Unintended consequences

16 page report on Unintended Consequences [pdf]

Abstract: Although innovation is one of the most commonly mentioned concepts in social science unintended undesirable consequences of innovation are rarely studied. This study does a literature review of all articles in the EBSCO database, with innovation in the title and which study undesirable consequences. We found only 26 such articles; 1 per 1000, a proportion that has not changed since the 1960’s. An author survey on why there is still so little research on this issue was therefore also done and is presented. The survey ranks suggested hypotheses and finds that the most important limiting factors are pro-innovation bias among researchers and vested interests of funding agencies, which cause change agents and researchers to consider mainly an innovation’s intended desirable consequences. A theoretical framework for studying undesirable consequences of innovation based on diffusion theory, Robert Merton’s sociology and stakeholder theory is developed and applied on the selection of articles. A combination of the two analyses suggests a separation of discourses. Unintended and undesirable consequences of innovations are discussed in other scientific discourses and with other theoretical frameworks. We argue that the current separation of discourses is potentially dangerous for society as a whole.

TED talk by Edward Tenner

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