söndag 29 mars 2020

On the necessity of flying and of not flying (paper)

This is the first paper that comes out of the FLIGHT project. More papers are being written as this is being written.

My last blog post was about a paper that has been accepted to the upcoming (virtual) ICT4S conference. We in fact also have another paper accepted, "On the necessity of flying and of not flying Exploring how computer scientists reason about academic travel". The paper-writing was again spearheaded by my colleague Elina Eriksson and the other authors were Daniel Pargman, Markus Robèrt and Jarmo Laaksolahti. This is in fact the very first paper that comes out of our 2019-2022 "FLIGHT" research project. The real/full name of the project is "Decreased CO2-emissions in flight-intensive organisations: from data to practice". There is much activity in the project and we have turned to paper-writing now that other activities are put on hold by the Covid-19 crisis.

This paper is both a side project compared to the main thrust as well as a background project. These are two different ways of saying that the paper is interesting but possibly a bit peripheral in relation to the project goals. The paper builds on a travel survey that was conducted at KTH a year ago. The survey is not part of the FLIGHT research project but it was conducted by FLIGHT project member Markus Robèrt on behalf of KTH, was sent out to all employees at KTH and contains a large number of free text answers. The empirical part of the paper builds on these free text answers, but the analysis has been restricted to answers given by employees at (only) the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) - which also happens to be the school where I and all project members with the exception of Markus Robèrt works.

The survey answers we analyze were more specifically answers to the following four questions:
- “A large part of the emissions at KTH come from air travel. What do you think should be done to reduce these emissions?
- “How do you contribute to KTH's sustainability goals regarding reduced air travel?
- “Do you experience any disadvantages with meetings via videoconference or web meeting?
- “Other comments?” (the very last open ended question)

The survey was answered anonymously and the answers are not in any way representative of anything - but they do represent a range of opinions from computer scientists (broadly defined) about their own and their colleagues' habits of flying, ranging all the way from “KTH should increase its flying; an excellent way of making great contacts. Sustainability goals are a political hoax” to “Since January 1, 2019, I have stopped flying for work, so it will be train, boat or video conferencing instead”. Below is the paper abstract:


In order to fulfill the Paris agreement, we need to drastically reduce carbon emissions globally. 2020 is a pivotal year in this endeavour as many projections indicate that emissions need to decrease significantly before 2030. This challenge pertains to all parts of society, including (computer science) researchers. This however clashes with the fact that flying to a large extent has become built-in to the everyday practices of research and of academic life. It is feasible to imagine that computer scientists could fly less than other academics since we ought to be innovators and early adopters of computer-mediated alternatives such as teleconferencing and other forms of digital meeting technologies. It is however also possible that we fly more because conferences might be a more dominant outlet for publications in our field in comparison to other research fields. At KTH Royal Institute of Technology, the researchers at the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) fly the most. In this paper, we present initial qualitative results from a survey regarding travel that was answered by computer scientists at EECS. We are in particular analyse the free text answers in order to understand how computer scientists reason about their own flying and about the alternatives. It will be hard to fulfil the Paris agreement without decreasing flying significantly, but this requires us to rethink how we do research, and how we travel (or not) within academia. This paper contributes with knowledge about the perceived barriers and drivers for computer scientists to decrease their flying.

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