Material systems & sustainable design

2020-03-25 ▸ More and more designers want to make material choices that are safer for health and the environment. But a lot of the work that goes into “sustainable design” is about making those kinds of choices possible in the first place. ▸▸

Research process: Making sense of qualitative data

2020-03-14 ▸ There are many ways to make sense of research data, but working with qualitative data has its own unique challenges. My experience with qualitative research has involved a lot of mental processing of information and concepts, and I’ve found visualization to be very helpful. ▸▸

Mixing up Zotero citation markers

2019-10-23 ▸ Zotero has an essential place in my research and writing process. It’s a free, open-source reference manager that doesn’t try to lock you into a for-profit platform. For years I’ve been using the RTF/ODF-Scan add-on, so that I can cite things using plain-text codes and later format the references in any citation style I want, using the Zotero plugin in LibreOffice. Recently I decided to switch to a more flexible Pandoc-based workflow, which requires a different kind of in-text citation marker. How to convert Zotero scannable cites into Pandoc-style citation keys was not obvious, though, so I’m documenting it here in case anyone else needs to do this. ▸▸

Research process: Coding

2019-07-04 ▸ The first time I learned about “coding” in social science research, the term vaguely bothered me. I couldn’t see a clear analogy between the meaning I was used to—expressing ideas and logic in some kind of formal system—and this other meaning, which has more to do with drawing ideas out of observations to construct an interpretation. But the notion of representing and interpreting meaning as “code” is so fundamental that it can’t really belong to just one science or knowledge community. Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of coding lately. ▸▸

Origins of risk thinking in environmental health

2017-02-17 ▸ Where does the concept of environmental “risk” come from? Ask an environmental health scientist and you might get an answer like: risk = hazard × exposure; or perhaps: risk is a complex function of hazard, exposure, and vulnerability. Beyond just a formula and a four-step process outlined in textbooks, risk thinking is a deeply established set of approaches and techniques. But it’s not the only possible way to understand environmental problems, and it hasn’t always been the mainstream. Here I present a brief and visual summary of one source that traces the conceptual roots of risk in US environmental policy and regulation. ▸▸

Alternatives assessment frameworks

2016-03-08 ▸ A big part of implementing green chemistry in industry is the task of identifying and selecting product or process chemistries that are safer, less resource-intensive, and also functionally better than those we currently use. That involves complex judgments and comparisons with many dimensions. Figuring out how to make multifaceted comparisons to support scientifically informed judgments is the domain of alternatives assessment (AA). Anyone involved in green chemistry should be familiar with this idea. ▸▸

Sustaining what? How we frame sustainability and envision the future

2015-10-08 ▸ We’re immersed in talk of sustainability: to ensure the long-term viability of systems that support human life. But ‘sustainability’ is not a clearly defined or self-evident concept. Instead, it’s a complex collection of notions that are being used and continually redefined in different ways. As a result, there are many sustainabilities. What we consider to be sustainable—and by extension, ‘green’, ‘benign’, ‘just’, and so on—reflects a range of visions about what society should be like, how people should relate to nature, and what functions and effects technology should have. In this post I’d like to bring to attention how we frame this seemingly all-encompassing concept. ▸▸

Information infrastructure and democracy

2015-07-15 ▸ As the ‘open’ movement builds momentum, information practices are being tied to a range of aspirations: reproducible science, sustainable development, and accountable government, to name a few. Many advocacy and technical efforts across open [knowledge, data, science] focus on revealing, unlocking, and ‘openly’ digitally publishing information that currently circulates—or sits—in restricted, enclosed, or encumbered systems. But the movement is multi-stranded, and there are undercurrents of aspiring to even deeper change—perhaps radical changes in the relationship of knowledge and society. This is what excites me the most. ▸▸