This is the 5 November 2020 issue of our weekly scan for political and geopolitical risks (open access).

Editorial: We chose as featured article a post* explaining how a book, published by the MIT press, and thus surrounded by a scientific aura – indeed the book was peer-reviewed – was written in one month.

Who can seriously believe that anyone, however smart and hard working, can write a proper scientific and researched chapter in one day, and repeat this feat over 8 days (the book has 8 chapters), as the author boasts?

This is a critical question because part of the problem we face with the COVID-19 and the way governments and the population handle the pandemic is linked to the status and legitimacy of knowledge and science.

Perusing through the book, the text appears to be a mix of generalities, sometimes interesting ideas, but also including inexactitudes or, worse, plainly wrong statements, not considering notably how little we know and knew at the time of writing (April and May 2020) about the SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.

True enough, I would need much more time to review the book in a detailed and proper way. Yet, for the sake of proportionality, if a book is written in one month, I may not have more than 5 minutes to review it (and I definitely spent more than those allotted 5 minutes on it).

Now, does this book deserve to be considered as a scientific book? If I remember well what is expected of PhD students, then I am not sure the book qualifies. Guess what, you cannot be expected to make a contribution to science in one month! Certainly Dr Gans, the author, with a PhD in Economics, would concur. True enough, the MIT Press shies away from qualifying the book as scientific. What we learn is that “The MIT Press mission challenges us to meet the need for reliable information at such a time. In this spirit, we offer a new book, Economics in the Age of COVID-19 by Joshua Gans…. The publication of this book reflects our effort to respond quickly to the need for timely information without sacrificing rigor or editorial quality.”

Did the MIT Press succeed? And is such an aim worth our while? Imagine if epidemiologists or virologists, for example, were taking such an approach to the COVID-19 and the SARS-CoV-2. Would this be acceptable?

Does such a book justify the authors’ time, as he was asked for the feat, the reviewers’ time and the readers’ time? Knowing that scientific knowledge usually demands to read what has been understood first, does this book justify to be added to the already huge pile of knowledge we need to consider?

Alternatively does this type of books just further contribute to destroy science, knowledge and understanding, adding, finally, to the current threats we have increasingly to face?

*This text is part of a series published by LSE’s blog Impact of Social Sciences “Rapid or Rushed? exploring rapid response publishing in covid times” and is republished from The Conversation.

Using horizon scanning, each week, we collect weak – and less weak – signals. These point to new, emerging, escalating or stabilising problems. As a result, they indicate how trends or dynamics evolve.

The 5 November 2020 scan→

Horizon scanning, weak signals and biases

We call signals weak, because it is still difficult to discern them among a vast array of events. However, our biases often alter our capacity to measure the strength of the signal. As a result, the perception of strength will vary according to the awareness of the actor. At worst, biases may be so strong that they completely block the very identification of the signal.

In the field of strategic foresight and warning, risk management and future studies, it is the job of good analysts to scan the horizon. As a result, they can perceive signals. Analysts then evaluate the strength of these signals according to specific risks and dynamics. Finally, they deliver their findings to users. These users can be other analysts, officers or decision-makers.

You can read a more detailed explanation in one of our cornerstone articles: Horizon Scanning and Monitoring for Warning: Definition and Practice.

The sections of the scan

Each section of the scan focuses on signals related to a specific theme:

  • world (international politics and geopolitics);
  • economy;
  • science including AI, QIS, technology and weapons, ;
  • analysis, strategy and futures;
  • the Covid-19 pandemic;
  • energy and environment.

However, in a complex world, categories are merely a convenient way to present information, when facts and events interact across boundaries.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement.

Featured image: Milky Way above SPECULOOS / The Search for habitable Planets – EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars (SPECULOOS) is searching for Earth-like planets around tiny, dim stars in front of a panorama of the Milky Way. Credit: ESO/P. Horálek.

Published by Dr Helene Lavoix (MSc PhD Lond)

Dr Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the President/CEO of The Red Team Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for international relations, national and international security issues. Her current focus is on the war in Ukraine, international order and the rise of China, the overstepping of planetary boundaries and international relations, the methodology of SF&W, radicalisation as well as new tech and security.

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