
According to physicist Max Planck, a new scientific paradigm triumphs not by convincing the majority of its opponents, but because its opponents eventually die. There has not yet been time for the empty-world economists to die, and meanwhile they have been cloning themselves faster than they are dying by maintaining tight control over their guild.
        Daly, H.E. From Empty-World Economics to Full-World Economics:
        Recognizing an Historical Turning Point in Economic Development



        ----- On the impossibility of establishing a sustainable economy -----

        "Growth is widely thought to be the panacea for all the major economic ills of the modern world.
        ...
        Relying on growth in this way might be fine if the global economy existed in a void, but it does not. Rather the economy is a subsystem of the finite biosphere that support is.
        ...
        Because establishing and maintaining a sustainable economy entail an enormous change of mind and heart by economists, politicians and voters, one might well be tempted to declare that such project would be impossible. But the alternative to a sustainable economy, an ever growing economy, is biopysically impossible. In choosing between tackling a political impossibility and a biophysical impossibility, I would judge the latter to be the more impossible and take my chances with the former."
        Daly, H.E. Economics in a full world



        ----- On sustainability practices adopted in cohousing communities -----

        "Specific measures frequently taken in cohousing include composting (96%), community managed recycling (94%), low-impact landscaping (84%), edible landscape and/or permaculture (77%), rainwater catchment (51%), outdoor clotheslines (57%), permanently conserved land through a conservation easement (23%), community vegetable garden (91%), community orchard (72%), raising chickens for egg production (40%), convenient bike storage areas (67%), regular carpooling (52%), and car-sharing (33%)."
        Sanguinetti, AThe design of intentional communities: 
        a recycled perspective on sustainable neighborhoods



        ----- On intentional communities -----

        "intentional communities (ICs) ... encompasses a variety of types of cooperative living and defines a growing grassroots movement.
        ...
        IC types include ecovillages, cohousing, urban communities, housing cooperatives, conference and retreat communities, rural homesteading communities, spiritual communities, Christian communities, and income-sharing communes. An empirically established typology ... yielded four types of communities: religious (most withdrawn), ecological, communal, and practical (most integrated)"
        Sanguinetti, AThe design of intentional communities: 
        a recycled perspective on sustainable neighborhoods
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        torsdag 2 oktober 2014

        Blog post #300 + 4th anniversary of the blog!

        .
        This is blog post number 300 since the start of this blog. Exactly a month ago the blog celebrated its 4th anniversary - the very first blog post was published in the beginning of September 2010 - 49 months ago on this day. One year ago, with some advance planning, I managed to synchronise the third anniversary to the 200th blog post in the beginning of September. That means I have published no less than 100 blog posts in the last 13 months, or, 7-8 blog posts per month in average.

        I have, over time, increased the tempo of publishing; from around 50 blog posts during the first year (Sept 2010 - Aug 2011) to around 75 during the second and the third year and now to over 90 blog posts during the last year (Sept 2013 - Aug 2014). I don't think it's possible for me to go any higher than that; my goal has since the very start been to publish at least one and at the most two blog posts every week. I did have a "blog week" last year though when I published a new blog post every day. A year ago, blog post #200, I wrote:

        "Looking at the number of unique visitors to the blog, as many people had visited the blog between January and May [of 2013] as in all of 2011 and just a few weeks ago, in mid-August, I had had as many visitors this year as in all of 2012"

        Last year, I have a huge surge with lots and lots of visitors during a specific day - due to a specific blog post being linked to from a hugely more popular blog. This year - with no such flood of visitors - I again surpassed the number of visitors from 2011 in the middle of May and I surpassed the number of visitors from 2012 at the end of June:

        The number of unique visitors to the blog passed the total figure for 2011 back in mid-May (2014)

        The number of unique visitors to the blog passed the total figure for 2012 back at the end of June (2014)

        Within a week from now the blog will surpass the number of unique visitors from last year (2013). Part of the increasing number of visitors depends on an increasing the number of blog post, but the larger part is due to the blog becoming more popular. While I can see how many persons visit and read the blog, I have little idea of exactly who reads it and why. Since it's becoming exceedingly unusual for people to comment on blog posts, I have become too wise to ask who is reading this blog post in a blog post! This is the 64th blog post this year and only five of the preceding blog posts (8%) have garnered any comments at all...

