Can extreme citizen science breathe life into science?

ExCiteS Research Team has presented its work at the 19th annual meeting of Science and Democracy Network (SDN) hosted by Harvard University Science, Technology and Society (STS) program from August 12th-14th, 2020. We would here to highlight the main idea introduced during this conference.

In its famous paper, Thomas Gieryn, 1983, introduced the concept of Boundary-Work and discussed about the demarcation of science from non-science. The concept of boundary-work has been extremely proficient to explain how scientists, over time, have monopolized authority over the intellectual ecosystem by creating a public image for science that contrasts with non-scientific intellectual and technical activities. As professional scientist, which image of science are you presenting to citizens and society? How it affects citizen’s perception of science? As a citizen or a non-professional scientist, how you are considering science and its intellectual authority?

In citizen science, and particularly in extreme citizen science, it is very interesting that this is not boundary-work but exactly the opposite process that is happening. When the professional scientist tries to improve the level participation and engagement of the public in science, he/she is not only the one who do science but also the one who empower non-professional people to take part in science. That completely reverses the traditional role of the scientist as well as its epistemic authority over society!

To reach a high level of participation and engagement of the public, the professional scientists can no longer present an image of science creating a boundary between professional scientists and non-professional scientists. Conversely, he/she must present science as something accessible to all, and therefore cross the symbolic boundary that demarcates professional and non-professional scientists.

What about the future of the epistemic authority of science? Will this authority vanish? Does the increase of participation in science weaken or reinforce boundary-work? In my opinion, if this increase of participation is the opposite process of boundary-work, these two processes are also complementary. This is because the exclusive process of boundary-work paradoxically attracts people in science while the inclusive participatory process enables them to take part in science.

Questions coming from the assembly were related the utility of having a boundary between professional and non-professional scientists according to Robert Frost’s maxim “Good fences make good neighbours.” Other questions were about the implementation of Extreme Citizen Science in the field. However, the STS assembly was also very interested by a larger question: what underpins or drives this shift of attitude of the professional scientist from boundary-work to the opposite processes of inclusion and recognition? Very good question, this is what my PhD will focus on.

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