Ecsite 2018 – Day 2: technology advocacy, evolution, citizen science in parody trial, and DITOs

The second day of Ecsite 2018 included several interesting sessions (here is day 1) which includes a morning discussion about the role of science centres and museum in the public discussion of science and technology, a parody trial of citizen science, and a discussion on the nature of multi-country projects, where I gave a presentation of the Doing It Together Science (DITOs) as an example.

Technology advocates or whistleblowers?

DSCN2809Laurent Chicoineau (Quai des savoirs, TOULOUSE France) – his first experience with the challenges of communicating science and technology was in Grenoble with protests against nano-technology in the 1990s. At the time, the science centre explored the different views about it through an exhibition, public discussions, etc. The view from the government was that science communication was failed, as it didn’t convince the public that nanotech is good. In Toulouse, they made an exhibition in which people could choose from 15 innovations – people were more interested in medical innovation, and not in the one about enhanced- or trans-humanism. In a cartoon representation of the development of science and technology, it was asked: “why the future taste like bleach?” – it is a view of technology that emphasises clean and organised future. instead, thinking about Balck Mirror as an inspiration, and then have a story with a weird situation and then use them as a provocation to make people think and discuss potential future.

DSCN2810Ian Brunswick (Science Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin) – he takes the view that science centres should be more whistleblowers – problems such as climate change, environmental and other issues are social problems and therefore require social awareness. We should provoke people – the view that privatisation of space exploration is championed well enough – e.g. Elon Musk, so the centres should be raising challenges. If we don’t do that, we leave the critique of the future to populists. We should ask about various aspects of current technological developments – e.g. if the AI can write articles, poetry, or art. There are issues of sustainability – e.g. lead-free bullets that can be used without contaminating the water table. Or asking questions about 3D printed guns that show the potential of technology. or issues of climate change – in Climate Bureau that was pointing to a discussion about the winners and losers and profiteering from it. Each glimpse to a wider issue, we want people to make people feel.

Herbert Muender (Universum Managements GmbH, Bremen Germany) running a science centre in an area surrounded by technology and science companies and universities. The question is the topic is controversy – do the visitors understand our views? AI was mentioned and need to think about its current impact. For example, how much news is written by journalists: about 65% of news is now written or produced by bots. The understanding of what it means, and what Deep Learning mean? There is an issue that technology is running faster and faster and science centres cannot follow it up. Are they well informed about it or need to raise the information about the dangers and challenges? When it comes to fake news and science, the science centre is a trusted place and we need to consider the pro and cons. In Bremen, they experience fight over animal testing, and the scientist had to be protected by the Police, and the dialogue broke. Issues about anti-vaccination: what shall they do about it if the issue will come up? If we are talking about probabilities of 1% of a problem, how do we explain it to the public? Mentioning that media need to highlight minority position in order to raise their sales – and this is not wrong, it is how the process work and they have to accept it.

Joanna Kalinowska (Copernicus Science Centre, Poland) led the discussion: There are other positions in the spectrum and society have a great ability to absorb science – e.g. the change in the acceptance of surgery. At the London Science Museum – when there is new science, they present multiple views, and if something is controversial, they tend to take them away for a dialogue. Also created a situation that people will have to take a side and protest their side. In Science Gallery Dublin, the issue of climate science – they scientists requested the respect of the public and not their trust. They consider that the scientists don’t have their interests at heart – the one to one conversations are more effective. Another experience is seeing data that is pushed by companies that are driving specific views from companies – they also fund exhibitions and influence the funding. The limitation of the approach of Science Gallery Dublin with a more provocation approach is that beyond the creation of feeling and connections to the topic, it is the need for people to give them knowledge, but don’t link it to action – sometimes pointing to events that are linked to it. Museums and Galleries should be safe space for controversial topics. Discussions about vaccines require a safe space to be discussed and provide the range of information that is coming from it.

