Dick talk – scientific and civic engagement in citizen science: time to talk about societal effects? Talking from a Swedish perspective to explore if the issues are generic. There are some disturbing issues – paradoxes, inequalities, and gender issues. Democracy: Infrastructures, how trust plays out and how CS is used at “the limits of the political?”.
Sweden is a Popperian dream come true – secular, equal, high trust, open, scientised. Meritocratic in terms of stability and mobility. IT’s a technocratic society which was critiqued in the 1960s. Already in 1891 – science is seen as a political conservative view of keeping. Sweden is linked to many values. The current Swedish research bill recognises public participation in the research process and recognises the reason for it is for impact, increasing confidence and trust. So about the third mission of a university. The current bill from 2020/21 is highlighting citizen science – expecting to see it in different national research programmes. The government want citizens’ involvement in these research programmes. Technical infrastructure for CS is established. Digital technical infrastructure from 2000 and they are also linked to museums and universities. They are used for decision making in Sweden, about environmental issues at different levels. The issues are entangled and complex.
Protect the forest – in 2021 an environmental organisation Skydda filed a legal complaint against the Sweedish Forest Agency for not carrying out species inventories for Red Listed species. The members of the organisation reported observations. They used the Aarhus convention to decide the court case for the organisation. The work a question: is this a new form of legal order? Is low and international conventions exclude the role of public authorities and democracy in conflict about biodiversity? There is a problem that taking out democratic decisions about it – it’s political failures, which “you can’t vote against” a legal obligation. There is a conflict line for democracy and CS.
The NGOs will say that it’s a response to political possibilities and using data to represent us through courts. Secondly, there are issues of infrastructures. The data observation system for biological recording (Artportalen) and the Sweedish Bird surveys. The Bird system is about numbers instead of varieties. There is also an infrastructure for GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums). Using AI and other techniques.
An analysis demonstrated age and gender bias in Artportalen. There is a gap in all taxa. The database requires providing a lot of personal information. Artportalen is having cultural aspects: competitive, which is a central organising value of the epistemic cultures of CS. Collecting the rare and the unusual valued – so is it the male gaze. There are epistemic differences in collecting observations in different infrastructures – there are differences in the way that different sources are associated with the way they are handled by courts. Different citizen data are pitted against each other in courts. Inequalities also lead to the super aggregated level and power tensions are absorbed and made invisible in big data practices.
We need to think about infrastructures, gender, inequalities, and bias – we are creating an epistemic monoculture of what is created. are we reproducing inequalities or mirroring social structure.
Trust is another issue – There is a suspicion about the data in the way that civil servants view the data. If badly tagged observations are creating suspicion. The use of Artportalen by civil servants in the government authorities who are enacting environmental governance. Trust in observation is only from some observers. There is a certain performance that needs to be followed in order to be noted and valued. In spite of mass mobilisation and abundance of data – the trust is made only over time and through personal interactions. Trust is more concentrated in a core set of actors and depends on interpersonal relations.
Political and epistemic representation. There is an epistemic representation of citizen knowledge and political and epistemic representation. CS as activism, as a form of discontent with political representation in the context of biodiversity and climate. They are seeking epistemic representation – such as the red list and using courts to drive change. It is argued to be undemocrataic – while others are seeing it as a necessity. Using the trust in science.
Science was always distributed knowledge in the way it works. It is an old tradition, but we distributing it outside the scientific community. Science is not democratic and it generates imbalances and inequalities (Derek Price). It has politics and we need to recognise it. Although CS is seen as a tool for mitigation of inequalities but they exist in citizen science.
What makes engagements in citizen science – CS moves issues of democracy, infrastructure, trust, and representation in new ways – make them visible and we need to think about what it means for engagement.