This week we had a seminar and lecture with Elena Aranova. In preparation for the seminar we read three of her pieces, but ended up discussing mostly about her ideas presented in “Citizen Seismology, Stalinist Science, and Vladimir Mannar’s Cold Wars”. Within this piece, the concept of citizen science, among other things, is introduced and explored.
I find this concept incredibly interesting. It presents a multitude of dichotomies. It is an attempt of untrained people to partake in a highly trained field. It is a term that carries with it all of the weight of the political language of ‘citizen’ in a phrasing that shows its rightful separation from science.
To me, it seems strange to think of citizen science as less valuable than traditional, published science. Why do we think about it in this way? Well, it must be because we assume that citizen scientists would not have the same capacity as trained, highly educated, ‘real’ scientists to undertake scientific exploration without deep bias or with adequate adherence to the scientific method, or other such shortcomings. I would like to briefly argue that this assumption is best not to be made– that citizen scientists can be just as trustworthy and useful as highly trained and educated scientists.
First, I would like to shed light on the inherent bias and closed-mindedness of the ‘real’ scientific community. One of the main pillars of science as we use it today is the publication process. Projects and research, if published, must be repeatable and cited with sound sources. This is all wonderful, but it brings a whole new variable into the equation: funding. Who pays for the publishing? And who pays for the research that happens before its ever published? Well, with this system, it is whoever has the money, and whoever has the money chooses what is researched. In my exploration of environmental justice and other environmental issues regarding subjects ranging from public health to climate change, I have been confronted time and time again with examples of ‘real’ scientists who are unable to find funding or interest from universities or labs to find solutions to very real and pressing issues in our world. To me, this starts to make the entire basis that the scientific industry is based upon seem a little shaky.
Second, I would like to highlight the success that can be found from ‘untrained’ citizen scientists. For this, I think that indigenous populations and traditional medicine are two prime examples of how science is accessible and real for more than just graduate students and PhDs. For thousands of years, humans have been using the scientific method, they just didn’t quite know it. Through observation and trial and error, indigenous peoples have figured out quite brilliantly how to live off of the land they are a part of– they know what foods to grow and when and what is edible and what is not. They know of natural remedies for ailments and weather patterns and the physics necessary to build complex structures. Belittling citizen science shows how indigenous knowledge is not valued in the developed world.