Science & Dissent – Day 1

The Science and Dissent workshop was held at the University of Geneva on 1st and 2nd June 2018, hosted by the Citizen Sciences group

Welcome and Introduction – Bruno Strasser opened, pointing Why now? When Trump won the election, Bruno felt that “the age of populism is back” – and within is we need to ask what citizen science does? speak truth to power or in the job of undermining the political authority of science? The Trump administration put out untruth from the start with false information about the inauguration  – it was the emergence of “alternative facts”. How we established facts about the natural environment and about the social realm in this environment? The most explicit demonstration came from Ben Carson – “it is important to remember that amateurs built the Ark and it was the professionals that built the Titanic” – it’s a rhetoric that causes concerns. The surprise impact of the Trump administration is the March for Science with statements about “show me the data” as a way to fight populism. The theme of people-powered research – it was taken by platforms like Zooniverse. The focus of the meeting is Counter-expertise. American researchers who are excited about lay people mobilised science to deal with health and environment. In France, theoretical conversations challenge these understanding and argue that it is to challenge science and put it in its place. Citizen Science is part of the topic. We are also talking about “post-deliberative participation” – going beyond the different forums in the 1990s for deliberate about the science and then moving to go after facts. This also links to debates on participation that go back to 1968 discourses.

Collaborative Dissent: Civic Chemistry at the Dawn of Organized Public Health (Melanie A. Kiechle, Virginia Tech, United States) – there was dissent in the 19th Century – concern about odour, asking the Chemist Goldschmidt to identify the source of the smell as it might lead to miasma. By the time he arrived at the home of Mr Turner, the smell died away. At that time, we see the emergence of health boards in cities in the US with the power to regulate. 1860-80 allow the transition of boards, but also recognised roles for citizens and chemists with an opportunity to raise concerns to scientists. Citizens complaints are leading to action by scientists – they have to follow the request, and there is also recognition of different types of knowledge of the urban environment and shared instrumentation – using their noses. Smell is interesting in bringing people together: the dissent is against major industrial practices at the time. Scientists and citizens are against industrial bodies, and the scientists move into government and gain power. There are several examples: 1873 Miller’s River nuisance in Massachusetts, 1877-1878 Chicago “Stink Cases” against fat renderers and the case that was mentioned above in NYC. The instrumentation didn’t create collaboration. Chicago in 1862 had an increased meat production and the stench was too much. Concerns by businessmen that it will impact the people who come to work with them – a chemist (Miller) is studying the issue, but because it took time, citizen became impatient and in the Chicago Tribune “the public nose is just as sure an index”. The creation of the board bring shared language of Chemists and citizens – e.g. Sulphuretted Hydrogen – in July 1873, lead paint darkened overnight: stench became visible as citizens knew that Chemists use paper with lead acetate in their monitoring. The creation of the health board allowed the integration of citizens and chemists involve citizens in demonstration of smelling samples and demonstrate that people can be correct in their smelling. In debates – citizens refute citizens and chemists refute chemists and not cross. This is performative collaboration. Bringing an external consultant in Chicago didn’t worked as well because of the different configuration of relationships between citizen scientists. In NYC, there is an issue of dispute that is coming from another part of the city – methods that were used in NYC include State Board of Health include visiting by people to smell industries, collecting testimony and hiring chemist (Elwin Waller) – the official report start with officials’ experience, citizen testimony quotation and Waller conclusions are in brief. The continuum of knowledge is not expressed in the decision making – officials invited citizens to join the process, the citizens’ knowledge directed health officials to a certain area and the action forced chemists to follow their complaints. Who are the people that are smelling? a lot of people – women report from home and boards of health don’t want to hear from women (they have a “weak constitution” according to the views at the time), many from the middle class but also from labouring and emigrants communities petitions about issues of nuisance. There are issues of access directly to chemists. Later on, chemists started argue that they are better in smelling and detecting smells because of their experience and slowly pushed out the role of citizens. Different views of people in terms of instrumentation and imperviousness to miasma and seeing different races as less or more sensitive to the issue.

Science, Technology and Protests in Grenoble since 1950s (Thomas Lerosier, Université Grenoble Alpes) – Grenoble was an industrial centre that converted into a centre of technology outside Paris. The critique of science change according to the time. Concerns after the war started with nuclear energy and its use. Then in the 1960s it moved to pollution from factories – a growth of Maoist activism that linked to the New Left and focusing on technologies. In the 1970s there was a convergence of protest on the protection of a green area (Green Hill). There was also a major mobilization against Nuclear Power – focusing on a new type of a reactor and against a large scale programme in an area. The Nuclear site – embodied the system of power, the size and the effort. The effort was part of the wider international protest in 1976 – they also included scientific criticism about nuclear programmes. In the 1980s and 1990s the issues move to legal struggle and development of expertise. For example, monitoring of radioactive pollution around a site. In the 2000s, concerns focusing on issues of nanotechnologies – for example, attempts to block the development of a campus effort to develop nanotechnology and arguements that deliberative processes about synthetic biology are biased and unfair in 2013. The critique of techno-science – over the years must adapt to science technology governance strategies, and invest in new ways of protest, and mostly led to tactical shifts from institutions.

Knowledge Swaraj: Public Participation and Citizen Science in India (C. Shambu Prasad, IRMA, India) – writing a citizen manifesto on scientific knowledge. Our understanding of dissent is changing – we have world leaders who are using dissent as a badge of their activities [maybe hijacking  dissent]. The development of policies in India – science, technology and innovation traditionally ignored citizens in the process. usual domination of scientific expertise. It is useful to see Gandhi as a citizen scientists. There was last year a march for science in India and attempt to develop a manifesto for citizen science asking not to mix science and spiritualism – there is an issue of “Self Rule” (Swaraj) from Gandhi and think about what it means to science and technology. In India, this is based on Nehru view that “the future belongs to science” – “it is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty” (1937) – the constitution calls for a duty of every citizen to develop scientific temper (1976). The Technology vision 2035 is a document that supposed to be people-centric – only as recipients of the fruit of science. The All Indian Network (AISPN) pointed to the need to pay attention to traditional knowledge – traditional Indian doctors pointed that they asked to get respect and validation. There is an ideological split if it is going to be state-led science or market – also concerns over indigenous or grassroots or traditional knowledge, which terminology should be used? Gandhi pointed to the Hind Swaraj (1909) which is seen as Luddite but it is not necessarily so. When Gandhi talk to people: critique of western science and splits of man-nature/fact-value and call for traditional medicine should learn from Western science but integrate it into their practice. He talks about the agency of self, including self-experimentation – science for sacrifice. He also called for rethinking institution as seeing Ashram as a laboratory. Want to see space for science for civil society and reworking axioms on development, progress (e.g. calling for an Ashram to be built from local material). Public participation in science continue from 1948 to 1964 (in a journal called Ambar – in Hindi). Radical critique of science and appropriate technology movement in the 1970s to the 1990s. Colonialism is “argue us out of our experience” so cognitive justice (Viswanathan 2005) about different forms of knowledge. Creative dissent is include construction of alternative forms of participation. This is the background for the Knowledge Swaraj to look at expertise, being open to critiques of science, society vulnerable without pluralist and need to include S&T in civil society (available at . S&T need to look at justice, plurality and sustainability. The manifesto was enacted by 5 case studies that were community and civil society led – medical, water issues, ecological farming, reconstructing knowledge, and climate change addressing.   There is a need to engage experts, need to socialise science with newer institutions and capacities. Having these dialogue create important connections that universities are acting as brokerages. There is need of technological responsibility – such as recommendations for hysterectomy for rural women need to be done in much more considerations to the context and practice. Innovation needs creative dissent and following Gandhi politics and constructive action to be seen together. In agriculture there is a special scope for dissent and the green revolution has led to control by institution and research, so there is plenty of scope for understanding and opening local practices.

Critics of Science and Medicine in India in the 1970s and 1980s. People’s Science and People’s Health (Mathieu Quet | IRD, France & JNU, India). Suggesting a critique of science and medicine in industrialised countries in the 1970s and a critique that emerged in the 1970s, but what happened in places like India in comparison to the radical critique in the West. Looks particularly in “Medico Friend Circle Bulletin (1976-1985). In India activities such as People Science Movement (PSM): trust in science but critique lack of communication – science for social revolutions with Bhopal. Influenced by Marxist ideas. The Alternative Science Movement challenges Western science and traditional knowledge. Oppose it with different ways of knowing, highlighting people’s ability to produce knowledge. In the People’s Health Movement (PHM) emerged in the 1960s and connected to PSM, with content that is dedicated to the improvement health care. The critique started with approach of providing medicine to rural zones – the barefoot doctors, an element of Marxist and Christian colleges in it. The Medico Friends Circle is a communication and sharing questions for the PHM. The organisation was loose and keeping discussion simple, and refuse funding but did keep scientific medicine as a core. So discussions deal with different themes – mostly critiquing institutions. Also created alternative hospital and community centres. However, they had tension between traditional and modern medicine: and presenting it in a way that promotes traditional and indigenous medicine (Ayurveda), while the other critiquing medical technocracy with strong debates between them – some oppose the traditional medicine strongly. Attempts to redefine modern and traditional, and hybridisation of practices in the field. The debate was fairly pragmatic more than political or ideological. The convergence point with Western views is the opposition of the industrialisation of medical practice. In comparison to radical critique in France, the Indian case is a mixed argument.

Plastic Speculums and Geiger Counters: Gender of (Dis)Embodied Knowledge in 1970s Protest (Bruno J. Strasser, University of Geneva, Switzerland) – there is periodisation in science that appears in the literature – for example, the role of scientists as: universal intellectual (19th c to 1960) , specific intellectual (1960s- 1970), to counter -expert from the 1980s. Can think about the different shape of protests – from emos to legal action to counter-expertise. The interesting is to move to counter-expertise – different ways in which they can be mobilised by different campaigns. There is also a gender issue – for example in the link between different issues. Women’s liberation movement and anti-nuclear in the 1970s. Thinking on how knowledge is being produced – alternative expertise, compared to counter expertise that uses the same methods and science and doesn’t challenge the method. The Women’s liberation movement was in the 1970s, mostly by lay people that linked to self-help focusing on health issues. The group included people like Rina Nissim which included – trying to capture the power over knowledge, include pelvic self-exams – women who try to learn on their own bodies: collective, subjective, experiential, idiographic, low-tech, domestic, anonymous, and alternative. It was done in domestic place and “practice of self-help seem difficult, but what came out not erotic or medical” so it is done in a way that is addressing the issues of experiences and sharing it with multiplicity. Give ourselves the means to examine issues. Next to it in the archive, Anti-nuclear movement – Superphenix, slow breeder reactor that was developed from 1976. Geneva was a hotbed of mobilisation of concern – started with the campaign against CERN in the 1950s. The ContrAtom – scientists and activists, mostly men. Demonstration that included 1976-1977 some violent. Sabotage took place in 1976 to 1982. Chaim Nissim – one of the activists – shot rocket-propelled grenades at the installation: dissent was seen as masculine. In contrast, scientists mobilise through petition – e.g. letter from CERN 1977: they ask for independent information, public debate and moratorium. A comment pointed that the people trusted the public to see them as experts. They also inform the public – explaining the ignorant public about the risks. They challenge conflict of interest: tainted expertise while science is generally good. Expertise measuring nature, technology and people. One report that demonstrates this about the safety of the factory. The counter expertise is to create “indepndent” expertise, and contracting with an independent expert. The mobilised scientists to which they delegate expertise, or getting a German professor. The strategy is confronting experts – at no time have discussed the health or other impacts, only discrediting official experts.

Different modes and temporalities of alternative/counter-expertise? there is a connection here between knowledge and gender, and how the counter-expertise depoliticise technological choices? Did the independent expertise protect science from a reflexive moment?


Counter and alternative are categories – counter: play by the rule and use the same approach, alternative: changing the rules of the game.


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