In recognition of “World Water Day” the University of Alberta Water Initiative will be hosting Water Week from March 17 to 23, 2014. I’ve been asked to participate in a panel discussion on Hydraulic Fracturing and In situ Production, to be held March 23, 1:30 to 3:30 pm. According to the organizers, “this will be a panel discussion welcoming interchange between scientists and the public. Panel members include U of A professors Joel Gehman and Rick Chalaturnyk with a third member yet to be named.”
I was recently invited to to give a talk on risk and sustainability at the CSPG-AAPG Oil Sands and Heavy Oil Symposium: A Local to Global Multidisciplinary Collaboration. The symposium is being jointly sponsored by the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists (CSPG) and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), the two predominant petroleum geology organizations in North America. It will be held in Calgary at the Metropolitan Centre on October 14-16, 2014.
According to the organizers, the conference is expected to attract 500 geologists from Canada and the U.S., plus representatives from other heavy oil producers in China, Venezuela, and Russia. The topics of discussion will include the international nature of oil sands and heavy oil resources, the geology and characterization of producing deposits, technological advances, and sustainability.
My talk will be part of a session on regulatory and sustainability issues, being co-chaired by Kevin Parks and Travis Hurst. I’ll be speaking on work that I have been doing with Michael Lounsbury, Lianne Lefsrud, and Chang Lu that looks at multiple perspectives on risk, with a particular emphasis on cross cultural understandings of risk. Our analysis finds that technical, financial and perceptual understandings of risk are seldome sufficient to explain how societies decide what is risky, what is safe, and whether and how to proceed.
The Wall Street Journal has posted a story entitled: Management Research Is Fishy, Says New Management Research. The article is based on a paper, “The Chrysalis Effect: How Ugly Initial Results Metamorphosize into Beautiful Articles.” According to the WSJ, the paper is forthcoming from the Journal of Management (note, however, that as of this writing, the paper was not available from the JOM website).
As reported by the WSJ, the paper finds that at the dissertation level, 82 hypotheses were supported for every 100 that were unsupported (i.e., 45% of hypotheses were supported), meaning that researchers’ theories were disproven by their findings more often than not. However, by the time the papers made it into journals, the ratio shifted to 194:100, meaning that some 65% of hypotheses were supported. This is commonly known as publication bias. In a prior version of the paper, the authors interpreted this finding as evidence of “questionable research practices” (QRP).
Implicit in this logic is an assumption that every dissertation should be published in a journal. How else could we resolve the QRP problem? It also seems to imply that both supported and unsupported hypotheses are inherently unproblematic, and require no further qualification. In essence, all hypotheses are intrinsically fit to print, and they are assumed to give us some kind of direct access to the “truth” of the matter. But what does it mean when a hypothesis is supported or not supported?
This discussion prompted me to reflect a bit on the problems of overdetermination and underdetermination. “Overdetermination” refers to situations in which a particular effect could arise from any one of many possible causes (Hannan, 1971; Meyer & Goes, 1988). Or as Weick (1996: 308) put it: “Overdetermination is simply another way of stating Thompson’s first point that people have multiple, interdependent, socially coherent reasons for doing what they do.” Other organizational theorists have described such circumstances in terms of mean-ends ambiguity, or situations when there are multiple plausible alternatives (Hambrick, 2007). Overdetermination also can occur when mechanist notions of causality overwhelm alternative plausible explanations for what is happening (Boje, 2001).
“Underdetermination” refers to situations in which the “facts” are not clear or strong enough to establish a definitive explanation (Giddens, 1979; 1984: 17). This could be because facts themselves posses “interpretive flexibility” (Pinch and Bijker, 1987), meaning they are open to more than one plausible reading. Or, it could be that the available empirical evidence is limited or derived from narrow contexts (Shrivastava, 1986). In both cases, the available evidence is compatible with more than one theory or explanation. However, more facts may not resolve the problem; “science” can even make matters worse (Sarewitz, 2004). As Giddens (1979: 243) put it: “no amount of accumulated fact will in and of itself determine that one particular theory be accepted and another rejected, since by the modification of the theory, or by other means, the observations in question can be accommodated to it.”
One famous example, Allison’s (1972) analysis of the Cuban missile crisis, has elements of both overdetermination and underdetermination. In this case, “the same event is explained by three completely different theories, each of which nevertheless is able to highlight clear and distinct insights into the origin, unfolding, and resolution of the crisis” (Burgelman, 2011: 597). More generally, viewed through the lenses of overdetermination and underdetermination, we might hypothesize that not every study will work out. Some hypotheses will be supported, some will not. But if they are to be useful, any such findings will need to be translated. After all, we don’t live in a world of variables.
