About CSci

  • Dr. Stefan Fafinski
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Dr. Stefan Fafinski
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
Scientist Type: 
Policy maker
South East
First Degree: 
Natural Sciences (Physics)
Pet Hates: 
Bad writing and scientists who can’t communicate their work to the public.
Burning Ambition: 
To be a bus driver.
Big Picture
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
A bus driver. In fact, at present, I’m seriously thinking of buying a bus to restore – a red 1960s London Routemaster bus. Why? Because I haven’t grown up yet!
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? 
Which manifestation of being a scientist? A hard scientist? A social scientist? In the early days it was a physics teacher (John Barraclough) at my school who captured my enthusiasm for science. He, along with Roy Perkins, my Maths teacher, helped me focus on my excitement and enthusiasm for finding out how stuff works and why things are the way they are, as well as giving me the confidence to realise that I was actually quite good at it.
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
People pay me to think about interesting things that I would have probably been thinking about anyway for free.
What would you change? 
If I could I’d find a way to get more hours in the day, especially in terms of the amount of different content I deal with and all the projects that are on the go. I just wish I could do things more quickly!
What qualifications did you take at school? 
I did A-Levels in Maths, Further Maths, Physics, and Chemistry
Why did you choose your first degree subject? 
Natural Sciences at Cambridge and then I specialized in Physics. I chose it because I was better at Physics than Chemistry. And more interested in it too
Do you have a Masters or PhD? If not, was it difficult to demonstrate Masters-level equivalence in order to achieve CSci? 
I got my Masters degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge as well. I’ve done a law degree since then and followed it up with a doctorate from the University of Leeds which concerned the legal and extra-legal governance of risks arising from the misuse of information technology – or ‘computer misuse’ more snappily.
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
I tell people I’m a criminologist, which always seems to be met with at least some polite interest. The only place many people have come across criminologists before is in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I explain my research is in the areas of either high-tech crime or using technology to undertake ‘traditional’ criminology research. My focus is on the crossover between traditional and hi-tech areas, like dishonesty, for instance. This is a traditional area but we approached it in a web-based study. I’m interested in high-tech crimes and the misuse of technology.
What is ‘cutting-edge’ about your work? 
My area, high-tech crime, is always going to be cutting edge. As technology evolves, the way that the criminal fraternity uses it is constantly evolving. I look at ways in which criminals take advantage of technology and find new ways in which to exploit people. As soon as there’s a fix for a vulnerable area, they’re usually going to try something else.
What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future? 
There is a great unanswered question about how we as a society govern the use of technology – technology in governments, jobs, industry, individual use… What is the best, most coherent, means of governance? I hope the work that I do has policy-making implications. I’ve recently submitted written evidence to the House of Lords who are looking into how to protect the UK from large-scale cyber attacks. You can find out more information about this initiative on the UK Parliament website:www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/lords_s_comm_f/eufwrevid.cfm
Describe some of the highlights of your average day. 
The most rewarding part of our work is once we’ve got something together that we think might be of interest to the general public, or some specialist body, we throw it out there and find out that they actually are interested. A highlight is getting this extra recognition of the work we do and the value that’s in it. We’re happy if we can make a small improvement to society as a result of our work. I won the Joseph Lister award in 2006, issued by the British Science Association, who do excellent work in the area of science communication. They give five award lectures each year which are given at the annual British Science Festival. You get nominated and then they get in touch to ask you questions about your work and eventually you find out whether you’ve won or not. My award was on the social aspects of Computer Misuse and the lecture was entitled “Computer Says No”.
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
I did my first degree in physics at Cambridge. Then I was a proper scientist. When I graduated I moved into the IT industry. I thought about staying on with my studies, but I was fed up with being poor. This was during the early nineties IT boom. I thought, I’ll do this a bit and see how it goes. Twelve years later I had worked my way through the IT industry to become a director of advanced technology for a Silicon Valley company. I got a bored with that – I was spending a lot of time with corporate solicitors and attorneys. I did a job as a senior director of a consulting company for Europe doing a lot of project-based stuff. But I was missing studying – it felt like my brain was turning to mush. I did a law degree part-time with the Open University. Four years later I had a law degree, gave up IT, and moved into criminal law and criminology. I then did a full-time PhD on computer misuse at Leeds
How is your job cross-disciplinary? 
My job involves computer science, psychology, sociology, law, politics, governance, technology… all sorts of stuff!
How do you see your field developing over the next 5-10 years? 
As we’re becoming virtualized, we’re going to see a lot more virtual crimes in things like “Second Life”. Do individuals suffer the same kind of harm if their character or avatar is violated in some way? How does that work, what’s the jurisdiction? There are many philosophical questions. We’re going to get to a stage where technology is so decentralized that areas like traditional law enforcement, policing, ideas of sovereignty, jurisdiction etc. all become fuzzy and complicated. How do we deal with that?
What’s the most unexpected thing about your job? 