        The number of unique visitors to the blog is slated to pass the total figure for 2013 within a week.


        I try to find an angle and write about something new in these texts about the blog itself. This time around I decided to make a small inquiry into the volume of my production of text here on the blog. I took three months from the last 12 months as samples; Jan 2014, May 2014 and September 2014. The number of blog posts during these three months are very much in line with the average (8, 8 and 7 blog posts). I then pasted all the text from these 23 blog posts into a document and the sheer volume of text came out at more than 37.500 words. I usually equate 400 words with one page of text and that means I produced no less than 95 pages of text during these three months. If the volume is in line with what I write also during other months (it should), it have thus written and published somewhere between 350 and 400 pages of text on this blog during the last 12 months!

        That's a lot more than I thought - even if some of the "text produced" might be quotes from a book, from an invitation to a seminar or a workshop, or perhaps a list of references to articles I have read. Still, it makes me wonder if the whole effort of writing this blog to some degree is misplaced? Should I perhaps spend less time documenting what I do and spend more time doing it? Or is writing these (apparently) long blog posts on the larger whole a good allocation of my time and my energies?

        I lean towards the latter since I have found that the blog is so immensely useful for myself. I will for example meet my boss and discuss ("negotiate") my salary a few weeks from now. All I have to do is to look through the blog to remember what I did during the last year and find arguments that I can bring with me to that talk. It's also pretty great to just document what I do since it's so easy to forget the actual work done (and the ideas thought) as time - days, weeks and terms - pass by. I'd say that when it comes to this blog, I'm my own greatest fan!

        Hopefully I'm not the only fan though! There ought to be some more people who have read this text this far for example. When I go back six months in time, I find that of the 20 blog posts I wrote during the period from February to April this year, only one has has less than 100 unique visitors and two of the blog posts have actually had more than 700 unique visitors. (That would easily have gotten these two blog posts onto the top 10 most read blog posts back in January this year.)

        I'm not really sure what it is that people like about the blog - perhaps the rising numbers are just an effect of Google liking this blog and sending people over here when they search for stuff(?). Having readers (even anonymous readers) is gratifying though and I plan to continue to write a minimum of one and a maximum of two blog posts per week - so see you around!
        .

        söndag 28 september 2014

        Books I've read (July)

        .
        I didn't keep to my ordinary reading schedule at the end of my stay in the US and I instead read books at an unusually leisurely pace this past summer. The three books below all have something to do with "economy". Here's the previous blog post about books I've read. The asterisks below refer to the number of quotes from the book (further below).



        ****** I have read two of Barbara Ehrenreich's books before; I read "Smile or die: How positive thinking fooled America and the world" (2009) two years ago and wrote about it here on the blog. I also read Ehrenreich's most well-know book, "Nickel and dimed: On (not) getting by in America" (2001) the better part of a decade ago. "Bait and switch: The (futile) pursuit of the American dream" (2005) was written in-between and I can see how the themes from the other two books can be seen in this book. In "Nickel and dimed", esteemed author Ehrenreich went undercover (like Günther Wallraff), created a new persona and tried a variety of blue-collar jobs that were open to a middle-aged women without any education (Wal-Mart clerk, cleaning woman, waitress etc.). Her conclusion was that it's exceedingly hard for the working poor to get by in the US. In "Bait and switch" she again goes undercover, but this time creating an alternative persona with a degree, but who has stayed home taking care of kids and now tries to find her place (e.g. a job) in corporate America.

        Ehrenreich's original idea was to get a job and write a reportage both about the journey to that job as well as (perhaps) scathing critique from the bowels of corporate America. It turned out to be a lot harder to get hold of that job - and the concordant oh-so-elusive position in the US middle class. "Bait and switch" in the end instead turned out to be (only) about the hunt for a job and the auxiliary service industry of career coaches and motivational speakers that has been erected around the cash-strapped but not-destitute white-collar workers who for the most part are walking the tracks of the downwardly mobile. The connection to "Smile and die" lies in Ehrenreich's unveiling of the culture of near-compulsive positive thinking that she again later encounters as a recovering victim of breat cancer. The scramble to network, the tendency to blame oneself, the insecurity and downward mobility of the (white-collar) middle class and the pure fakery of having to plaster a smile on your face (when you have very little to be happy about) are themes she comes back to in "Smile or die". Her description of corporate America is very bleak: "only one kind of personality seems to be in demand - one that is relentlessly cheerful, enthusiastic and obedient ... Cheerfulness, upbeatness, and compliance: these are the qualities of subordinates - of servants rather than masters".

