The Leveson Prize, Steve Fuller

An email from Steve Fuller to the SERRC on 17 April 2014:

I’ve been commuting to Edinburgh over the past couple of weeks for various events, and it turns out that I won the ‘Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas’ competition at the Edinburgh Science Festival. My dangerous idea was that relaxing ethical strictures on research on humans and animals would enable us to make more progress. My main competitor was that old Socratic chestnut: writing. But trust me, there were those on the night who thought that writing would lead to the end of authenticity and creativity. Clearly these people never heard of Second Life … 

The week before I reworked and re-sent an award announcement circulated by the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) that would be made for the best unpublished piece of work. In my reworking, the award was to be made for the best unwritten piece of work. It took about a week, indeed close to the deadline, for some cross people to declare that there is no such award and that people should stop trying to apply for it. Here is my reworked announcement:

Society for History of Technology: The Leveson Prize

The Brian Q. Leveson Prize is awarded each year for a single-authored, unwritten essay in the history of technology that implicitly examines, in some promised detail, a technology or technological device or process, real or imagined, within the framework of social or intellectual history, factual or counterfactual. It is intended for younger scholars and new entrants into the profession, including those who might otherwise have no interest to enter the profession. Moreover, those wishing to exit the profession may also find this an attractive opportunity.

Manuscripts already published or accepted for publication are not eligible. In order to be considered, manuscripts must be envisaged as being in English and of a length suitable for publication as an article in Technology and Culture–approximately 7,500 words (not including notes) and 100 notes. The winning prospective manuscript will be considered for publication in Technology and Culture, should it come to be written.

To nominate a prospective essay, please send it by e-mail, in MS Word or PDF format, to the SHOT secretary’s office (, clearly stating that this is a nomination for the Leveson prize. Please also send one paper copy of the prospective essay to: David Lucsko, SHOT Secretary, Department of History, 310 Thach Hall, Auburn University, AL 36849-5207. The author of the prospective essay need not be notified in advance of the nomination.

The judging will be blind, as befits unwritten essays, so authors should not be identified in the text of the prospective article. Please put the prospective author’s name at the top of your e-mail and on a cover sheet to the paper copy; this information will be detached before the manuscript is forwarded to the committee.

The closing date for nominations is 15 April; all entries must be received by this deadline. The award consists of a bitcoin award and a certificate, to be presented at the Society’s annual meeting. For more information, please contact the committee chair or David Lucsko, SHOT Secretary,

I strongly recommend that all of you undertake such ‘breaching experiments’ (to recall the old ethnomethodology jargon) in self-organizing communities like listservs, which are effectively ethics-free zones because there’s no one in particular you’re targeting in your research. While there is obviously a humorous dimension to this, it is also serious — otherwise the hoax wouldn’t have worked. After all, we live in a world where people are encouraged to include unwritten stuff in their CVs and annual reviews to show that their academic pulse is still beating. So why not awards for it?

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