Thinking about security as a science: how developed is the body of knowledge?
Chair: Martin Gill
Kevin Peterson – Program Lead for Business & Organizational Security Management at Webster University (US)
Bryan Watters – Associate Professor of Defence Leadership and Management at Cranfield University (UK)
André Filipe Rodrigues proposed this webinar because science has been critical in many areas, and professional status and credible ways of working have evolved from scientific initiatives, as he says, ‘good science matters, a lot!’
Kevin Peterson argues that the body of knowledge is already fairly well developed in that there is a common ground that people can rally around. There are developed professional associations that have been instrumental here where subject matter expertise continues to flourish. As he emphasises this is a living thing and it will keep evolving. For Kevin security has already proven its professional credentials and in reality security is a combination of science and an art. The advantages of the science base include the ability to apply a process, based on the scientific method testing hypothesis and applying conclusions. That way it is the credible voice rather than the loudest which influences decisions. The drawback is that the outcomes are not always clear-cut – which complicates the development of effective return on investment models – and there is always a need to tailor outcomes to contexts. Arguing that security is a distinct field of study Kevin suggests that the field of risk management provides an overarching framework embracing the different strands including and in some ways competing areas of traditional and cyber security. He calls for initiatives to push forward the principles of science in security, there needs to be agreement on the meaning of terms and concepts, and encouragement needs to be given to employers to support those who follow the science of security.
Bryan Watters references an 1832 publication to show that the difficulties of differentiating art and science are longstanding ones. The search for one truth is complicated by variations in the science method; positivism and constructionism offer different routes each with its own challenges. Moreover, the output has to be applicable, at least for security practitioners, and at this juncture making sense of the ambiguity can be difficult; security is complex. Further complicated by the teaching of history, vital to understand, not always straightforward to interpret for different examples of practice. Moreover, no site is ever secure, and the subject is really about the study of insecurity rather than security, in this context you will witness an interesting discussion about the difference between a wicked problem and a tame one. Logically things change – and look out for climate security emerging as a concern. In a related area, war studies became peace studies which became security studies and there are lots of different security areas. And security is informed by many disciplines, leadership, neurology, risk to give examples. Science is not always accessible to practitioners, journals are often abstract and not many practitioners read them.
The panellists emphasise the need for science to become accessible, it changes a lot as it evolves and that makes staying close to outputs all the more important, but that process is not easy; in security practitioners are distanced form research most often complicated by the very diversity of the subject area. Initiatives in this area are unlikely to be headed by academia, the role of security associations and interest groups then becomes prominent.
12th August 2021