We need to consider what the protest is about – for example the French protest about nano-tech was there mostly about the model of industrial development and the role of public research in society. Science is not neutral or value-free. Another view: science centres do not have the expertise to judge on an issue, and they don’t have the ability to set the views. Issues of public

Public engagement with evolution: beyond giraffes and genes

DSC_0736.JPGJustin Dillon (University of Exeter) seeing evolution as a fundamental concept in science and the job is to engage people with a proper understanding of evolution. From our own experience, there are different ways of understanding how it works and what works and what doesn’t work. The session will allow different conversations with panellists.

Tania Jenkins (EvoKE- Evolutionary Knowledge for Everyone | SCNAT) Coordinating the Evoke project, and there is a basic understanding in scientific circles about giraffes and finches, and similar things. In the public imagination, it is about human evolution of religious beliefs. The evoke is trying to demonstrate that it is relevant to everyday life – from vaccines to climate change and biodiversity, The project is about engaging many researchers in information and formal education – COST Action 17127 is dedicated to the citizen engagement with evolution. The discussion that she led was solution-oriented – thinking about analogies: not believing in evolution, but about engaging in something like language. There is a potential interaction with kids and can classify things. There’s a major misconception that evolution is slow, not only antibiotics, and the way things evolve and not the linear view of evolution.

Maartje Kijne (Naturalis Biodiversity Center Leiden) Running a workshop with families, and doing work on their ancestors (in terms of human evolution) and dealing with people that are critical with evolution and with science. The discussion concludes that we recognise critical people – they deny what you’re saying, or ask for a proof. With people who deny things, you can explain the scientific process, seek common ground, point that evolution is not disconnected from faith. No awareness of micro and macro aspects of evolution.

Yamama Naciri (Corvatoire & Jardin botaniques de Genève) Geneticist, and working on the interface between population genetics and in the reconstruction of the trees of life, and specification. In the botanical gardens, they are thinking about the creation of an evolutionary trail – how interaction can increase the participant experience. Discussed in the group that facilitators have an important role, and engage in a discussion. Having evolutionary biologist in the exhibition can allow them to give facts, and less engage too deeply in a discussion and step back when things are too antagonistic. It is really important to explain the rules before the beginning of the workshop or the tour. Can be valuable to work with small children, especially with immigrant communities.

Henrik Sell (Natural History Museum, Aarhus) and would like to discuss how to make an exhibition about evolution – many people that visit the museum believe in evolution, and about 10% reject it – the visitors already believe in the issues that are presented to them. How to engage with people who are not accepting the theory? Should their view present? Especially when it comes to human evolution there are people who express their view that it is incompatible with their religious belief and then shut down. Use examples that are contemporary, e.g. demonstrate with dogs evolution. Provide historical perspective.

Citizen science on trial (parody trial)

DSC_0738.JPGSharon Ament (Museum of London) convened and chaired the session – A case of this magnitude requires a jury, that will make a decision about the case. The question that we are asking: is citizen science a robust model that is going to stay, or is it just a fashion that is going to go away like many other fashions in the past.

Aliki Giannakopoulou (Ellinogermaniki Agogi SA) plaintiff – arguing the citizen science – this case is not about citizen science but about citizen scientists. They are white, male, untrained, and anonymous. In many cases, there are bad intentions, and when it is implemented, it leads to ethical and legal questions. Are we take advantage when it is supposed to be democratic? Is it in a world that so many people are left behind is citizen science creating a barrier? scientists in most citizen science do not even interact with people. Citizen science is serving institutional goals of getting work for free, participants are not engaged in other public engagement activities. Not enough evaluation of citizen science is available, not enough about the ethical issues with it. We live in a time of big data – are people that are downloading an app really contribute to sign? The ICT doesn’t make people into scientists? What about the risks and the security of the participant.

DSCN2816Brad Irwin, (The Natural History Museum, London) defence  – an outdated opening statement – we heard that citizen science is the domain of old white male scientists. One of the most important new forms of science engagement. Will demonstrate that citizen science is contributing to world-class science, and engaging the public that takes part. It is engaging the public in dealing with the big issues that are facing the world. People are involved in collecting the data and finding ways to address these problems. It is here to stay.

