During her lecture, Elena Aronova explained the differences between the progression of history and science in the Soviet Union and the West. The professor from U.C. Santa Barbara also joined our discussion group in class, and we covered a variety of topics from some of her writings. The progression and the race for scientific knowledge was largely altered by technology, and I wanted to unify the two conversations to bring up a new point about how technology has altered how we gather data for research.
Before I start this blog, I was to preface by saying that in what we read of Professor Aronova’s writings, she lumped the social sciences in with the natural sciences for the most part. There were few points were she made a distinction between the two for the purpose of explaining the history of the sciences. With that being said, one of her articles included the narrative of “citizen seismology,” a specific example of citizenship science. This was a movement to encourage citizens, especially children and young adults, to be involved with the progression of science, the collection of data, and the consumption of “real” science (as opposed to non-quantifiable science, I suppose.) This was easier in a country with a communist regime because it, of course, had the support of the state.
In her article, Aronova says, “While data produced by nonprofessionals were increasingly marginalized in seismological centers of calculation, the demand for volunteers increased as seismology entered the new world…” It is no secret that science has largely been an exclusionary, elitist group in the past. In the same way that many professional writers turned away from anyone being to post articles and blogs to the Internet, many scientists turned away from any citizen being able to draw conclusions from gathering data. The scientific community wanted to keep the hierarchy (that kept scientists as mysterious geniuses at the top of the chain) firmly in place.
How could scientists and researchers keep the massive amounts of data coming in from people across the country without allowing the public to draw their own conclusions? While citizenship science has many benefits, including giving citizens a sense of purpose and pride in aiding in research, scientists moved away from that model. The age of technology allowed scientists to have access to data from computers, cell phones, and social media without the direct knowledge or active involvement from the individuals in the community.
Every time you click on an advertisement, marketing researchers have that data. Snapchat created a story of the solar eclipse earlier this year by compiling photos taken by users on the app; astrologists were able to quickly gather photographed data about the eclipse from all over the country simply by gathering posts from the Internet. Every single action we do on the Internet is gathered as data to aid some research. The only difference now is that everyday citizens no long get to play an active role in retrieving or reporting the data, they have no concept nor control of how that data is used, and they don’t get the chance to draw their own conclusions from the data.