        Her conclusion is that there are a lot more hard-working qualified people around than there are stable, well-paying jobs (with health care benefits etc.) - and so the competition for a good job is fierce. People can thus be chewed up and thrown out of corporate America for whatever reason or for no reason at all. Out in the cold and with large holes in the social security net, they have to fend for themselves - all while projecting and trying to convince both themselves and others that they are "winners" that any company would do well to snatch up. It's indeed a bleak, uncharitable and cruel world that Ehrenreich describes. Once you are out out in the cold, you would be very happy and very lucky to find your way back to the warmth (as it is) of corporate America. That "warmth" refers to having an income, but it can easily come without decent working hours, without job security, without a good health insurance so also people who do have jobs are under a lot of pressure.

        I was struck by how unforgiving corporate America is described in the book. While it would be possible to "do your thing" for a couple of years in Sweden and still (perhaps with difficulty) find your way back to a good white-collar job, it seems you for the most part are quickly cut from the herd and left to die if you ever leave, or are ejected from a good-paying white-collar middle-class job in the US. It is also interesting to reflect on the fact that this book was written before the 2008 financial meltdown and the subsequent recession:

        "The economy may be looking up, the company may be raking in cash, and still the layoffs continue, like a perverse form or natural selection weeding out the talented and successful as well as the mediocreSince the midnineties, this perpetual winnowing process has been institutionalized under various euphemisms ... to which we can now add the outsourcing of white-colar functions to cheaper labor markets overseas."

        Ehrenreich is a good storyteller and a good researcher. Going undercover for the better part of a year, her book says as much as half a dozen academic tomes on the same topic. I very much recommend this bleak and harrowing but eminently readable book.



        I read "Freakonomics" years ago and thought I would have another go at that genre of literature, e.g. economists explaining the hidden rules behind "how the world works". I have come across "the undercover economist" now and then (for example in podcasts) and bought Tim Harford's "The undercover economist" (2005) on a whim. He has written several follow-up books if this is your thing. I found the book depressingly conventional in its explanations of "how the world works". A free market and trade is always good ("The environmentalist movement should be manning the barricades to demand global free trade immediately") and money (e.g. what people are willing to pay) is the best - if not the only - way to understand and change the world ("a price system will transform a high willingness to pay for good schools into a lot of good schools, just as surely as it will transform a high demand for coffee into a lot of cappuccino"). Bring in an economist and he will tell you how to run the world (i.e. more or less the way it is run now). Equality, justice, beauty, fairness and functioning ecosystems just aren't on the map (unless people with buying power are willing to "vote with their wallets"). Harford is just too conventional and too boring for me. He just repeats "what everyone (e.g. every economist) knows" and that just doesn't cut it for me. A provocative ecological economist such as Herman Daly is ten times more interesting to me.

        At one point, Harford discusses matters that relate to sustainability. The immaturity of his thinking is staggering:

        "It seems likely ... that the richest countries in the world are just reaching the point where even energy consumption per head is about to stop rising. After all, our cars and domestic appliances get more efficient every year, and when we all have two cars and a large air-conditioned house, it's hard to see where extra energy demand will come from."

        Comment: These two sentences are wrong on so many accounts that it drains my energy just to point them out. A few examples: 1) "two cars and a large air-conditioned house" is unattainable for most people on earth - there just aren't enough resources since an American level of consumption assumes 4 planets instead of just one (Earth overshoot day happened on August 19 this year and the vast majority of people live with a lot less than the average American - or the average Swede). 2) It is not difficult but exceedingly easy to see where extra demand will come from - you just compare what you have with what your richest neighbour has (e.g. more). 3) Appliances might get more efficient, but we have more appliances in our households and we buy new appliances faster today than ever before.

