Friday, September 14, 2007

Scientific ethics

The British government's chief scientific advisor has set out a universal ethical code for scientists.

1) Act with skill and care, keep skills up to date
2) Prevent corrupt practice and declare conflicts of interest
3) Respect and acknowledge the work of other scientists
4) Ensure that research is justified and lawful
5) Minimise impacts on people, animals and the environment
6) Discuss issues science raises for society
7) Do not mislead; present evidence honestly

Professor Sir David King: "It's important to look at the relationship between science and the public. If we have a breakthrough, and society is not accepting of that, then we have a problem; so what we need is for scientists to accept the code and follow it [...] We believe if every scientist followed the code, we would improve the quality of science and remove many of the concerns society has about research."

Lib Dem science spokesman Dr Evan Harris: "The seven points in this code are part of what separates researchers from charlatans, medicine from quackery and science from supposition."

So. It seems that scientists and policy makers are still trying to figure out what to do about fiascos like The Fall of Hwang, even if he was on to something useful.

Personally, I struggle to see how scientific authority is under serious threat from lay people - it's still scientists telling the rest of us what they should do and not the other way around - but I appreciate how a manoeuvre like this opens up the opportunity to debate what science is, and should be.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

MediaShed +

During my recents visits to the UK, I had the pleasure of hanging out with some of the Mongrel & MediaShed guys, talking about everything from Mass Observation and soldering to the cultural impact of public art and lighting one's farts on fire. (I was the one classy enough to bring that last one up, not them.)

Anyway, a few of their projects strike me as really lovely and unstable balances between the creative and political, or the ethical and aesthetic. I appreciate how they value everyday life beyond technology, and how they manage to be critical without relaxing into dystopian fantasies. They appear to have a genuine curiosity for the people and objects around them, and seem to be most content when simply making stuff with others.

What could, I think, easily slip into a paternalistic or shepherding relationship with the people tends instead towards using technological prosthetics to temporarily assemble publics. (Note to self: How is that related to the Situationist 'Possible Rendez-Vous'?)

Just take their Telephone Trottoire project:

"The aim of the 'Telephone Trottoire' project is to engage the London based Congolese community in issues that affect their day-to-day lives. 'Telephone Trottoire' is based on a new form of 'contagious' telephone application developed by Mongrel and named after the Congolese practice of 'pavement radio' or the passing around of news and gossip between individuals on street corners. In Central Africa people defy media censorship by sharing news and gossip using 'radio trottoire' or 'pavement radio'. Built in collaboration with the radio programmes 'Nostalgie Ya Mboka' and 'Londres Na Biso', 'Telephone Trottoire' encourages London's Congolese community to pass around news stories and discuss them using a unique system of sharing content over the phone. The project engages the Congolese community on their own terms by using systems that draw from their own culture, beliefs and folklore – some stories are intended to provoke, some to entertain and some to educate. All allow listeners to record their own comments and pass the call on to a friend or family member by entering their phone number. Some are true and some are false – after all isn’t this all about gossip – the 'Telephone Trottoire'?"

Or their Video Sniffin' projects:



The Commercial

"When MediaShed members found out about ‘Video Sniffin’ on-line, a term given to the practice of picking up the public signals being broadcast by wireless CCTV, they decided to apply the technology to make a film. Young people from the local YMCA and others used a cheap video receiver from a high street store to ‘sniff’ the streets for CCTV cameras. After finding 24 cameras or ‘hotspots’ they then asked shop owners if they could make a film by acting out in front of their CCTV cameras and recording the signal. The shop owners were very surprised and happy for the young people to create a film this way. The final film was screened on a ‘video sculpture’ of 16 recycled PC monitors at South East Essex College on 29th April. This display was part of the final ‘Being Here’ event – Southend’s recent arts regeneration initiative. These kinds of projects allow people to see how a common technology that is normally used for the surveillance of the same young people can be repurposed by them for creative activities. The project created great interest from the local council and local businesses who positively engaged with the project."



minä olen

"Hijacking the CCTV cameras of municipal buildings in the town of Kokkola, Finland a group of young people from the immigrant class at Kiviniitty Secondary School made a film about their cultural isolation ... This provided the young people with a means of regaining control from the ‘institution’ influencing their future. The final film was installed at Tupakkamakasiini, Pietarsaari City Museum as part of a larger exhibition of Mongrel’s work, and was also displayed at Kokkola Town Hall bringing the heartfelt message to as many local people as possible. The young people, some of whom had only been in the country a matter of weeks, positively enjoyed the opportunity to invade ‘government’ buildings and felt an increased confidence within their surroundings. Additionally the film was used to encourage local ministers to continue to provide regular classes in the young peoples’ own language and culture."

