In focus: Dan Cleather

From biomechanics to anarchism.

Recommencing our series of written interviews with researchers at IGDORE: Dr Dan Cleather, who is the program director for strength and conditioning at St Mary’s University in London, and works remotely from Prague. Daniel tells us about what sparked his interest in the philosophy of science and his current research on new paradigms for exercise during space exploration.

1. Tell us a bit about your professional background.

I currently run an online MSc in strength and conditioning (i.e. the science of physical preparation for sport). Prior to this, I worked as a strength and conditioning coach for the English Institute of Sport, helping Olympic athletes with their training. I have a PhD in bioengineering, and my research is mainly focussed on building computational models that can be used to estimate the muscle and joint contact forces that we experience during movement.

I love that I can show my affiliation to IGDORE alongside my employment at St Mary’s University, and people often ask what it means — giving me the opportunity to wax lyrical about the importance of open science.

2. Why did you join IGDORE?

I guess as is probably the case for all of our members, open science is really important to me, and I actively seek opportunities to support open science initiatives. For me, IGDORE is a place to meet other open science activists and to show my commitment to open science principles. I love that I can show my affiliation to IGDORE alongside my employment at St Mary’s University, and people often ask what it means — giving me the opportunity to wax lyrical about the importance of open science.

3. You began your research career studying biomechanics and yet you recently wrote a book on the philosophy of science. What sparked your interest in that field?

I have taught an MSc module in research methods for over 10 years. Back in about 2012, I wanted to add some philosophy content to the module, and as a starting point, I read Peter Godfrey-Smith’s fantastic book Theory and Reality. As I read the book I felt that I had something to say on the topic, but I didn’t know what. So I started reading.

The other key event for me was that I saw this tweet by Nathan Hall in response to some Trump craziness or other. I liked the idea that research could be subversive, but I wasn’t really sure what that meant. Trying to answer that question is the journey that led to Subvert!

Anarchism gets a bad rap — it is not about burning things and fighting, but rather is about figuring out the best way to share the Earth’s resources equitably. It is about rejecting authority and finding ways to work together cooperatively.

The movement for open and replicable science is growing quickly and is helping to (re)create the academic norm of communality. In Subvert!, you suggested that principled subversion is another promising method of inquiry for scientists.

4. Could you imagine subversion becoming another large scale movement within academia?

I hope so.

One thing that I discovered as I was writing Subvert! is that I am an anarchist. Anarchism gets a bad rap — it is not about burning things and fighting, but rather is about figuring out the best way to share the Earth’s resources equitably. It is about rejecting authority and finding ways to work together cooperatively. If you are interested, I did an interview with the amazing Susanna Harris where we talked about this:

For me, scientific society should be organised along anarchist lines — open and self-organising from the bottom up. As we know, the reality is far from this. I think that the anarchist literature is an exceptionally rich resource of ideas for the open science community.

5. What would your ideal work-life look like? Where would you live, where would you work, and how many hours would you work per week?

I’m very fortunate that I have a fantastic work-life arrangement at the moment. Because the programme I run is online, I don’t need to be on campus in London, and so for the last 9 years, I have been living in Prague (Czech Republic). My arrangement is thus pretty close to my ideal — all I would change is to have less admin and marking, and a bit more time to read books, think and write.

6. What are your professional plans for the next few years?

At the moment, I’m heavily involved in a project to help develop the next generation of exercise countermeasures for space exploration. John Kennett, an engineer and ex-lecturer at my university, has designed a device that allows you to jump in microgravity, that has been built by the team that won an Oscar for the special effects in 1917! Next year we will be testing it in microgravity on the vomit comet (a parabolic test flight).

Other than that, I want to find as much time as possible for reading and writing. I’m about two-thirds of the way through my next book, which is about the biomechanics of training, and I have the first chapter of an autobiographical account of living with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I’m also thinking about the second part of Nathan Hall’s quote — i.e. how is teaching protest?

7. What would you like to see more or less of by (or within) IGDORE?

I’d like to see more collaborative research projects being performed by members of IGDORE. We have an amazing group of researchers from a diverse range of backgrounds, and I think we have a unique opportunity to carry out interdisciplinary research that really challenges the traditional mould.

IGDORE is an independent cross-disciplinary research institute. Check out our website for more! https://igdore.org/