        "If we are honest, then, the argument that trade leads to economic growth, which leads to climate change, leads us then to a stark conclusion: we should cut our trade links to make sure that the Chinese, Indians, and Africans stay poor. The question is whether any environmental catastrophe, even severe climate change, could possibly inflict the same terrible human cost as keeping three of four billion  people in poverty."

        Comment: I don't think Harford is up to date on what "severe climate change" implies. In short, I think most people would prefer poverty over death, and stability over chaos. However, why would these two be the only alternatives we can choose between? Alleviating (their) poverty by limiting (our) consumption and wealth could for example be another alternative. Mahatma Gandhi and the appropriate technology movement proposed some very interesting ideas for how to alleviate poverty without jumping on the modernisation bandwagon with both feet. And so on.

        Let's just say that I will stay away from Harford's later books. I will probably avoid the genre of economists-as-cheerleaders for the incumbent economic system altogether from now on. In short, this book felt like a waste on my time and I retroactively regret that I picked it up.




        Although published by a Axl Books, Helena Csarmann's "Berg-och-dalbanana: Jakten på den heliga G-kraften" (2007, pdf file) [The roller coaster: The hunt for the holy G-force] is her ph.d. thesis in industrial economy from KTH Royal Institute of Technology. It felt appropriate to read this book while on a sabbatical in the US since there are quite some amusement parks there. We almost went to Six Flags Magic Mountain north of LA before I figured out that the rides there are for youths rather than my pre-teens (we went to Knott's Berry Farm instead).

        This thesis is an easy read. It provides insights into several aspects of "the roller coaster economy" from the point of view of premier engineering firms who do research on and plan roller coasters according to customers' wishes, construction firms that build them, amusement parks who buy them and the enthusiasts who ride them. The roller coaster economy fuses engineering, business and fun in "the hunt for the holy G-force".

        The book is an excellent primer into many aspects of amusement parks and the roller coasters that are their premier attractions. The layout (and lots of nice pictures) added to the pleasure of reading it. As a ph.d. thesis, I don't think it's equally successful in terms of drawing on and using theories to explain "what it's all about". It doesn't feel very methodologically strong either, but that might be an effect of the for the most part non-academic style of writing. It's easy to get the impression of someone "doing stuff" and interviewing people without having had a clear plan of what to look for in advance. Still, it was a pleasurable read - especially compared to other ph.d. theses.


        ---------- QUOTES: ----------

        ----- On the *real* function of personality test -----

        "The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, possesses not a shred of scientific respectability ... 'there is no evidence that [Briggs's] sixteen distinct types have any more validity than the twelve signs of the zodiac.' So why is the corporate world, which we think of as so fixated on empirical, in fact, quantifiable, measures of achievement like the "bottom line," so attached to these meaningless personality tests? One attraction must be that the tests lend a superficial rationality to the matching of people with jobs. ... if you failed at one job, it is probably comforting to be told that it was simply not a good "fit" for your inner nature. ... 'There's no bad worker and no bad workplace, only a bad fit between the two.'
        ...
        if the function of the tests is really ideological ... they do not have to be in any way accurate as predictors of performance or satisfaction. They serve more as ... allowing employers to rationalise rejection or dismissal in terms of an inadequate "fit."
        Ehrenreich (2005). "Bait and switch", p.33-35.

        Comment: The quotes within the quote comes from Annie Murphy Paul's book "The cult of personality" (2004).



        ----- On looking for job as a full-time job in itself -----

        "job searching is not joblessness; it is a job in itself and should be structured to resemble one, right down to the more regrettable features of employment, like having to follow orders - order which are in this case self-generated. ... Everyone agrees on the necessity of managing oneself much as a real boss might
        ...
        Imagining one's search as a "job" must satisfy the Calvinist craving to be doing something, anything, of a worklike nature, and Americans may be especially prone to Calvinist angst. We often credit some activity with the phrase "at least it keeps me busy" - as if busyness were a desirable state regardless of how you achieve it."
        Ehrenreich (2005). "Bait and switch", p.45-46.