DSCN2821The first witness for the persecution: Justin Dillon – is citizen science real science? the answer is No – science is a relatively complex process of systematically building knowledge, and make a model of how the world works, and then experimenting on real-world phenomena. If the prediction of the model matches the experiment, the model is held, and otherwise, it fails. That is what scientists do. Counting the number of eggs in a nest is is not science – looking at galaxies on the screen is not science. Need to remove the science from citizen science. Volunteers who are doing valuable work for scientists who don’t want to pay – citizen slavery or citizen technician.  What about the quality of the data? (laughter from the witness) scientists require so many volunteers is that because of the quality of the data is so poor, and therefore need to have so many of them to get it right. Generally, the quality of the data is poor. Final question: are citizen scientists acknowledge on publications? You would expect them to be on the list of authors – since the scientists are not considering as real scientists, they leave it to a footnote. Using the brochure of Spotteron to point that the people who are doing citizen science don’t look like scientists.

Defence interrogation of the witness: made a claim that people don’t have better things to do with their time – is there something better thing than to contribute to science? Answer – maybe they can’t do something better. The citizen scientists are not scientists and therefore can’t do science – and using the example from a paper by Dillon on “moving from citizen to civic science to address wicked conservation problems“.

Walter Staveloz – are citizen science project inclusive? 80% are white middle-class people, other people are not included. The whole approach is to tell people what to do because scientists know better – this is the deficit model all over again. Need further steps to make people know what they are doing, which a lot of time is not the case. Defence – regular science is white, can we first change the paradigm. Citizen Science can create an illusion that they participate in something meaningful way in science, and many times when people collect data they don’t know what do with it.

Matteo Merzagora – advocate a science that is useful for the whole society. Science needs to be independent and challenge societal values, not like what RRI call for science that is aligned with society. I want to challenge technology development. When we talk about citizen science we assume activists. Actually, citizen science is a trojan horse for market-driven science. The knowledge that Google is producing is based on co-production of knowledge? Is the new way of using us is done in collaboration with citizens, and it is market driven and an example of the issue.

DSCN2823Jim Browton (NHM) – the NHM in London is trying to get with citizen science – believe in the universality of experience and building knowledge. The citizen science project – Microverse is aimed at micro-fauna of cities and help people to discover real health issues that affect communities in the UK. The participation of schools is not in volunteering, so is that citizen science?.

Marianne Achiam – Citizen science can be exclusive – this is not a problem of citizen science, there are projects that are skewed and we should not leave the field. A project in the University of Copenhagen that is focused on ant include a significant outreach. Properly design citizen science can be inclusive indeed. Evaluation is important, and research is more important – we missing knowledge on how citizen science work and how it should work.

DSCN2828Caren Cooper – it is incorrect to say that citizen science is not real science: half of what we know about climate change on migratory birds is from citizen science, also an amateur astronomer who published a paper. There are many types of citizen science: there are citizen science projects that are community driven, and they are hard to quantify.

Prosecution questions: does this make the participants – they are citizen scientists and not scientists. It’s a different way to contribute to science.

Final prosecution statement: propose to ban large project and focus on the small projects, be really participatory and stop calling it citizen science. Defence: citizen science – we heard from people that are writing one thing in the trial but write up something.

The verdict: the case for the defence, to be clear the jury of the opinion is that citizen science is important, but the jury wants to say that citizen science should be inclusive of all communities and need to work to do it so. The science element should be robust. The citizen bit needs to be participatory and meaningful.

Multi-country science engagement programmes

This was a short session (45 minutes) that discussed four examples of multi-country projects in the area of science communication. Details about the session are here. The session was in a short Pecha Kucha style, with 15 slides that progress every 20 seconds, and I’ve used it to describe Doing It Together Science (DITOs) is a 3-year project, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme, that is aimed to increase awareness of and participation in citizen science across Europe and beyond. It is focused on communication, coordination, and support of citizen science activities. Therefore, the project promotes the sharing of best practices among existing networks for a greater public and policy engagement with citizen science through a wide range of events and activities.


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Professor of GIScience, University College London

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