Proposed Session: Values and Ethics of the GOAT Community

Hey Goats, Kids, Friends, and Folks!

As many of you will recall, during the GOAT 2018 closing session, we had a discussion around governance of GOAT and one of the things we wanted to do was create a shared statement regarding the values and ethics of the GOAT community. I think that we’ve been implicitly working towards this for a while.

Lets look at whats already been said and done in the community.

Regarding ethics…

At GOAT 2018 Data and Culture Session, goats posited the need for an ethics guide, code of conduct, and assessment rubric surrounding data sharing. There are a number of existing resources that were suggested to inform such guides and rubric as well as to utilize as resources for fulfilling ethical expectations.

@laurieWayne headed up a proposal for a presentation at EcoFarm 2022 to “connect the dots between ethical relationship with the land and human communities and Open Source tools for farmers.” Sadly, the proposal was not accepted, but a group of GOATS did convene to discuss what such a talk would look like, which is tremendous in itself. I hope to hear from this group some details regarding the direction they wanted to take this discussion.

Last year fellow goat @sudokita co-organized and invited us all to a virtual Ag-Tech conference focused on “data management, privacy and ethics, access, and cross-sector collaboration.” I hope that @sudokita and goat attendees can shed some light on what was discussed at this virtual event that can inform this conversation.

Then there are numerous references to ethical dilemmas or implications through out the forum, such as @jgaehring’s curiousity of the ethical implications of P2P and technologies in agriculture, or @MarsBenzle’s question of how trans-disiplinary processes could “ethically involve the perspectives of all those involved but [do so] efficiently without getting bogged down in process and never ending feedback.”

To state the obvious, ethical consideration is at the core of GOAT.

Regarding values…

The GOAT community largely appears to assert that values are farmer or food-stake holder driven. “What do farmer’s want, what do farmers need?” and “supporting the values of farmers” are questions posed and statements asserted in a number of forum posts, including:

Digging in to the difference between Values and Ethics
I offer the following definitions for values and ethics as a way to ground this discussion. Please note that the technical definition of values, specifically, varies across many scientific disciplines, and thus is nearly impossible to comprehensively define, not to mention with consensus (Kluckhohn 1951, pp. 389–390). If you have other preferred definitions of values and ethics, I hope you contribute those to this discussion as well.

Values are defined as goals that are desirable, worthwhile, or good, and are perceived to transcend particular situations to be broadly applicable to social life (Fleischmann 2013).

Shilton (2018) explains that philosophers distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic values:

Intrinsic values are ends: concepts such as happiness or wisdom that are desirable in and of themselves. Extrinsic (or instrumental) values are means to those ends: concepts such as privacy are extrinsic values because they can contribute to happiness or self-worth.

There has long been criticism of using the term values to describe morals and ethics among the academic community, as well described in Shilton’s 2018 journal article “Values and Ethics in Human-Computer Interaction”:

Many values (e.g., efficiency or elegance) have non-moral status: they may frame goals or desires, but do not tell us how we should behave, especially relative to other people. For this reason, academic attention to “values” is not without controversy. In his book The Whale and the Reactor, Winner rails against the use of the term values to denote ethics, social concerns, or politics in technology. He calls the term “vacuous,” accusing it of emptying a conversation that was once about morals and politics.

Interestingly, HCI (Human Computer Interaction), the academic community I conduct research in, historically and largely still refers to ethics as moral or human values (e.g., Value Sensitive Design). I even adopted this norm in my doctoral research (completed in 2019). Alas, for the sake of clarity in conversation, I offer you a definition of ethics:

Ethics are “well-founded standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, or specific virtues” (Velasquez et al., 1987).

I think a conversation worth having in the GOAT community is which terms and definitions we want to formally use in the guides, rubrics, or statements we release.

With perhaps too much said, I invite you all to a well rounded conversation regarding:

  • What are the values you think the GOAT community aims to support?
  • What are the ethics underlying the GOAT community’s conduct?
  • What are the terms and definitions that best represent the GOAT community?
2 Likes

Big big questions there - thanks for the careful overview. thanks for bringing the topic up, @julietnpn!

Oh wow, I kinda love this. I’m definitely gonna look out for where and why people use “values” instead of “ethics” from now on.

@laurieWayne is right, these are big BIG questions, indeed! A little scary, too, perhaps. I guess I’m a little nervous about imposing my own values and ethics on the GOAT community at large, although some degree of that seems inevitable. Perhaps, in that respect then, governing by consensus seems to be important to a lot of folks here, in some form or another.

Haha, I’m becoming very conscious of the v-word now as I write this. I am inclined, however, to think more about “value” (sing.) as opposed to “values” (pl.) when considering the ethics of agriculture and technology. Specifically, I believe agriculture is the foundation of most economic value in our society, while technology plays the primary role of mediating how that value is dispersed. So for me, all ethics in AgTech centers around that question of how that value is generated and who ultimately benefits.

I feel like this is the point where I could start to ramble so I’m going to cold stop instead. Eager to hear what other folks have to say! And thanks, @julietnpn, for opening up this dialogue!

2 Likes

Hi @Sebastian.Klemm! Curious what you think of this topic… :relaxed:

Hmmm… I dunno… I guess I don’t know if normal people know the difference (?) so it feels a little semantic. What matters is that they are clarified collaboratively, clearly stated, and the backbone of actions. I don’t think (of course as a white guy) there’s heavy context to any of these terms that would be troubling or worth caring deeply about (?)… seems to me it’s the function that matters.

A recent article from A Growing Culture, “Is the Debate about Agriculture Really About Values?” reminded me of @julietnpn’s original prompt here. It addresses an article from Our World in Data, written by Hannah Ritchie, which addresses some recent studies showing that smallholders produce less of the world’s food than previusly claimed by orgs like the FAO. While not disputing the data, the AGC author, Thea Walmsley, takes issue with Ritchie’s implicit value judgments, about what the data means for future policy decisions.

I think these 3 paragraphs towards the end summarize the argument pretty well:

But on a more granular level, the farmers I have spoken to highly value agriculture—they recognise its embeddedness in their cultures and heritage, the value of the skill and knowledge they can pass down to future generations, and the importance of the connection it affords them to the earth. They would like it to be different, certainly. Nobody wants to pursue any vocation under unjust circumstances. But they see agriculture itself as something inherently valuable and worth pursuing.

This is the viewpoint that seems missing from the discussion amongst those who share Ritchie’s views. It seems presumptuous of those who favour industrial agriculture to assume that all small farmers are engaged in agriculture due to a lack of options and must be liberated from the toils of farming through technology. Many farmers do not feel this way at all. But it would be presumptuous of those sharing my position to assume that all small farmers do value agriculture and want to pursue it under fairer conditions. Some do not, and would like to move to other sectors but face barriers in doing so. Both sides have truth to them.

But regardless of the exact numbers on each side, the important thing is that farmers be presented with genuine choices about their livelihoods. And those on the technocratic side seem intent making that choice for them, believing that they, the experts, know what is best, while the other is fighting for a multitude of choices to be available to all farmers, in order for them to make their own decisions within their communities. This is why the framing of food sovereignty will ultimately lead to greater justice.

1 Like