         ----- On "networking" as an anti-social activity -----

        "'the whole networking thing' ... feels "fake" because we know it involves the deflection of our natural human sociability to an ulterior end. Normally we meet strangers in the expectation that they may truly be strange, and are drawn to the multilayered mystery that each human presents. But in networking, as in prostitution, there is not time for fascination. The networker is always, so to speak, looking over the shoulder of the person she engages in conversation, toward whatever concrete advantage can be gleaned from the interaction - a tip or a precious contact. This instrumentalism undermines the possibility of a group identity, say, as white-collar victims of corporate upheaval. No matter how crowded the room, the networker prowls alone, scavenging to meet his or her individual needs."
        Ehrenreich (2005). "Bait and switch", p.62.



          ----- On career coaching and blaming the victim -----

        "It seems inexcusably cruel to tell people who have reached some kind of personal nadir that their problems is entirely of their own making. ... But from the point of view of the economic "winners" - those who occupy powerful and high-paying jobs - the view that one's fate depends entirely on oneself must be remarkably convenient. It explains the winners' success in the most flattering terms while invalidating the complaints of the losers. [The people who] came to the [executive] boot camp prepared to blame their predicament on the economy, or the real estate market, or the inhuman corporate demands on their time. But these culprits were summarily dismissed in favour of alleged individual failings: depression, hesitation, lack of focus. It's not the world that needs changing, is the message, it's *you*. No need, then, to band together to work for a saner economy or a more human-friendly corporate environment, or to band together at all."
        Ehrenreich (2005). "Bait and switch", p.85.



         ----- On turning to religion to find meaning in the vagaries of the labour market -----

        "In the testimonies I have heard so far at Christian gatherings, God is always busily micromanaging every career and personal move: advising which jobs to pursue, even causing important e-mails to be sent. ... Thus everything happens "for a reason," even if it is not immediately apparent, and presumably a benevolent one.
        ...
        What we want from a career narrative is some moreal thrust, some meaningful story we can ... tell our children. The old narrative was "I worked hard and therefore succeeded" or sometimes "I screwed up and therefore failed." But a life of only intermittently rewarded effort - working hard only to be laid off, and then repeating the process until ageing forecloses decent job offers - requires more strenuous forms of explanation. Either you look for the institution forces shaping your life, or you attribute the unpredictable ups and downs of your career to an infinitely powerful, endlessly detail-oriented God.
        ...
        So this is the new ideal Christianized, "just in time," white-collar employee - disposable when temporarily unneeded and always willing to return with a smile, no matter what hardships have been endured in the off periods. Maybe one of the functions of this evangelical revival sweeping America is to reconcile people to an increasingly unreliable work world: you take what you can get, and praise the lord for sending it along."
        Ehrenreich (2005). "Bait and switch", p.142-146.



        ----- On corporations as medieval courts; are what is needed corporate jesters (truth-tellers)? -----
        "It's the internal culture of the corporation ... that fascinates me. The picture he paints resembles one of the royal courts of Europe, circa 1600, as described by Castiglione or, closer to our own time, the historian Norbert Elias. We, the PR people, are the courtiers who both despise the king and eagerly press around him, anxious for a moment of royal attention. We must learn to speak in low, quite tones, always framing our advice "strategically" and never wasting words on everything he already knows. Only if we can insinuate ourselves into his confidence can we hope to save the country - I mean, the company - and of course all the credit will go to him."
        Ehrenreich (2005). "Bait and switch", p.161.

        .

        torsdag 25 september 2014

        Björn Hedin's ph.d. defense

        .
        I attended Björn Hedin's Ph.D. defense earlier this week when he presented/defended his thesis "'Exploring opportunistic use of mobile devices for studying in higher education" (available online here). The basic question Björn asks is how we (e.g. students) better can use "inter-time" - e.g. low-quality time in-between different activities. Instead of reading Facebook updates or playing Candy Crush Saga, could our students use mobile technologies to study when they commute or when they wait for the bus?

        The opponent was professor Urban Nuldén from the Dept. of Applied Information Technology at the University of Gothenburg and the Chalmers University of Technology. The grading committee consisted of three persons; Professor Marcelo Milrad from the Linnaeus University, Associate professor Johan Lundin from the Dept. of Applied Information Technology at the University of Gothenburg and the Chalmers University of Technology and Dr. Ester Appelgren from the Dept of Journalism at Södertörn University.

