SONGS Meets the Market

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) is an inoperative nuclear power plant on the Pacific coast of the United States, near San Diego, California. The plant was closed in June 2013 and is in the early stages of being decommissioned. According to Think Progress, the decommissioning process will go on for at least two decades, and the radioactive waste will be stored onsite for the foreseeable future.

Southern California Edison owns 78.2% of the plant; San Diego Gas & Electric Company 20%; and the City of Riverside Utilities Department 1.8%. The plant’s first unit, Unit 1, operated from 1968 to 1992. Unit 2 was started in 1983 and Unit 3 started in 1984. Units 2 and 3 underwent upgrades in 2009 and 2010 that were intended to last 20 years. However, both reactors had to be shut down in January 2012 due to premature wear found on over 3,000 tubes in replacement steam generators that had been installed in 2010 and 2011.

SCE announced on June 7, 2013 that it would “permanently retire” Unit 2 and Unit 3, citing “continuing uncertainty about when or if SONGS might return to service” and noting that ongoing regulatory and “administrative processes and appeals” would likely cause any tentative restart plans to be delayed for “more than a year.”

Some 100,000 people live within ten miles of SONGS and nearly nine million within 50 miles. In an effort “to keep residents engaged in the decommissioning process” Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric Company recently organized a Community Engagement Panel. The first meeting was held in late March, and attended by around 300 people. David Victor, director of the University of California San Diego Laboratory on International Law and Regulation, chaired the panel “because of his proven leadership abilities and experience bringing together diverse groups of stakeholders.”

At first blush, this account suggests a real effort is being made to cultivate a public space for fostering discussion and debate among interested social groups. This idea resonates with the notion of “hybrid forums” proposed by Callon and colleagues as a solution to the governance of complex socio-technical issues (e.g., Callon et al., 2009; Callon and Rabeharisoa, 2003). Forums, “because they are open spaces where groups can come together to discuss technical options involving the collective,” and hybrid, “because the groups involved and the spokespersons claiming to represent them are heterogeneous, including experts, politicians, technicians and laypersons who consider themselves involved. They are also hybrid because the questions and problems taken up are addressed at different levels in a variety of domains, from ethics to economic” (Callon et al., 2009, p. 18).

Some of my work has explored and theorized the potential role of hybrid forums. For example, in “Boundaries, Breaches, and Bridges: The Case of Climategate,” we consider the possibility of hybrid forums in the context of climate science and concerns related to climate change. In “Metatheoretical Perspectives on Sustainability Journeys: Evolutionary, Relational and Durational,” we propose the possibility of hybrid forums as an approach to sustainability-related policy formulation and governance.

In addition to signalling a possibly interesting case study of hybrid forums in the making, there was another quote in the Think Progress that caught my eye, on a completely different topic. The quote comes from an earlier piece by Joe Romm, and has to do with the role of markets.

The countries where nuclear has dead-ended are market-based economies where the nuclear industry has simply been unable to deliver a competitive product.

I’ve been studying nuclear power for several years now. For instance, in “Categorization by Association: Nuclear Technology and Emission Free Electricity,” we studied the ongoing efforts to (re)categorize nuclear power from 1945 to 2010. More recently I have been studying the diverse and continuing responses to the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown by countries around the world. In the course of this work, one of the discourses that I have found really fascinating relates to the role of markets in nuclear power. Last fall, the topic even came up during class discussions with MBA students.

Some time ago, I blogged that “the preponderance of the evidence from both the US and the rest of the world suggests that heavy governmental subsidies, loan guarantees and/or liability exemptions — either explicitly or de facto — are essential to the development of nuclear power. By comparison, all of the literature I have read on the topic suggests that the market has yet to build a single nuclear plant.”

Romm’s recent quote re-contextualizes this basic thesis, but pivots the emphasis from reactor construction to “dead-ends” (a well-known possibility in any innovation journey; see Van de Ven, Polley, Garud & Venkataraman, 1999). The SONGS experience is yet one more example of the role of the market in nuclear power. It shows that while markets cannot build nuclear power plants, they can “dead-end” them.

Whether this market performativity is a good or a bad thing, is another question entirely…


Callon, M., Lascoumes, P., & Barthe, Y. 2009. Acting in an Uncertain World: An Essay on Technical Democracy. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Callon, M., & Rabeharisoa, V. 2003. Research “in the Wild” and the Shaping of New Social Identities. Technology in Society, 25: 193–204.

Garud, R., & Gehman, J. 2012. Metatheoretical Perspectives on Sustainability Journeys: Evolutionary, Relational and Durational. Research Policy, 41: 980–995.

Garud, R., Gehman, J., & Karnøe, P. 2010. Categorization by Association: Nuclear Technology and Emission-Free Electricity. Research in the Sociology of Work, 21: 51–93.

Garud, R., Gehman, J., & Karunakaran, A. 2014. Boundaries, Breaches, and Bridges: The Case of Climategate. Research Policy, 43: 60–73.

