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Re-imagining “Citizen Science”: Knowledge for equality?

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by: Alan Irwin, Erinma Ochu, Michel Pimbert, Cindy Regalado and Tom Wakeford
(Image: A poster from the Morris Justice Project – a collaboration involving the Public Science Project, New York City)

Panel Discussion: Broadening Engagement to Foster Diversity and Inclusion

When: NEW TIME!  February 11th, 9:55am, Citizen Science 2015 Conference

What: Join the dialogue to begin, through storytelling and dialogue, to create a future based on the equal worth of every human being and their way of knowing.

A range of people – from patients to peasant farmers, factory workers to admin clerks – have proved their worth as “experts-by-experience”. They often point out the blind spots or inconsistencies in the way professionally trained scientists and engineers view the world. Could science be based on such an open-source and participatory validation of knowledge claims? And are these values of cognitive justice something that everyone involved in citizen science, where the public contribute to new knowledge, should demand? To achieve our objectives to what extent do we need to combine such approaches with the use of organizing in solidarity with other social movements to give experimental findings greater weight in policy-making? In this vision, the boundary between science and the rest of knowledge becomes less important than the breadth and systematic nature of the critical scrutiny to which any knowledge-claim is subjected.

Antwan Whyte, an African-American resident of Ferguson, Missouri, was interviewed by the BBC the morning after a “Hands-up don’t shoot” protest in which he took part: “We’ve punched the system in the mouth that has been put in place to oppress a certain class of people for well over 300 years,” he remarked. “All we want is to be treated like citizens, just like everybody else.” We need to re-imagine what we mean by citizenship, the production of new knowledge, how the two overlap, and how they might fit together better.

Long before Ferguson returned the issue to global attention, the Public Science Project had challenged racial profiling in South Bronx by equipping young people of color to quantify its use by becoming participatory action researchers. If people in the Citizen Science Association (CSA) could help scale up this kind of work, it would help create trust between CSA members and those in our neighborhoods who do not feel respected as full citizens.

In 1995, five years before the Hollywood blockbuster, Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts, illustrated its core argument, Alan Irwin, one of our panelists, published Citizen Science, documenting how people across the world have been challenging notions that people without a formal training in science are less able to contribute to research than those who have. In 2015, twenty years after this book was published, NGOs and social movements, such as La Via Campesina, Public Lab, ICW and Global Community Monitor are working to have people’s experiential knowledge included in local and global policy processes. The prospect of learning from these pioneers is the inspiration for the open discussion we are organizing at CitSci2015.

Citizen science, is a contested and sometimes trivialized term. It could herald a rekindling of efforts to harness the vast experiential knowledge that languishes undermined among billions of people across the world. We might all agree with this in theory, yet some of the highest profile projects employing a citizen science approach do not allow some ways of knowing to be recognized. We wish to challenge both institutionalized notions of scientism, the belief that physical science is the only form of knowledge and the giving of unquestioning support to any professional expertise at the expense of other forms of knowledge. Both these trends are leading to widespread epistemic injustice.

Join our panel session at the Citizen Science 2015 conference and help us create a dialogue to create a future based on the equal worth of every human being and their way of knowing.

Alan Irwin is Professor and Dean at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark and author of Citizen Science. Erinma Ochu is Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow at the University of Manchester, UK. Michel Pimbert is Director of the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience at Coventry University, UK.   Cindy Regalado is a doctoral candidate in the ExCiteS research group, UCL, UK.  Tom Wakeford is Reader in Public Science at the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience at Coventry University, UK.  

Posted on: January 13, 2015  |  Category: Blog, CitSci2015, Conference, MyCitSci
Tags: citizen science, diversity, engagement, inclusion, justice, way of knowing