Risk & the Culture of Science (Invite only workshop)

This workshop was featured on the Naked Scientists podcast, as part of the show Can Science Mavericks Save the World? Read or listen here.

Many scientists have expressed concern about potential catastrophic risks associated with powerful new technologies. But expressing concern is one thing, identifying serious candidates another. By definition, such risks will be novel, rare and difficult to study; data will be scarce, speculation necessary. This pushes us to the fringes of science, the realm of ‘mavericks’ and the unconventional – often a hostile and uncomfortable place. Scientists value consensus, at least about the big issues. Catastrophic risk is both a big issue and a highly charged one: so fringe-dwellers may be doubly unwelcome. Do we need to make special efforts to protect our mavericks, if catastrophic risk is to get the attention it deserves? If so, how can we do it? Can we use the values of science to protect useful fringe-dwellers from science’s own immune system? Can we engineer a Maverick Room?

Several different communities have interests and expertise relevant to these questions. Our initial aim is to bring these communities together, to make connections and identify common goals. If all goes well, we intend this to be the first step in a practical project: the design and implementation of a ‘safe space’ for the fringe: the maverick room. Our own motivation is the study of new technological risks, but we hope and intend the results to range beyond that focus.

The event was co-hosted by CSER and WEXD. The WEXD project is interdisciplinary investigation -­‐ involving scientists and philosophers -­‐ of the ill understood, but socially and politically significant phenomenon of peer disagreement. The ultimate goal of the project is to gain a better understanding of the role and consequences of disagreement among scientific experts and its implications for policy decisions by governmental agencies and the formation of public opinion.

This workshop was made possible by the support of the Templeton World Charity Foundation and the Irish Research Council.

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