Van de Ven, A. H., Polley, D. E., Garud, R., & Venkataraman, S. 1999. The Innovation Journey. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sustainability and the AACSB

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accredits business schools around the world. As of December 2013, 687 schools were AACSB accredited in 45 countries and territories (or less than 5% of the estimated number of schools offering business degrees worldwide).

Recently I was perusing the AACSB’s Business Standards, which are the basis for business school accreditation, and was surprised at the extent to which sustainability and related themes (e.g., corporate social responsibility) are an integral to the revisions adopted in 2013, from the opening paragraph of the document, through to the AACSB’s three core values and guiding principles, and into its expectations regarding undergraduate educational content. Below are some excerpts:

From the Preamble:

The business environment is undergoing profound changes, spurred by powerful demographic shifts, global economic forces, and emerging technologies. At the same time, society is increasingly demanding that companies become more accountable for their actions, exhibit a greater sense of social responsibility, and embrace more sustainable practices. These trends send a strong signal that what business needs today is much different from what it needed yesterday or will need tomorrow.

From Part 1: Core Values and Guiding Principles:

The following three criteria represent core values of AACSB. There is no uniform measure for deciding whether each criterion has been met. Rather, the school must demonstrate that it has an ongoing commitment to pursue the spirit and intent of each criterion consistent with its mission and context.

A. The school must encourage and support ethical behavior by students, faculty, administrators, and professional staff. [ETHICAL BEHAVIOR]

B. The school maintains a collegiate environment in which students, faculty, administrators, professional staff, and practitioners interact and collaborate in support of learning, scholarship, and community engagement. [COLLEGIATE ENVIRONMENT]

C. The school must demonstrate a commitment to address, engage, and respond to current and emerging corporate social responsibility issues (e.g., diversity,  sustainable development, environmental sustainability, and globalization of economic activity across cultures) through its policies, procedures, curricula, research, and/or outreach activities. [COMMITMENT TO CORPORATE AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY]

 Diversity, sustainable development, environmental sustainability, and other emerging corporate and social responsibility issues are important and require responses from business schools and business students.

 The school fosters sensitivity to, as well as awareness and understanding of, diverse viewpoints among participants related to current and emerging corporate social responsibility issues.

Guidance for Documentation

 Demonstrate that the school addresses current and emerging corporate social responsibility issues through its own activities, through collaborations with other units within its institution, and/or through partnerships with external constituencies

From Standard 9: Curriculum content is appropriate to general expectations for the degree program type and learning goals. [CURRICULUM CONTENT]

Curriculum content refers to theories, ideas, concepts, skills, knowledge, etc., that make up a degree program. Content is not the same as learning goals. Learning goals describe the knowledge and skills students should develop in a program and set expectations for what students should do with the knowledge and skills after completing a program. Not all content areas need to be included as learning goals.

Bachelor’s Degree Programs and Higher

General Business and Management Knowledge Areas

 Economic, political, regulatory, legal, technological, and social contexts of organizations in a global society

 Social responsibility, including sustainability, and ethical behavior and approaches to management

In sum, sustainability and related themes are now apparently integral to the AACSB business school accreditation process. Given the disciplinary power of ratings agencies, it will be interesting to see whether and how business schools respond.

Oil and Gas Well Facility Siting

This week I’ll be giving an invited talk to the University of Alberta’s Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology (REES) in the Faculty of Agriculture, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES). The talk will be on Thursday, March 20 at 3:30 pm in 550 General Services Building. For more details, visit the REES Seminars and Lectures website. The title of my talk is: “Community Vulnerability and Facility Siting: The Case of Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling, 2004-2012.” This work is joint with Dror Etzion of McGill University.

Abstract: Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has rapidly emerged as an ubiquitous technology for extracting oil and gas from previously inaccessible geological formations. Due to the nature of the technology and its relatively small surface footprint, wells can be sited virtually anywhere, including in close proximity to homes, schools and other sensitive locations. With many uncertainties about the technology still unresolved, critics point to the potential for unequally distributed negative health outcomes among those in regular proximity to drilling sites. Accordingly, for oil and gas companies, deciding upon well sites can be a contentious activity, incorporating not only economic and geological factors but social and community ones as well. In this study, we examine all hydraulically fractured wells in the Marcellus shale play from 2004-2012 in the state of Pennsylvania and assess whether community vulnerabilities played a role in well siting decisions. We find that indicators of socio-demographics, social cohesion and municipal governance are predictors of well siting decisions, beyond the traditional attributes of race and income usually highlighted in the environmental justice literature. Our findings suggest that research on community health should not be limited to phenomena like nuclear power plants and hazardous waste facilities, but should expand to include routine, commonplace and autonomous organizational siting decisions characterized by minimal regulatory involvement.

We are scheduled to present subsequent iterations of this research at the Alliance for Research on Corporate Sustainability, in May 2014 at Cornell University, and again at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting, in August 2014 in Philadelphia.

Risk, Sustainability and Oil Sands

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.

Management and the Problems of Overdetermination and Underdetermination

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.

Selected References

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. 1979. Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, Structure, and Contradiction in Social Analysis. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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.

Plum Analytics Acquired by EBSCO


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.

Marcellus Shale Drilling Talk

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: