Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities

Ethics of quantification

In 2019, Ethics of quantification was the theme for the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (SVT)'s annual symposium.

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This year, the theme is ‘Ethics of Quantification’. The intermeshing of algorithms and big data increasingly blurs many existing distinctions between different forms of quantification and is gaining prominence in the nascent field of the sociology of quantification. As Elizabeth Popp Berman and Daniel Hirschman enquire: “What qualities are specific to rankings, or indicators, or models, or algorithms?” In recent times, examples of quantification have come under intense scrutiny with regard to perceived misuse or abuse of existing methodologies. Algorithms pose the risk of non-transparent, oft-proprietary tools being used to decide upon everything from convicting felons to conceding mortgages, and from recruitment to adoption. Quantification as a policy support tool is also found wanting. The convulsions of significance testing in statistics have received wide attention in both media and academia. Mathematical modelling is a field where severe problems are not yet fully charted. Common to many forms of quantification is a singular conundrum: any number which does not represent its context and purpose of production can obfuscate as much as it can illuminate. Is time ripe for an ethics of quantification?

The symposium on 6th of December 2019 will feature keynotes by prominent scholars of Science and Technology Studies, the politics of metrics, and the ethics, fungibility and policy relevance of quantification. We are delighted to welcome professor in History of Science, Theodore Porter,UCLA, Professor emerita Catherine Paradeise, Université Paris-Est, Ana Viseu, Associate Professor at Universidade Europeia together with SVTs Andrea Saltelli as our distinguished keynote speakers. 

The closing round table of the symposium will be introduced and chaired by SVTs Jeroen van der Sluijs.

Mimi Lam and Kjetil Rommetveit from SVT working on quantification and cognate themes are chairing sessions of a research workshop anchored by Siddharth Sareen and Andrea Saltelli on the same theme, which will be held a day prior to the symposium, December 5th – please see the call for papers.


6 December 2019

09.00 Coffee  

09.30 Welcome by Pro-rector Margareth Hagen and Introduction by Director at SVT Rasmus Slaatelid. 

10.00 Theodore Porter, UCLA:
The Dubious Economy of Data-Driven Management

10.45 Q&A, Chair: Rasmus Slaatlied.

11.00 Ana Viseu, Universidade Europeia:
Recovering Difference as a Site of Intervention: The case of wearable computers  

11.45 Q&A  Chair: Anne Bremer

12.00 Lunch  

12.45 Andrea Saltelli, University of Bergen:
Ethics of quantification or quantification of ethics?

13.30 Q&A  Chair: Anne Bremer

13.45 Catherine Paradeise, The Eastern Paris Federal University:
Quantifying has become a business. The issues of metrics in higher education

14.30 Q&A  Chair: Silje Langvatn

14.45 Coffee 

15.00 Panel based on research workshop Session I: AI and big data, Chair: Kjetil Rommetveit, University of Bergen

15:45 Panel based on workshop session II: Governing subjects through numbers, Chair: Mimi Lam, University of Bergen

16.30 Plenary discussion and conclusions, Chair: Jeroen van der Sluijs, University of Bergen 

17:30 End

19.00 SVT and Speakers dinner  

Key note bios

Theodore Porter is a Distinguished Professor of History & Vice Chair for Academic Personnel at UCLA History. Most of his work has involved in some way the uses of statistics, calculation, numbers, measures, and data. He has a life long interest in diverse sites of knowledge-making--not just universities and academics, but mining boards, statistical agencies (notably census offices), engineering corps, and mental hospitals. Porter is a well reknown lecturer and speaker. 

Chosen publications: Genetics in the Madhouse: The Unknown History of Human Heredity (2018), Princeton, NJ, US: Princeton University Press. “Thin Description: Surface and Depth in Science and Science Studies,” Robert Kohler and Kathryn Olesko, eds., Clio Meets Science: The Challenge of History, Osiris, 27 (2012), 209-226.“Funny Numbers,” Culture Unbound (online journal), 4 (2012), 585-598.“Reforming Vision: The Engineer Le Play Learns to Observe Society Sagely,” in Lorraine Daston and Elizabeth Lunbeck, eds., Histories of Scientific Observation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 281-302“How Science Became Technical,” Isis, 100 (2009), 292-309.

Catherine Paradeise is a Professor emeritas in sociology at Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée | UPEMLV· During two decades, she studied how professions and industrial relations build the economic and economic and social worth of professionals in various sectors and statuses. Since 2004, she analyzes the changing regimes of worth in higher education. She is also working on the issue of commitment and social innovation.

Latest books: in Search of Academic Quality, with Jean-Claude Thoenig, Palgrave-Macmillan   (also available in Spanish), 2015; The University under Pressure, Emerald, co-ed. with Elizabeth Popp-Berman, 2016; Elite Universities and the Production of Academic Elites. Discourses, Policies and Strategies of Excellence and Prestige in Higher Education, Palgrave-MacMillan, co-ed. with Roland Bloch, Alexander Mitterle and Tobias Peter, 2017; Marketing democracy, with R. Laufer, Transaction Publishers, New Jersey, 2016 (1st ed. in French 1982, in Spanish 1988, in English 1990).

Ana Viseu is currently Associate Professor at Universidade Europeia and a member of the Centro Interuniversitário de História das Ciências e Tecnologia, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade de Lisboa.  Anchoring her thinking in cultural studies of technoscience, feminist technoscience and 'science and technology studies,' she specializes in ethnographic studies of technoscientific innovation.  Ana Viseu is presently involved with:

(1) The critical examination of technosciences that posit the body as the interface between biology and information, examining these issues in the field of wearable computers, and in ethnography of the 'Quantifed Self' movement.

(2) The study of the politics and policies of contemporary technoscience governance.  In particular, she is interested in examining how science is governed, regulated and financed, in the name of creating "better and responsible science."

Andrea Saltelli has worked on physical chemistry, environmental sciences, applied statistics, impact assessment and science for policy. His main disciplinary focus is on sensitivity analysis of model output, a discipline where statistical tools are used to interpret the output from mathematical or computational models, and on sensitivity auditing, an extension of sensitivity analysis to the entire evidence-generating process in a policy context.

He worked at the European Commission, at the Joint Research Centre where he led for ten years the unit of econometrics and applied statistics, and is presently adjunct professor at the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (SVT) - University of Bergen (UIB), and visiting fellow at Open Evidence Research, Open University of Catalonia.

His most recent papers have tackled sensitivity analysis and auditing, the ecological footprint, the future of statistics, the rational of evidence-based policy, the crisis of science and the post-truth discussion. Andrea gives courses in sensitivity analysis, sensitivity auditing and ethics of quantification, and together with colleagues, develops a syllabus on Numbers for Policy (see www.andreasaltelli.eu). 

Ethics of quantification - podcast with Professor Ted Porter

In connection with the symposium, PhD candidate Thor Olav Iversen talked to distinguished Professor Theodore Porter about the history of numbers in science and society, governing by privatized algorithm and many other things.

The interview was published in cooperation with the podcast Radio Røyst. Listen to the podcast here: