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Security controversies: exploring the governance of knowledge, innovation and techno-scientific risks

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SECCON (Security controversies: exploring the governance of knowledge, innovation and techno-scientific risks)

Reporting period: 2018-05-01 to 2020-04-30

This project started with the observation that we are living in a world which simultaneously praises science as a source of progress and is anxious about the risks it might entail. In a time of increasing global connectedness, how do we think about the dangers related to emerging research and innovation? And how do these concerns translate into making science and innovation safe and secure? These questions were at the heart of the project SECCON, which sought to contribute to our understanding of security controversies in the governance of research and innovation in the area of biosecurity.
The project aimed to explore security controversies via two principal lenses. First, it developed interdisciplinary expertise based on security studies, science and technology studies, critical policy studies, as they emerge in the discussion around responsible research and innovation. Secondly, the project mapped and analysed the governance of security controversies in the spheres of biobanking and EU grant review. Through these two lenses, the project sought to contribute to both societal and scholarly debates on undesired side-effects and new dilemmas of new technologies and how to deal with them.
The research was driven by the interest in studying meanings, practices, and implications of security-driven changes in the governance of research and innovation. The methodology of the project was based on qualitative social science, using document analysis, fieldwork, and interviews. The empirical research was conducted in two areas – the ethics assessment in the EU grant project review and the governance of biomedical science. The first case looked at how security controversies are understood and dealt with in the grant review process and specifically under the ethics review of Horizon 2020 projects in the EU. The second case exemplified a leading European research infrastructure for biomolecular resources and biobanks, namely BBMRI-ERIC.
During the course of the project, the overarching theoretical and conceptual work gained more prominence. To bring together different social scientific perspectives on the study of the entanglements of science, technology, and security to address the controversies yet to emerge needs to be preceded by a thorough conceptual vocabulary. One example of such vocabulary is anticipatory governance, as discussed in a research article analysing how threats and risks are anticipated in biobanking. Related to this, the project necessarily expanded towards the broader question of socio-technical collaboration with security communities of practice, following both a personal engagement in a public controversy over the meaning of new technologies in liberal democracies and an increasing academic interest in this issue. The impact of the project can thus be located in this area.
The research and training related to the project proceeded in several steps, including the training of the researcher in research management, theoretical training in responsible research and innovation and science and technology studies, conceptual development of security controversies and sociotechnical collaborations, and empirical research with biomedical professionals, including taking interviews and participation in events.
The project's successful and large dissemination targeted both academic audience and public debates and the media. First, a book manuscript drawing on the research from this project is under contract with Routledge. Other journal article manuscripts have been prepared, and are being submitted. All this work draws on theoretical training and empirical research during the project. Second, the principal investigator has been actively involved in promoting interdisciplinary conversation on science, technology, and security between security studies and studies of science and technology. A symposium on “Innovation governance and security controversies” was organized at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna, bringing together scholars, students, policymakers, and the interested public. Third, the PI has been very active in communicating the project’s insights and results to the media, engaging in TV and media debates and presenting the topic at public lectures. These activities include interviews for Czech and Slovak media as well as two invited talks at the Stanford University.
This project brings an overarching conceptual vocabulary to address and analyse current security practices in research governance. By providing insights from security studies, science and technology studies and critical policy studies this vocabulary enables to grasp and analyze controversies that are not yet public as well as those that are anticipated or governed by preemption. Second, and related to the first, the project offers a new understanding of techno-scientific risks in organized collections of big biomedical data (biobanking) and grant research ethics, which are two very prominent areas where security controversies have not yet been addressed and which display the analytic value of security controversies very well. .
The most ambitious goal of the project has been to provide a useful overlap between these scholarly debates and their practical use in public debates and media engagements. To make the public understand how controversies can be hidden from the public eye and yet structure our security practices gains even more importance in times of discussion on the use of big data. The project provides mind maps and concepts to articulate this process. The emphasis on theoretical work together with the engagement in public debates has provided the ideal interface to achieve that goal. Furthermore, this interface has lead to several interdisciplinary collaboration, reaching beyond the project – e.g. the Viennese symposium on “Innovation governance and security controversies” is planned for next year, and a standing section “Science, technology, security” at the annual conference of the European International Studies Association was established with activities planned for the upcoming years. Several other international research collaborations were initiated and will be pursued further among them most importantly the University of Sussex, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Austrian Institute for International Affairs, University of Vienna, ETH Zurich, Harvard University etc.
security practices in biobanking poster