Science has always had a social component. Much of science is a neutral endeavor for the public good but in modern times the political component has meant navigating treacherous social and environmental policy waters.
Not an easy task when science requires help from outside its field. Different social and science fields use different methods and scientists and policy makers rarely work together. The government has taken over increased government control of projects and funding since World War II but modern problems mean that modern types of research centers are needed, as are new ways of organizing collaborations between scientists and policy makers - it can't be just political appointees handing out money to research the administration happens to like.
John Parker and Edward Hackett of Arizona State University outlined specific types of research environments, and social interactions that facilitate success in these collaborations and Parker outlined their ideas in an AAAS talk at the annual meeting in Boston titled "Ecology Transformed: NCEAS and Organizing for Synthesis."
They use "sociometric sensors" - wearable computers that record data about how scientists and policy makers interact with each other, including movement, vocal tones, interruptions, volume and other conversational nuances. They use these sensors to study scientists working on real problems at several research centers around the world with the aim of identify patterns of social interaction that are best related to collaborative success. Sensor data will also be integrated with interviews, surveys and observations of the scientists.
Hackett and Parker hope that the groundwork they build in these studies will pave the way for future research on the same topic and allow for the creation of new types of research centers capable of meeting the challenges of the future.
"What we are doing," Parker said, "is related to what ASU is trying to do on a larger scale. By embedding engagement into activities, the university hopes to positively impact the social and environmental development of individuals and the community as a whole."