Citizen Science 2019: opening talk “The Power (Relations) of Citizen Science.”

The first day of the conference started with Angel Hjarding, the conference chair opened the conference, with over 800 participants. The conference was strongly supported by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Welcomes addresses came from the North Carolina Secretary of Natural and Cultural Resources, Susi Hamilton who highlighted the state support to the natural sciences museum and its citizen science activities, and from the Dean of the College of Natural Resources in NC State University Mary Watzin. NC State publicly engaging with citizen science including 6 faculty positions. There was a recognition of the ownership of the land by American Indians – many local tribes lived in the area of North Carolina – there are 8 recognised tribes.

A keynote from Max Liboiron, from Memorial University in Saint Johns, Newfoundland, “The Power (Relations) of Citizen Science.”

Her version of the keynote talk is available here.

As a Marine Scientist she is running a laboratory on marine micro-plastic, and running a lab that is feminist and anti-colonialist, the lab is doing environmental justice work without appropriating it. A very diverse lab and the issue is how you do it. Also doing research with people who are not involved in science in a way that matter to them. The values are being from Mary O’Brien (1993) on the politics of science – Being a scientist means taking sides. She points out that political decisions are being made in science: who you work with, where the money come from etc. Science is not value free. It got elements of politics – getting data at all costs, entrepreneurial activities etc. Her focus is on humility and equity. Everything is about power – making scientific questions, deciding who to work with or not, some ways of doing thing flourish and some not – power is in the infrastructure. Power is noticeable when you disagree with comments. We need to think of the difference between equality and equity – the first is about treating everyone in the same way, and equity is about paying attention to different people. For example, there is a very specific protocol from the UN Environment on how to collect data – which, for example, assume sieving sand, but that doesn’t work in New Foundland. There are different things that don’t work – you can’t rely on delivery. Need to consider new protocols that are locally relevant. Need to consider technologies that can be built from available material in the rural area. Can’t rely on electricity or cell phone, Need to be less than $50. Equity is not universal and they won’t necessarily move to other places and fit other communities. The guidelines are also that anyone can do it, and don’t need to check with the scientists – make yourself obsolete. In action – the usual instrument for checking for marine microplastics which costs $3500, and therefore not relevant for other places. Instead, they build an instrument for $12. In terms of capacity thinking about communities, many people assume that deficit model and it is lots of times a category mistake – understanding things in the way that they are. Her first participatory citizen science experience was when she worked for the first time and started with fisherman (prefer term for man and women) and on the island that she researched, people want to see the temperature changes. At some point, the fisherman wanted to see the data, and looked at the data and started to tell things. Fishermen are very good judgement loggers, and they know how to understand the information including the catches and others. The fishermen are knowing what the data. We can say that “how western science is finally catching up to indigenous knowledge”. Equity is contextual.

Humility – modesty and humility are confused. Modesty is about not stating how important you are. Humility: people are looking over our place, doing the work, cleaning and humility are about recognising the networks and the contributions of these people. In the area of science, it can express itself in papers such as the paper Liboiron et al. “Equity in Author Order” (2017) and that came from. Understanding the full network of people that are contributing to scientific work will end with very large – noticing the effort of cleaning the lab. It is possible to have papers with 300 papers. Or a paper with 900 undergraduate students who done crowdsourced DNA sequencing. But something is being lost in the process and this creates tensions. A principle that she had is that she feels that everyone need to be paid, whenever they do science – e,g, Virginia Eubanks who pointed – democratizing [science] is an endless meeting, so pay me for my time”. The reason that she doesn’t associate with citizen science is that it is based on sacrifice economy where the benefits accrue to the more privileged people. When she works with a community, she hires someone from the community as a fully paid member of the lab that will be involved in the project in a completely fair way. Engaging with local people, when working locally, the local connection was also helping the people who contributed fish to know what was discovered. Having local people that are involved in the project making it a full packed meeting, and the community meetings are community peer review. The community have the right to stop the publication. This happened in anthropology where there is refusal – ethnographic refusal is allowing people to object to the research in their area. The scientist has a stake, but the community have rights. So far, haven’t been told not to publish. We don’t know what are the harms and benefits to communities and they have the right to decide what happen to the knowledge. Some knowledge is not best going to academia but should go to the fisheman union or maternity wards.

Citizen science has a special place and potential to make things different in science. It can be its own thing to do humility better, equity better, and engagement. The sacrifice economy of citizen science is understood mostly as volunteering and doesn’t mean that it can’t be used in different contexts.

There are already set methods and projects and framework, need to think what is the domain and how you are able to change the system.


2 thoughts on “Citizen Science 2019: opening talk “The Power (Relations) of Citizen Science.”

  1. Were there discussions about the ‘rights’ of non-human species? The term here is ‘fishers’ and sometimes ‘anglers’ is used but more likely for recreational fishing.


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