Category Archives: Knowledge Ecology And Economy
Summary: This is a version of the Keynote Lecture I gave at the NUREC 2008 conference, in Liverpool on 28 July 08.
In it we explore the connections between Knowledge Economies and Ecologies, and Big Science and Regeneration, especially in regional and sub-regional settings, and in respect of issues around Sustainability.
My basic thesis is that Knowledge is not yet recognised for the fundamental resource it surely is.
A complete version of this paper can be found on Hilary’s professional website, here.
When did the World Wide Web emerge for most people? Around the Millennium? Like most things technical, it took off first amongst young men who enjoy gadgets…. who happen also in general to be less concerned with what was going on previously. So does History now begin in 2000? Will western culture and destiny henceforth be shaped by what the second generation web tells us?
A hunch today saw me typing the words ‘cyber.history’ into the Google search engine. I suppose I was not surprised that there are almost 5000 entries listed for that exact phrase.
Developing the idea
One of the most interesting entries I looked at was John Stevenson’s cyber history collection and timeline, in which he cites commentary going back to 1945 (!) on what has become the world wide web. This fascinating list includes, of course, the ground-breaking insights of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, including his 1992 CERN paper on World-Wide Web: The Information Universe.
If you’re a historian or a social scientist (as I am) looking at the development of science and technology, this is a rich seam ; and one indeed in which, as second generation blogging develops, many of us play our own tiny micro-parts.
Generational and other divides?
Despite the rise of the silver surfer, non-technically-directed people with memories at least as long as mine still form a very small element within the www community.
For most young people the www is the first port of call when information and ideas are sought; and most easily accessible content on the www is probably posted by (relatively) young people. When put alongside the reality that the www became popularly available only in about 2000, it begins to look inevitable that the Millennium just past is where History starts.
An open network
As Tim Berners-Lee, who has steadfastly insisted the www should be an open network, said in 2006:
‘We’re not going to be trying to make a web that will be better for people who vote in a particular way, or better for people who think like we do…..The really important thing about the web, which will continue through any future technology, is that it is a universal space.’
Lee-Berner’s remark was made in response to serious concerns that the internet might become an unpleasant place of anonymous rumour and malicious intent. And he is right to be so worried, before it really is too late.
Losing the past
I would add to that my own concern that the www has permitted us to forget how far western societies have come in the past few decades, let alone the past century. Right now, life truly is better for most of us in the developed democracies than it has ever been. But will this good fortune last? And can it be shared?
Losing our pre-Millennium reference points would also result in the loss, at a time when our culture is already very immediate, of our sense of what has worked to make the world better, and what perhaps has not. This loss would make it more difficult to sustain what’s good and to improve what’s not good or what looks worrying.
Learning for the future
Things reshape and evolve all the time. It’s now 40 years since the last time ‘history changed’, in that surreal summer of 1968. For some who witnessed it, what the lessons are remains a matter of debate.
I still hope the www will help more people of every sort of experience and background share what they know and have observed. We have only to look at the work of political scientists and historians such as Peter Laslett to realise what a better understanding, say, of pre-industrial society might have done for many current social concerns.
Contemporary sharing might encourage us all to reflect just sometimes on the historical medium and longer term, and on how we can learn from it to sustain what we optimistically call ‘progress’.
Read more articles on:
Pre-History / Herstory (1950-)
Today marks the start of UK National Vegetarian Week. The arguments for a balanced vegetarian diet are persuasive – it ‘saves’ energy, it uses less carbon and water, it can respect the seasons, it has potential to make a huge contribution to resolving global hunger, and it’s good for us. So how can vegetarianism become more often the diet of choice?
Food is rising rapidly up the agenda. Allotments, biofuels, calories, customs, eating disorders, famine, farming, fats, fibre, foodmiles, GM, health, organic, packaging, processing, salt, seasonal, security, sell-by, sustainability, vitamins, water…. Where do we begin with what to eat and drink?
Investment in scientific programmes often has added socio-economic value. But there is little evidence that good indices are available to measure what this impact might be for large-scale scientific regionally-based development. Whilst private investors guard their capital with care, only rarely do the criteria for evaluation of Big Science proposals include adequate consideration of the wider impact of public funds invested.