        I had to leave after two hours due to teaching duties, but it felt like Björn got off the hook pretty easily. The opponent was very "nice" and didn't really ask any difficult questions. I think it would have been "fun" to hear a few questions that were a little bit more difficult, critical and pointed (I have full confidence in Björn's ability to answer them).

        I've been one of Björn's assistant supervisors. My colleague Stefan Hrastinski has been the main supervisor and Olle Bälter has been the other assistant supervisor. My assistant supervisorship has been a pretty small part of my relationship with Björn though - we have worked with quite a large number of smaller projects together during the last few years and we now also have a larger, three-year long project that is just now starting up. I thus very much look forward to several years of fruitful collaboration with Björn!

        The most significant aspect of Björn's thesis is that he has been working with it for so long. He changed the topic after some years and started with a clean slate, and he has since had to conduct his research and complete his thesis at spare moments - and nowadays also with two young children at home. I'm really happy that Björn can finally put the thesis behind him and I imagine it must be a huge relief for him when this finally sinks in and he can direct his energies at new projects instead of continuing to drag the ball-and-chain thesis of his along...

        Björn and I have collected a large amount of wonderful empirical material together, but actually doing something with this material (working with it, writing up papers) has been on hold due to his thesis. I have been very reluctant to take the lead on working with the collected material since it makes a lot more sense for Björn to be the main/first author - the area we are working on together is my side interest but his main research interest. I now really look forward to write articles and climb up the academic food chain together with Björn.

        One of the six articles included in Björn's thesis is indeed one of the shorter (Swedish-language) articles we wrote a year ago together, "I'm gonna study now! I just have to color-code my books first".
        .

        söndag 21 september 2014

        Advice to young researchers

        .
        One of the senior researchers at my department took the time to write up a few pages of tips and tricks for budding researchers (ph.d. students who are finishing up their dissertation or newly minted ph.d.) on how to shape a great c.v. and make an academic career.

        I wish I had had such a list when I finished up my own ph.d. In retrospect I think I was supremely ill prepared and I don't think that my advisor gave me nearly enough advice and guidance to help me make sense of what I supposed to do to make an academic career. At the same time though, there was something I couldn't quite put my finger on and that rubbed me the wrong way when I read the list of tips and tricks, and, I guess I wasn't the only one. A colleague said it was great checklist for how to "level up" in academia (he added "...if that's your goal"). Someone else left an anonymous one-page manifesto at the coffee tables with advice that substantially contradicted the list of tips and tricks. I also understand the list has been a source of some stress for some of the ph.d. students, but it could equally well be framed as a source of support or at least a source of practical knowledge that is important for every ph.d. student to know, i.e. "everything you have ever wanted to know about an academic career but where too afraid to ask". The advice is very goal-oriented (mission: stay in academia) and instrumental.

        When reading the tips and tricks, my thoughts went to a recent article by Mats Alvesson (2013), "Do we have something to say? From re-search to roi-search and back again". We all know what "research" is but what is "roi-search"? ROI stands for "return on investment" and roi-search is the "science" of how to optimally spend your time as a researchers to make the biggest impact in lists and in rankings. Roi-search tells you what to spend your time on and it transforms research into an instrumental activity. It's quite clear that Alvesson detests it and thinks it leads in the wrong direction (despite the utility for an individual researcher to adopt such a perspective). The tips and tricks that were circulated at our department are very much in line with the basic ideas of roi-search; this is how to go about to get a great c.v., to secure a position and to make an impact in the community of your choice (pick a community, position yourself in that community and stick to it). Here's a quote from Alvesson's article:

        "Let me point at some orientations that may limit the creation and communication of meaningful knowledge for academics.
        [...]
        “I am a real researcher”. Habitus-ism. This could also be referred to as scientistic ritualism or the competent craftsperson. This orientation is one of embracing scientific rationality or, more generally, of being capable of mastery of journal publishing, either in a quantitative or a qualitative mode. Demonstrating one’s competence and value as a person who is able to write an academic article worthy of being published in an ‘A journal’ is here salient. Journal writing seems to be the key skill for many people to develop these days. Knowledge should be competently packaged in 8 000–10 000 words or text displaying all the skills needed to impress a specific journal’s reviewers and editor."