But in that case, how do we know if a study is fit to print? In a widely cited paper, Davis (1971) offered one explanation, arguing that “interesting” studies are more likely to be published and popular. No doubt other explanations are possible. Whether such circumstances are evidence of questionable research practices, depends on the meaning that is given to the evidence. Can a question such as this even be put to a hypothesis test? My sense is that it cannot. Instead, questions such as these entail what I have called values work. Conclusions and their sustenance depend on the network of values practices in which one is entangled and on the continued performance of the implicated social and material network.
Allison, G. T. 1972. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. Little Brown & Co.
Boje, D. M. 2001. Narrative Methods for Organizational and Communication Research. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Burgelman, R. A. 2011. Bridging History and Reductionism: A Key Role for Longitudinal Qualitative Research. Journal of International Business Studies, 42: 591–601.
Davis, M. S. 1971. That’s Interesting! Towards a Phenomenology of Sociology and a Sociology of Phenomenology. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 1: 309–344.
Giddens, A. 1984. The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Hambrick, D. C. 2007. The Field of Management’s Devotion to Theory: Too Much of a Good Thing? Academy of Management Journal, 50: 1346–1352.
Hannan, M. T. 1971. Aggregation and Disaggregation in Sociology. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
Meyer, A. D., & Goes, J. B. 1988. Organizational Assimilation of Innovations: A Multilevel Contextual Analysis. Academy of Management Journal, 31: 897–923.
Pinch, T. J., & Bijker, W. E. 1987. The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other. In W. E. Bijker, T. P. Hughes, & T. J. Pinch (Eds.), Social Construction of Technological Systems: 17–50. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Sarewitz, D. 2004. How Science Makes Environmental Controversies Worse. Environmental Science & Policy, 7: 385–403.
Shrivastava, P. 1986. Is Strategic Management Ideological? Journal of Management, 12: 363–377.
Weick, K. E. 1996. Drop Your Tools: An Allegory for Organizational Studies. Administrative Science Quarterly, 41: 301–313.
About two years ago, I wrote about the launch of Plum Analytics. Part of the altmetrics movement, the company was co-founded by my friend and former colleague, Andrea Michalek, together with her business partner Mike Buschman. Their goal was “making scholarly research more assessable and accessible.” Today EBSCO Information Services (EBSCO) announced that “Plum Analytics has become a wholly-owned subsidiary.” Congratulations to Andrea, Mike and the entire Plum team!
According to an email announcement from Plum Analytics: “We are excited about this big change because it will help us have the resources to realize the bright future we have for Plum Analytics, PlumX and other products we envision.” I for one cannot wait to see how PlumX continues to evolve. As you can see from my PlumX profile, there is already a lot to like about the product. It brings together some of the best parts of services like Google Scholar, LinkedIn, Klout, ORCID, Journal Citation Reports and ImpactStory, but goes much further.
“As a wholly-owned subsidiary, Plum Analytics will continue to operate as we have. That is, Mike Buschman and Andrea Michalek will still be at the helm guiding the direction of the company and the development of the products. The current engineering team will stay in place and will get some much needed help.”
If you haven’t already checked out Plum Analytics, I encourage you to do so.
This week I was invited to give a talk to the University of Alberta’s Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology (REES) in the Faculty of Agriculture, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES), and I am really looking forward to it. The talk is scheduled for March. I’ll be presenting research related to Marcellus Shale Drilling that I have been working on with Dror Etzion from McGill University.
For more details, check back here, or visit the REES Seminars and Lectures website: http://www.rees.ualberta.ca/SeminarsandLectures.aspx
WordPress just sent me this succinct summary of my stats for the year.
My blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2013, or about the same as in 2012. I authored 24 new posts. My busiest day was December 4, with 232 viewers. The most popular post that day was Bruno Latour via MOOC. Visitors hailed from 127 countries. Most were from the United States; Canada and the United Kingdom were not far behind. Cheers!
Bruno Latour, professor at Sciences Po, is offering a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Entitled “Scientific Humanties” the course comprises eight lectures, running January 20 to March 15, 2014, with an “estimated effort” of 3 hours a week. The course and all assignments will be in English.