The bovine foot and mouth pyres of a few years ago are testament to unintentional damage inflicted when strictly focused ‘science’ is applied crudely in wider socio-economic contexts.
Everyone wanted to do the right thing; but the upshot of scientific best advice was rural economic devastation.
The same scenario may be enacted again, if the judgement of a panel of leading scientists results in removal of the Alice (Accelerators and Lasers in Combined Experiments) programme at the Daresbury Laboratory in North-West England.
The science will carry on elsewhere, most probably in the USA, but the NW regional economy, which could have benefited hugely, will instead take a hammerblow.
Best value for government investment
Scientists quite rightly concentrate on what they understand – in this case physics, engineering and the like. I cannot comment on their scientific judgements about ALICE; though it is always open to their colleagues have views on this.
Whatever, the investment of significant government monies must also, as numbers of parliamentarians have argued, be about best value in socio-economic terms, as well as indicated by narrower scientific parameters; and the scientists would without doubt agree they are not best placed to adjudicate all this.
Socio-economic impact studies
If the relevant science councils have undertaken regional socio-economic impact studies on their proposed investments, these, like the scientific appraisals, must now be opened to public scrutiny.
If they have not, we must challenge the science councils to undertake these comparative impact studies immediately, before potentially devastating decisions are made.
Added value – or otherwise
‘Added value‘ (perhaps significantly, a term often used to evaluate the impact of educational initiatives) and ‘unintended consequences‘ (c.f. Robert Merton’s work) may be indices beyond the lexicon of physical science; but, as the rural economists acknowledged after foot and mouth disease, they can never be outside the remit of decisions about big investment, in the public interest, of taxpayers’ money.
A version of this article, entitled ‘Alice in economic context’, was published on the Letters page of Guardian Education on 15 April 2008.
Science, Regeneration & Sustainability
Science & Politics
Evidence-based policy is central to much contemporary governmental thinking. But how the different phases of policy delivery can best engage ‘real people’ is not always clear. This is true whether the intended policy concerns health, the knowledge economy, or even global sustainability. There is still much to be done in understanding human agency and interaction in policy development and delivery.
In many aspects of public policy, from health through life-long learning and the economy to global sustainability, it is not simply the science or knowledge base which is important. Of equal, or sometimes greater, importance is an understanding of how to apply the established evidence which informs policy.
Phases in public policy development
There are, or should be, a number of phases in developing public policy.
The first phase is to derive as much consensus as possible about the necessary evidence base (both scientific and contextual) and the second is to consider how this ‘translates’ – an exercise which is currently being taken forward overtly by the government in relation to scientific knowledge, industry and business.
Securing public agreement or at least encouraging constructive and informed public debate is another phase which must run alongside these first two phases.
This ‘third’ phase is at risk when the established modes of policy development continue.
The government has now gone some way to seek proper public debate on issues around science, technology, health and so forth. It is not as yet clear however that the corollary of this emphasis has been absorbed by the wider knowledge-related industries or even by some whose task is to deliver policy for real.
We all know that fundamental research and the intricacies of, say, applied medical knowledge are critical for the future. What is less well understood is that there remain huge gaps in our understandings of how such knowledge becomes operational in the real world.
People are what makes things happen. How they do so, in the contexts of such enormous challenges as global warming, the diseases of contemporary societies and the rapidly changing communities we all live in, has yet to be made clear.
Making things happen depends on people
Despite all our problems, many of us in the western world live in the best conditions human beings have ever known. Ensuring this continues and is shared even more widely is very largely a task for policy makers informed by a social rather than natural scientific knowledge base.
Fundamental science certainly needs to remain at the centre of knowledge creation; but, whether in health, industry or the environment, it must be matched by an equally well researched knowledge of the social world, if there is to be any real hope of public policies to sustain all our futures.
Professional orchestra musicians’ employment and pay is a mystery to most people. Do players have ‘real’ jobs, too? is a common question. And is it all very glamorous? The latest survey of orchestral pay in the UK gives some answers – not much glamour, not too much pay, and little time for anything else. But for many players the commitment remains.
The Musicians’ Union has recently published their second annual report on Orchestral Pay in the U.K. Leaving aside the self-governing London orchestras, the BBC Symphony and other BBC orchestras, English National Opera (ENO) orchestra and the Royal Opera House (ROH) orchestra (all of which, with London weightings, do somewhat – though only comparatively – better), the M.U. report, as we shall see from the details below, makes pretty dismal reading.
