Thursday, April 3, 2014

Analytical Summary: Moore's "Powered by the People"

In her piece "Powered by the People: Scientific Authority in Participatory Science,"Moore develops three analytical "heuristics" to complicate and explore the concept of participatory science. As participatory science becomes more the norm, Moore seeks to identify the complicated forms that concept takes. Moreover, these various forms reflect on, as well as impact, our understanding of scientific authority and power.

Moore defines authority as "the ability to command power and influence" (p. 300), and identifies the sources of scientific authority as rooted in:

  • "the idea that science ultimately benefits all people ('progress')" 
  • "competence in science requires years of specialized training" 
  • "it is a unified social activity based on common methodological and theoretical bases" 
  • "scientific knowledge is, after vetting by scientists over time, ultimately objective, independent of political, moral, and social influences" 
Participatory research, she points out, disrupts each of these roles of science. Cultural shifts challenged all forms of authority, including scientific, and legislative changes mandated the inclusion of affected parties in research, especially environmental research. But Moore's point is that not all participatory research has the same effect. Each of her three forms of participatory research - activists, professionals, and amateurs - looks at the driving motivator behind the research and how this specifically complicates scientific and moral authority. 

Activist-initiated research "[puts] front and center the ways in which social structural relationships provide some groups with more benefits from science than others" (p. 307). The addition of new possibilities for evidence challenges science's "monopoly" on knowledge production. The way scientists try to term these activists, however, reveals the tensions. 

Professional-initiated participatory research is often found in university-local group collaborations. However, often in this form of research, questions over power relationships emerge with questions of authority and access. Ultimately, she points out, "the participation of nonscientists raises an important question: why isn't all science engaged with nonscientist stakeholders?" (p. 310). 

Amateurs take two forms in her analysis: marginal amateur and vocational amateur. Using creationists as her example, Moore identifies the marginal as those who use particular tools from science to defend a particular viewpoint that might not be accepted within the mainstream scientific community. They bring into question the idea of science as "a coherent whole" (p. 316). Vocational scientists, on the other hand, are regular contributors often through data collection and/or labor support, and challenge the concepts of a necessary specialized training and objectivity as a norm (as most vocational scientists are rather passionate fans). 

The different roles that Moore has identified do, in fact, seem to provide useful ways to wrap our minds around the different ways science and the public are talked about, though their application to situations must also be limited. As Moore points out in her conclusion, "Ideal types can draw attention to analytical points, but they cannot do justice to the complexity of participatory science in practice" (p. 317). Still, more examples for each of these ideal types would help flush out the nuance within each of these archetypes she describes and, perhaps, further push our understanding of the boundaries of science. Moreover, in each example she seems to find a successful example without necessarily demonstrating what happens in an unsuccessful example. 

These analytical tools are also questionable in terms of structural versus particular, context dependent situations. In each of these situations, it seems like numerous factors, especially the personalities involved, will play important roles into how their message is accepted. Moore gets at this, in a veiled way, through her discussion of power dynamics and resources of participants. Even more, as we discussed earlier with interdisciplinary programs, "stars" and "connectors" (Rhoten 2004) are important factors to understanding success of particular programs. This may carry over into individualized scenarios. 

This isn't to discount Moore's larger argument about its impact on science. Rather, looking in more details at each unique situation might give us a more nuanced perspective on how non-science participants understood their role or how their roles changed and complicated over time (as Epstein (1996) found). This makes for a perhaps richer understanding of how scientific authority is a dynamic process involving numerous actors. 

1. How do we think of scientific authority today? Do we have a more porous boundary between scientists and the "public" today?
2. Do we have a vocabulary that could make possible total radical changes to scientific authority?
3. What might be lost in the challenges to scientific authority? Is it always a positive?
4. Is science different from other forms of knowledge construction? For instance, do social scientists or lawyers exert the same authority as scientists? Why or why not? How have their relationships been challenged over time?
5. How does this article complicate our understanding of Mode 2 science and/or academic capitalism?

Author Background
Dr. Kelly Moore is an Associate Professor in the School of Sociology at Loyola University Chicago. She received her B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from University of Arizona. Her research centers on science, technology, and moral systems, exploring issues of themes of inequality.

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