Can too much Innovation be a bad thing?

Innovation and disruption are ideas that originated in the arena of business but which have since been applied to arenas whose values and goals are remote from the values and goals of business. People aren’t disk drives. – Jill Lepore

Innovation is one of the most overused buzzwords in the business world. Now it’s started turning up in discussions about research and policy, in government science goals and research funding priorities.

But there are two main caveats to the pro-Innovation argument that are often glossed over. The first is the word’s corporate connotations.

Once upon a time, innovation didn’t have a great reputation. It was a punishable crime to the worst degree. It was (ironically) reinvented in the 1930s, grounded in economic theory – it became seen as a source of positive economic change at a time when things weren’t going so well for some national economies. New products would get money flowing again, so the theory went. And a buzzword was born. Benoît Godin has done some excellent research on the evolution of the term and its place in society.

If you’re an ‘innovator’, you’re now a star. You can start trends and make lots of money. And because economic growth is the goal of most countries, innovation is now promoted, not punished. Continue reading

On the relativity of science and nature

This week, Science magazine published a piece listing the top 50 scientist ‘stars’ on Twitter. The list contained only 6 biologists and not a single ecologist. Although the authors acknowledge that their method of selection was not rigorous, this perpetuates a common misconception that ‘nature’ has nothing to do with ‘science’. Just like recent comments from our Minister for Industry (for international readers, we don’t have a Minister for Science), which implied that industry and technology are more relevant to our society than science.

So, are science, industry and technology the same thing? No. Continue reading

Science is not a corporate ladder

Public conversations conducted in the peer-reviewed literature recently indicate that many of the eco/biological concepts and terminology developed over recent decades have become lost in a minefield of public misunderstanding and policy pandering – often to the detriment of the causes they were intended for.

Catchphrases or concepts developed specifically to raise awareness about a particular issue, such as the keystone, umbrella and flagship species concepts (see Barua 2011), have been overused or misused in the public domain for too long. Some scientists now believe these concepts and catchphrases, developed for beneficial environmental outcomes, have the potential to negatively affect their relevant causes.  For example, recent comments highlight the over-emphasis of the “biodiversity” agenda, at the expense of recognising nature as a whole-earth ecosystem (Woodwell 2010); the mixed messages provided by recent studies apparently endorsing the biodiversity value of logged “degraded lands” – landscapes that were previously identified as biologically inhospitable in the literature (Didham 2011); and the potential for terminology from the field of restoration ecology to “create unrealistic expectations and perverse policy outcomes” (Hobbs et al. 2011).

To be fair, the science community is not solely to blame. Public misinterpretation of scientific concepts is fuelled mainly by scientifically illiterate journalists and limited general science education among the non-scientific public. These problems can be solved through changes to education curricula and social constructs, all of which are often beyond the realm of the scientist.

However, these comments raise the question: “Is Science being corporatised?” The answer appears to be “Yes”, with evidence shown partly from our own actions and partly from issues that are sometimes out of our control. Continue reading