The Duellists

"In March 2007 MediaShed were invited to the Manchester Arndale Shopping Centre to make a film combining free-media with free-running. Parkour or free-running involves fluid uninterrupted movement adapting motion to obstacles in the environment. Like free-media, free-running makes use of and re-enrgises the infrastructure of the city. Free-media film adapts environmental and discarded hardware to make filmmaking accessible to all. Working with Southend based professional parkour breakin' crew Methods of Movement a choreographed performance was filmed in the shopping centre over three consecutive nights. The film was shot using only the existing in-house CCTV network of 160 cameras operated from the central control room, with a soundtrack created entirely from the foundsounds and noises recorded during the performance. The finished film was screened at the Manchester Arndale (10th - 20th May) on the infrastructure plasmas, in an exhibition pod and inside eleven stores as part of a ten day exhibition entitled Art for Shopping Centres."

I have some questions about how they come to their conclusions but mostly I'm impressed by how they blatantly seek affective change. (Or is it affective contagion?)

For example, the material, embodied, performative and productive aspects of their engagement with CCTV allow MediaShed to avoid more distanced intellectual debates on public vs. private, or surveillance vs. sousveillance. Rather than pointing at our docility and predicting our decline into dividuation, there's something creative and hopeful in these projects. And despite their rather earnest charter, it's not particularly idealist or utopian. But it does remind me of what Anna Munster refers to as actualising bodies and abstracting selves, which she also basically applied to Harwood's earlier Uncomfortable Proximity project.

MediaShed projects also rely on old technologies like radio, video, telephone. I think this is important simply because "ultimately, new cultural phenomena rely on encounters with the old," and because these technologies still require people to serve as active broadcasters and receivers.

(I mean, I suspect that part of why RFID or GPS seem so hard to work with critically is because the myths of pervasive computing are so ahistorical, and because the communication model underpinning them practically strips out human intervention. Although I have some concerns about the tyranny of participation, I really don't see "participation" becoming an issue - positively or negatively - for pervasive computing. Current discourse and practice allow it no space, but I think that if we can temporarily converge as publics around it then there's still hope.)

Anyway, good stuff and lots to think about!

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Mobile publics and issues-based art and design

Mobile Nation Conference
22-25 March, 2007 - Toronto, Canada

Mobile Nation investigates design methods for locative technologies, devices and games, showcasing international research, design and engineering ... Participants will share expertise with WiFi, Global Positioning System (GPS), Bluetooth, Radio Frequency ID tags, intelligent garments, ambient media applications, and geo-locative gaming ... Throughout the conference we will be looking at research methodologies and ways that they will be integrated into industry, education, and creative practice.

Speakers | Programme | Workshop | Poster Exhibition

I'm really looking forward to this event - not only are there lots of interesting people participating but it's really nice to see so many Canadian researchers, designers and artists represent. Plus, I've long admired Nigel Thrift's work on technology and space so I'm excited that I'll be the discussant for his social geographies keynote. And at the very end of the first day Eric Zimmerman will be moderating discussion between Jason Lewis, Minna Tarkka, Suzanne Stein, Ron Wakkary and myself. I'll be presenting on some of the more practical aspects of doing what I call issues-based art and design research (you can get the extended abstract here but I like to think it'll be much better in-person) and I'm looking forward to the other presentations and discussions. If you're there, please come say hello!

This presentation actually draws on a chapter I recently wrote for Sampling the Spectrum, edited by Barbara Crow, Michael Longford and Kim Sawchuck, forthcoming from University of Toronto Press.

Mobile Publics and Issues-Based Art and Design (pdf)

Starting with the 'problem' of the public, I look to select historical and philosophical understandings of publics and politics. Building on the work of early American pragmatists like Walter Lippman and John Dewey, I focus on a public that is fragmented and contingent but still very much capable of judgment and action. In order to delve deeper into the kinds of situations or events in which these kinds of publics can come-together I find inspiration in the carnivals and feast crowds so eloquently described by Mikhail Bahktin and Elias Canetti, as well as in Bruno Latour’s "parliament of things" or dingpolitik. I follow that discussion with an overview of recent research into the social and cultural aspects of mobile, context-aware and pervasive computing, and I question the senses of 'public' and 'private' at play. More specifically, following Mimi Sheller, I ask what a non-network model of mobility might look like. The kind of fluid and messy picture that emerges ends up pivoting on acts of coupling and decoupling, or gelling and dissolving, multiple publics and privates around shared concerns or difficult issues. The chapter culminates in a discussion of what I call issues-based art and design, or those mobile and context-aware projects in which a 'public' is convened around a set of shared concerns or complex issue that cannot be adequately handled by more traditional means. More specifically, I look at mobile technologies being deployed in the interests of political and economic awareness and action, as well as environmental awareness and sustainability. Assessing the limitations and possibilities of these kinds of technological, artistic and design interventions, I conclude by asking where the most productive potentials for mobile publics can be found, and what it will take to actually mobilise them.

UPDATE 12.03.07

The new issue of Wi: Journal of the Mobile Digital Commons Network is out and it also takes a look at the benefits and challenges of collaborative research and design practice. Good stuff by Yasmin Jiwani, Alison Powell, Andrea Zeffiro & Daviid Gauthier, Kim Sawchuk & Barbara Crow, Michael Longford, and Janice Leung.

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