A big highlight was the Honesty Lab Projectwww.honestylab.com: The dishonesty project isn’t to do with high-tech crime, but it’s another piece of criminal law research looking at what ordinary people think of as honest or dishonest behaviour. There is a test in criminal law for any offence that involves dishonesty – e.g. theft, burglary, or fraud. The jury has to decide if the person on trial was being dishonest. If the jury says no, that person isn’t liable for the crime. That’s a big decision for a jury. But there’s no definition of “dishonesty” in the statutes. Instead the law relies upon the “Ghosh test” introduced in 1982 which asks that a jury considers two questions, “Was the conduct dishonest according to the ordinary standards of reasonable and honest people?” and “Did the defendant realize that?” These questions have sparked a lot of academic criticism. No one has done an experiment to see what ordinary people think is dishonest behaviour. I worked on this project at Brunel University with Dr. Emily Finch from the University of Surrey, and we put together an experiment to test what ordinary people perceive to be dishonest. Our website, www.honestylab.com, asked its visitors to look at five video clips which looked like they were chosen at random (but they weren’t). Each video clip had a talking head explaining what they’d done and participants were asked a series of questions: “Do you think what this person has done is dishonest?”, “Have you ever done what this person has done?”, “Would you convict this person as part of a jury?”, “Would you ever do this (i.e. what the person in the clip said that they’d done)?” The heart of the experiment was these questions. If the participants thought the conduct was dishonest it should follow that they would convict them. But there wasn’t 100% correlation. There are certain acts which can satisfy all elements of a criminal offence but the person won’t be convicted by a jury. People are more forgiving of acts they have done, or would consider doing themselves. The website went live in May 2009 and we shut it off at the end of September. We had just under 20,000 responses and around 50,000 video ratings from 50 video clips. There was a lot of data! We almost blew up a data analysis tool trying to analyze it. We presented our original findings at the British Science Festival at the University of Surrey last September. The project got picked up by the press, including an Observer piece which the BBC latched on to over the summer and subsequently interviewed us. In the two hours that it took to get home from the studio, 7000 people had logged on and done the experiment! We’re planning to write a series of articles on our findings about the public’s perceptions of dishonesty which should open a debate about whether or not the courts are using the right test. We’re also thinking of doing a comparative study of Australia, who started out using the Ghosh test but have modified it slightly.
What’s the biggest achievement of your career so far? 
The thing that’s been the most satisfying has been publishing my first book on Computer Misuse (April 2009, Willan Publishing). It’s derived from my PhD and took four years to write
Would you say you have a good standard of living/ work-life balance? 
Yes. The caveat is that had I always been a scientist and not had my period working in industry I don’t know if I’d be able to support the lifestyle that I have now. I’m fortunate that my career in industry has underpinned my lifestyle now.
What do your friends and family think about your job? 
My wife understands what I do; we work together on several projects. My friends ask me stuff about criminals in the pub. Everyone likes to hear crime stories. I’m a free source of vaguely entertaining stories. I’m also a free source of early warnings for things they should be looking out for when they’re online. Most of the time they encourage me NOT to talk about work but get me on to other subjects like football instead
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax? 
I’ve got a season ticket holding at Reading Football Club. They’ve been quite good over the last few years, but are not doing so well at the moment. Always optimistic though. I play guitar and piano badly. I don’t spend as much time on photography as I would like to – largely because digital printing feels like too much like work – it still involves sitting in front of the same Mac. And I still want to buy a bus!
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
I’ve been a Fellow of BCS for some years. I’ve always felt that technology scientists got a raw deal in terms of recognition and standing in contrast with white coat scientists. As a former hard scientist who then worked in IT, I could see there were many parts of what we did which involved the application of proper scientific principles which weren’t always labeled as such. When the BCS became a licensing body I thought it was about time…I applied on the first day possible. I think I’m #12 on the register.
What is the value of professional bodies? 
Professional bodies play a valuable role in many ways: raising the profile of the industry or discipline to which they’re related and acting as a focal point for professionals to share information and also collectively channel their views out to the wider world. Otherwise they wouldn’t necessarily get their voices heard. It can act as a dissemination point for useful information for the broader membership.
How important is CPD? What do you think of the revalidation process in ensuring that CSci is a mark of current competence? 
For anyone who’s working in industry, CPD is almost an artificial box to tick because, if we’re doing our jobs properly, we’re all developing professionally every day of our working lives. But certainly it’s important if we’re going to maintain the standard. We can’t trade on what we were doing 20 years ago. But artificially saying ‘I have to go on this CPD course because I have to tick a CPD box’ doesn’t feel right. That’s almost training for the sake of it.
Advice & Reflection
What words of wisdom would you give someone interested in getting into your field? 
I came at my field in a complicated and convoluted way. I think from the earliest time that you can, start looking outside your own discipline. So many areas of work are multi-disciplinary. It’s not as easy to focus on our own niche area of research anymore, particularly in my kind of area which is social science. You can’t be a criminologist and ignorant of other fields like psychology. You need to read and think as widely as possible
How important is the mentoring process in your field and to you personally? 
I mentor students. I’ve never had a formal mentor or been part of a programme, but I bounce ideas off people whether they want me to or not. I have an informal network of trusted and respected colleagues and friends who I use as sounding boards for all sorts of things.
How would you define “professionalism”? 
Consistent, objective and reflective application of best practice
What would you do differently if you were starting out in your career now? 
I wish I’d worked harder as a physics undergraduate. Cambridge got difficult especially the maths. It was much easier doing a second degree as a grown up. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to train at what I’m doing now at the age of 18. In order to do some kind of meaningful work in social science you need have been a person for a while… I’m not saying I’m necessarily social but I’ve lived a bit now.
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist? 
I would like my work to have influenced or changed the way in which technology is regulated and used. I would also like people to say that it was done by the bloke who’s got a bus!
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