Who are the musicians?
Almost every established player in the major regional orchestras is a permanent staff member (London is different). These ‘chairs’ are coveted positions amongst performers, who are usually graduates from the most prestigious music colleges and / or the top music conservatoires.
Musicians supply their own instruments and equipment for work, the initial costs of which can amount to more than an annual salary.
The ‘regional’ orchestras
Orchestras outside London surveyed by the M.U. in August 2007 were: the regional BBC orchestras, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO), the City of Birmingham Orchestra (CBSO), Manchester’s Halle Orchestra, the Opera North Orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO), the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO), Scottish Opera, the Ulster Orchestra and Welsh National Opera (WNO).
The fortunes of these orchestras fluctuate quite widely over the years, especially since the standardised regional orchestras contract for the BSO, CBSO, Halle, RLPO and RSNO was abandoned. All are dependent on civic support as well as national. [See The Association of British Orchestras for general information about these orchestras.]
Orchestral salary scales
Orchestras generally divide their players up into ‘Section Principals’ and ‘Principals’ (who sit at the front of their instrumental section) and ‘Tutti’ (formerly called ‘Rank & File’!). The M.U. estimates there are approximately 600 fully professional string players employed by British orchestras – which means about one in every 100,000 of the UK population has this occupation.
With a few exceptions, string players (violins, violas, cellos, basses) are the only Tutti musicians, and they make up the larger part of most orchestras.
Who gets paid what?
Concentrating on the regional orchestras, we see a variation of minimum salary in August 2007 as follows:
Section Principals: BBC Regional ~ hourly playing rate of £24.22 (£32,118 p.a.) through to CBSO ~ £33.09 (£45,205 p.a.).
Principals: RLPO ~ £21.44 (£28,298 p.a.) through to CBSO ~ £28.49 (£33,159 p.a.).
Tutti: RLPO ~ £18.20 (£24,024 p.a.) through to CBSO ~ £22.43 (£27,348 p.a.).
In some cases there are increments and / or long service awards which take experienced players above these levels, but these additional sums, usually only a very few thousand per annum, rarely raise salaries significantly above the starting point. Likewise, some, but not all, orchestras pay musicians an additional fee for recordings, media relays etc. [Some details of comparable orchestral salaries in the USA are available here.]
Comparison with other UK salaries
To set these figures in context:
* The average wage in 2007 for all full-time workers across the UK is £29,999 p.a.; or £27,630 specifically for Liverpool.
* The average salary of professionals in IT, an occupation which perhaps begins to approach comparable levels of skill to orchestral musicians (though there are many fewer performers) is £37,000 p.a.
* For graduates overall, an average additional £10,000 p.a. has accrued to their income after ten years’ service; this annual income will then continue to increase for another ten or twenty years.
Back of an envelope calculations using these comparative data perhaps suggest that over a lifetime orchestral musicians will receive approximately half the income of other professionals at comparative levels of skill.
Annual orchestral performing and other work arrangements
The regional orchestras vary in the number of annual playing ‘on stage’ hours they demand from their musicians. Of the orchestras above (not including the BBC orchestras, at 1,326 hours each, and ENO (874 hours) or ROH (860 hours)) the fewest performing hours are required of musicians in the opera orchestras (1,128 each) and the most by the RLPO (1,320).
How these hours are distributed is laid down in detailed contracts. For health reasons, such as risk of hearing loss and repetitive strain injury, players rarely play on the platform for over 6 hours per day. (They may well practise for more than that.) Scheduled ‘unsocial ‘hours – Sundays, Bank Holidays, and very early or late – and other erratic scheduling, with the attendant risks to wellbeing and mental health – are normally paid at the same rate as other hours.
Stress at work is seen as part of the job. There are also travelling hours etc which may add some 30-40% in time commitment – even though much time away from home is still ‘free’ in every sense of the word; neither paid nor, obviously, available for, say, teaching or other alternative opportunities for income.
Not a professional wage?
Most people who attend classical concerts see well-dressed and self-evidently skilled musicians and assume from this that orchestral incomes will be to some extent commensurate with appearances.