        One example of the instrumental character of the tips and tricks is the advice on publishing: don't waste your results. "Make sure to frame it properly, publish it in the right "order" - that is, the key concept first, and then only later the method, the various materials you used to build the concept, and whatever". This makes eminent sense from the individual's point of view but, is it not at the same time dangerously close to suggesting we should all practice academic "salami-slicing" - dividing and packaging our research into the "least publishable unit"? And who is going to read all the papers we write? Perhaps that's a naive or at least an irrelevant questions. Perhaps academia is not about "having something to say" (Alvesson) but about bombarding journals and fellow researchers with academic papers and hope that some of what we write "stick" and is read and quoted by someone, somewhere? It is interesting to contrast this with a recent plea in the Chronicle of Higher Eduction to "stop the avalanche of low-quality research":

        "Consider this tally from Science two decades ago: Only 45 percent of the articles published in the 4,500 top scientific journals were cited within the first five years after publication. In recent years, the figure seems to have dropped further.
        [...]
        As a result, instead of contributing to knowledge in various disciplines, the increasing number of low-cited publications only adds to the bulk of words and numbers to be reviewed. Even if read, many articles that are not cited by anyone would seem to contain little useful information."

        Another example of the instrumental character of the tips and tricks is the part about community service. It state that you should not "selfishly focus on your own research", "you also have to be seen doing stuff for the community". Volunteering "makes you known outside the close-knit circle of peers focusing exactly on your topic". These tips redefines volunteering into something you kind of incidentally happen to do "for the community", but that you in the end do to raise your profile and get recognition. The advice does not state that you "should" or that you "have to" do stuff for the community but that you "have to be seen doing stuff for the community". This raises the question of whether it's ok to pretend to do stuff for the community or to under-perform but over-promote your contributions to the community (etc.)?

        Community service could on the other hand be framed very differently, as something you selflessly do for the community in order to support it and because you think the field you are active in is important and merits you support no matter what you get back from it (or don't get back). That is not the angle chosen here and roi-search could thus a more suitable lens with which to analyse these tips and tricks, e.g. how should you husband your time to get the maximum bang for the buck? Perhaps the advice on finding and integrating (or ingratiating?) yourself into a tight community can be seen a way to ensure that at least some people read and cite your work in a world that is saturated with research results but has too few people who read it?

        One interesting (and depressing) second-order effect of current practices could be that "The pace of publication accelerates, encouraging projects that don't require extensive, time-consuming inquiry and evidence gathering". The above-mentioned article in The Chronicle of  Higher Education lists a large number of negative effects both for the individual, for the community and for Science in its entirety as the publish-or-perish ethos takes hold:

        "Aspiring researchers are turned into publish-or-perish entrepreneurs, often becoming more or less cynical about the higher ideals of the pursuit of knowledge. They fashion pathways to speedier publication, cutting corners on methodology and turning to politicking and fawning strategies for acceptance."

        Alvesson and The Chronicle is just the appetiser though. The real beef comes from Schwartz and his research on human values. I've come across his model before, but it all came together when I listened to a guest lecture by Pella Thiel earlier this week. Based on cross-cultural studies in several dozens of countries and with tens of thousands of respondents, psychologists have identified a number of human values that occur consistently. These values have been divided into no less than 10 different groups:


        These groups can then be placed spatially, in a circle:



        Using this model, it is easy to see that the tips and tricks for the most part relate to motivations that can be found in two of the groups, namely "achievement" and "power". Motivations in the former category are for example "influential", "ambitious" and "successful" and examples of the latter are "social recognition", "authority" and "social power". The thing is that people can be motivated by variety of different reasons to do research (or any other human endeavours for that matter). A few important features of this model though is that:
        • People can harbour many values but when one specific value is engaged, people opportunistically (then and there) tend to frame things in terms of that value and the group of values it comes from. If I make an argument for the importance of, say, self-discipline, or pleasure, or helpfulness, what I say will influence the listener then and there. The more often a certain set of values are engaged, the more important that set of values comes to be for my worldview. If I repeatedly talk about research in terms of authority and social recognition, I will over time strengthen those motivations and will tend to evaluate my own and others' research in these terms.
        • There is a bleedover effect in that values that are close to each other are reinforced when their "neighbours" are invoked (see the circle above). Engaging hedonistic values (pleasure, self-indulgence) will tend to strengthen also values having to do with stimulation and achievement and engaging universalistic values will tend to strengthen also values having to do with self-direction and benevolence.
        • While neighbouring values are compatible and strengthen each other, values that are opposite to each other are on the other hand hard to engage simultaneously. Engaging certain values tends to suppress opposing values in the circle (above). If self-direction is engaged, conformity and tradition tends to simultaneously be suppressed, and, if power is engaged, universalism tends to simultaneously be suppressed.

