Will the implications of postnormal situations also change the very nature of science, of the production of knowledge? Participants of the recent Hamburg workshop on "postnormal science: the case of climate science" were undecided on this question. The workshop "Science in a Digital Society", which currently takes place in Lisbon, is based on the assumption that ICT (information & communication technologies) definitely will alter the ways knowledge will be produced. On the second Lisbon workshop this year, funded by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commision and the Gulbenkian Foundation, the answer is yes, science will change. Its program says (all quotes are from the workshop abstract):
The workshop proposes to explore in an anticipatory mode how ICT technologies and their future developments will affect the conduct of scientific research in the future.
Postnormal science wouldn’t exist without ICT. Its ICT that trigger change, and it will change our understanding of science:
We have come a long way from the popular image of the Scientist as a lone bespectacled white male in a white lab-coat holding up a test-tube to the light and realising that he has discovered the cure for cancer. Science has become a major social institution, providing support to established institutions and intimately connected to underlying ideologies that hold society together. Along with its great benefits, it produces errors, some of them may lead to harmful situations; as an institution science shares the challenges and pathologies of the societies in which it is embedded. Science was once promising certainty and power on the basis of its valuefree discoveries. Today, in this post-normal age, it has to cope with uncertain facts and disputed values in the face of high stakes and urgent policy decisions. The social responsibilities of science and of scientists become ever more challenging in this new digital age.
In his opening words, Jerry Ravetz reminded the audience that in the 15th century Portugal was the center of navigation science. Science as a social activity is permanently changing it places and forms. In recent times, we experienced the transition from academic science to big industry science, and currently we see the transition from postnormal science to digital science:
Science is also changing very rapidly in its practice and self-awareness. While there are still some prestigious and vital ‘free’ sectors of science, the institution as a whole is now firmly ‘industrialised’, both its the scale of operation and in the tightness of its relations with commerce and the State. But whereas ‘big science’ once aimed at controlling of matter and energy, science in the digital age is largely defined by the emerging technologies of information. A deeper embedding of science in the society is no longer a utopian dream and is, today, naturally unfolding through new forms of learning, sharing, debating, contestation and even healthy exposure enabled by emerging digital technologies. These will create new relations of power, exploitation, consciousness and protest as they affect science.
The workshop is dedicated to Silvio Funtowicz, who has reached the age of retirement. It is amazing to see how his and Jerry Ravetz' concept of postnormal science suddenly is in the center of overall attention. New models of participation; citizen’s science; new ways of democratic decision making; access to knowledge for formerly excluded groups; wiki-encyclopedias and so on – the list is almost endless. Change is happening, no matter we find it good or not. The concept of postnormal science turns out to be indeed a great tool to check the reality of current science and to anticipate its future.