The truth is different. Many musicians, even at this level and with years of experience, barely scrape a living, often working almost every day for weeks to make ends meet. Relatively few within the profession achieve comfortable incomes and the view that orchestral playing is not a ‘real’ profession, with eventual progression and hope of greater reward, is widespread amongst foot soldiers at least – large numbers of whom, a previous M.U. survey has revealed, also incur occupationally induced ill-health or injury.
Sadly, players’ negative perceptions are reinforced by an absence of continuing professional development in their core skill, i.e. instrumental performance.
Players can often work for decades without receiving support as artists, or to maintain and develop their instrumental technique, let alone the money to pay very costly professional coaching fees. Artistic human resource investment is not high on (or simply missing altogether from) the priority list for most orchestra budgets.
Skills and experience lost
U.K. orchestras are becoming younger in age profile. The salary figures above offer an insight into why experience is frequently lost, as players leave mid-career for other ways to support their families or preferred lifestyle.
Youth and vigour are wonderful to behold; but knowledge, insight and long-term commitment would in a more ideal world also be valued.
Music not money
Fortunately, for many musicians and their audiences the imperative towards the extraordinary inner world of classical music continues to bring them together even against the rationale of external economics.
But it would be risky to permit the future for UK orchestras to depend on this inner imperative.
Read more articles in Music, Musicians & Orchestras
Life In A Professional Orchestra: A Sustainable Career?
The Healthy Orchestra Challenge
Musicians in Many Guises
Where’s The Classical Music In The Summer? An Idea…
British Orchestras On The Brink…..Again
‘The next president of the United States of America will control a $150 billion annual research budget, 200,000 scientists, and 38 major research institutions and all their related labs. This president will shape human endeavors in space, bioethics debates, and the energy landscape of the 21st century.’ So says Chris Mooney in his seriously impressive review of the options – options in reality about human beings, not ‘just’ about knowledge – awaiting electors of the next President of the USA.
Chris Mooney, in his recent Seed Magazine blog piece entitled Dr President, examines the options for American science and suggests what needs to happen now.
America’s relationship with reality
During the past seven years of the Bush administration, Mooney tells us, America has been subject to ‘what can only be called antiscientific governance’. Scientists, he says, have been ‘ignored, threatened, suppressed, and censored across agencies, across areas of expertise, and across issues…
‘Under George W. Bush—the man who pronounced climate science “incomplete,” who misled the nation in his first major address about the availability of embryonic stem cells for research, who claimed that Iraq was collaborating with Al Qaida—America’s relationship with reality itself has reached a nadir.’
Chris Mooney is right. The status of science is in crisis, at least as far as States-side politics is concerned – and also in terms of what people in many parts of the world, even many sophisticated knowledge economy parts, understand about what science is and does.
‘To better grapple with emerging science controversies’, Mooney proposes that the in-coming president ‘reconstitute something akin to Eisenhower’s President’s Science Advisory Committee, but with a strong emphasis on forecasting the looming problems of tomorrow. …The conversations wouldn’t shy away from controversial or speculative topics. They would be designed, at least in part, to spark discussion in the media, on the Sunday-morning talk shows, and also at the kitchen table.’
Engagement beyond the science
This paper on antiscience, and its resolution through widespread debate and respect for scrutiny of the evidence base, offers many rich seams for us all to explore. But I think it also offers a new perspective on what I might call the ‘Post-Science Century’ which is before us.
The term ‘post-science’ means much more to me than simply the arid ‘total value’ anaylsis deriving from Milton Friedman et al. Instead, it focuses attention on the socio-political impacts and synergies of science and technology (one of a multitude of examples might be IT and the developing world) rather than on measures of money.
No longer can it be said that ‘knowing the science’ is enough – and Mooney is clear on this. We need to understand the future of climatalogical, environmental, genomic, military and many other applications of developing knowledge.
From tested knowledge to the human condition
In seeking to grasp what all these enormous issues, with their huge budgets, mean for each of us, we move from formal and tested knowledge to insights concerning the nature of human experience.
Perhaps it’s an irony of the twentyfirst century that the human condition itself will force us to think about science, rather than any new-found urge to look dispassionately at evidence bases and how to test them. This is what should drive the Science Advisory Council of the next President of the USA.
It’s not what we know, but why we all need to know it, that will spur this critical agenda.