        As stated above, the tips and tricks for the most part appealed to values having to do with achievement and power. What values and motivations do these tips and tricks miss out on then? Using Schwartz' model, it is possible to see that values having to do with "self-direction" are if not opposite, then at least perpendicular to values having to do with "achievement" and "power". Adhering to the advice given in the list of tips and tricks, a budding researcher might thus miss out on becoming a researchers who is primarily motivated and directed by "curiosity", "creativity", "independence" and "freedom". Being curious and independent might not necessarily be a hindrance to becoming a successful researcher, but it does on the other hand perhaps not help much if your goal is to maximise your H-index. Being too creative and craving too much freedom might obviously impede a more straight approach to having an impact and making a name for yourself in a specific academic (sub-)community.

        Using Schwartz' model, the more worrisome part about the list of tips and tricks are the values that are suppressed by focusing on achievement and power, e.g. universalistic values such as "wisdom", "inner harmony", "broadmindedness", "social justice" and "equality". That sounds wishy-washy so how could that be translated to research-speak? A radically alternative perspective of what a researcher "should" do could be to start with the simple assertion that almost all Swedish researchers get their salaries from the state and from the taxpayers, and most of the research grants also come from "the people". Does that not imply that we are, or should be accountable to them in some way? Just as politicians are said to serve the people, perhaps researchers should too? An alternative advice to a budding researcher could thus be to choose an area of research that helps make our society a better, more just society or that hold great promise of being beneficial for humanity. How does your research, or, the area you do research in support peace, beauty, equality and justice? How does your research contribute to making the world a better place for both humans and the planet? It goes without saying that if you start asking questions such as these, you might end up doing something that is intensely meaningful for you, but might at the same time have a have a harder time acquiring the c.v. you need to secure a position in academia. That's a tough one and there is no simple answer that once and for all resolves this "tension". One of my very first blog posts, "Clueless AI researcher", was written in affect and was a reaction to listening to someone I felt had made The Wrong Choice in terms of his area of research.  

        Having an interest in sustainability, such a perspective probably comes easier for me than for many other researchers. I live with the tension of constantly asking myself both what and where I should publish and what research (and teaching) I should conduct to do my bit for "saving the planet". I am of course not saying that everything I do, I do for making the world a better place. I don't live in the woods (like Jorge :-) and I'm also part of the academic system and the "rat race" to publish things and increase my status and my recognition. But being able to change perspectives and see things from another angle can also be a check on not adapting at too instrumental view of what I do and why I do it. 

        It is interesting to note that achievement and power belong to the "self-enhancement" part of Schwartz' circle (above) while universalism and benevolence belong to the "self-transcendent" part of the circle. Self-enhancement is also part of being motivated by extrinsic values, i.e. values that are centered on external approval and rewards such as prestige, material success, social status etc. Self-transcendence is instead part of being motivated by intrinsic values, i.e. values that you find inherently rewarding to pursue such as self-acceptance, concern for others, social justice etc.

        Do note that values are universal. They are not character traits and each of us is motivated by all values, but to different degrees. Do also note that you can choose to engage certain values rather than others and by doing so you will over time strengthen these and neighbouring values. We would thus all do well to now and then stop and challenge, encourage or even force ourselves to engage the pro-social values having to do with benevolence, universalism and self-direction in-between writing articles and shooting them off in the direction of prestigious journals that will increase our H-indexes and the glory of the university we work for in the increasingly important university ranking lists!


        Comment: For more on applying Schwartz' model to HCI, do have a look at Bran Knowles' CHI 2013 paper "Re-imagining persuasion: Designing for self-transcendence”. 
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