Friday, April 4, 2014

Notes from April 4th discussion


Introduction the readings on public science

  • Theme from the WID/Morgridge/Town Center project.
  • Noah Feinstein started asking questions about who is the public? what do we imagine their engagement?
  • This weeks readings are built around questions of public science and the future of our university.


Nowotny et al

  • "Agora" is a space where democratic, economic, policy, public opinion constraints all come together to constrain or enable science in one way.
    • instead of just looking at constraints along one dimension, the framework for Agora
  • Risk-laden society: e.g. scientists have been equivocal on global warming and publics have pushed back against the uncertainty.
  • Anticipatory awareness: because science is embedded in the agora, the scientists may come to anticipate the needs of the public.
  • Main critique:
    • Mertonian ideals were pervasive before some point, but now we're in a totally different setting where publics are more engaged with science.
    • Daniel suggests we have to compare current situation to something, but maybe it's not good to compare to an unrealistic, idealized moment of WWII science.

Bucchi & Neresini

  • Deficit model: "the public" lacks knowledge or skills to appreciate science.
    • Once we give the public the knowledge and skills they will like science.
    • Bucchi & Neresini push back against this model because:
      • Measuring scientific literacy is hard because science and public audiences have different values. E.g. the Chernobyl fallout and sheep herders had different conclusions than experts based on their local knowledge of soil acidity.
  • Other models of public science.
    • Legal definitions of science for patent purposes.
    • Open source movements in software.
    • NGOs promote public participation: are they courting controversy for institutional goals rather than good faith engagement with science.
  • Spontaneity and Intensity
    • see the image.
    • Authors warn against seeing different engagement models as a progression from one stage to the next.
  • Is there an assumption in all these readings that scientists don't want public participation?
  • Will experts disappear? Authors say probably not, because theoretical physics.
    • Brings up questions about citizen scientists, the publics, and experts.
    • E.g. dissertation in geography about arboretum where volunteers suggested changes to a research protocol. E.g. Jill Harrison's work on exposure to
  • Multiple readings for this week reference Epstein's AIDS activist book Impure Science.
    • Daniel paraphrased, "The NIH source said that he would put activists against any of the grad students at the best schools."
    • Double-blind, placebo tests were changed to use pharmokinetic methods so all HIV patients could get the experimental drugs.
    • Is this example important just because it is an outlier in the world of citizen science? E.g. DNR projects were more a PR boost instead of good science.
    • AIDS activists were rich, white men (and they knew doctors), so they had lots of privilege going into the scientific work.
    • Daniel suggested that there is distinction between stakeholders (e.g. AIDS activists) or hobbyists (e.g. SETI or folding at home).

not about the articles per se

  • June asked "what is better science?" Is the push for citizen science to gather better or more data? Or is just a way to placate (sorry I'm cynical) the public because we live in a democratic society where science funding comes from democratic institutions?
    • "Citizens as sensors" e.g. counting birds.
    • Crowdsourcing, e.g. the historical document collection. Connected to the class given by Wilko Graf von Hardenberg
    • Is science different from humanities like history or art? Maybe citizen humanities research is more valid.
    • E.g. at DNR, motivation for citizen science was to deal with budget cuts.
    • Discussion around undergraduate lab assistants counting fruit flies or washing glassware; undegrads are analogous to citizen scientists.
  • Daniel summarizing Impure Culture
    • Getting access wasn't as hard as you might guess.
    • Scientists like to learn about their own labs; they aren't as suspicious as are we led to believe in STS literature.
    • Surprising that the current WID project has no hesitation from labs to have social science done on them.


  • Scientiffic authority is based on four things:
    • benefits all people
    • requires long training to be a scientists
    • common methods and theories
    • after vetting is ultimately objective
  • Participatory research challenges any or all aspect of scientiffic authority.
  • Three types of participatory research:
    • activist-initiated
    • professional-initiated
    • amateurs
      • vocational amateurs
      • marginal amateurs; Moore's e.g. is climate change deniers.
  • Not clear how participatory action research, e.g. No Safe Place, is or is not exactly the same as Moore's concept of participatory research.
  • Moore is not a realitivist, but when authority is no longer fixed, then it starts to get harder to say why participatory research like the AIDS activists are good but climate change deniers are bad.


  • This is the only reading this week where researchers directly interviewed scientists.
  • Scientists mostly deployed the deficit model in their explanations.
    • They see their primary role is to educate the public.
    • Alternatives were brought up about the possibility of two way communication between publics.
  • "Publics" are constructed by the scientists; and then their construction determines communications to the "public."
    • Example of medical doctors having less of a deficit model of communication because they have more face-to-face time with people.
  • Do communication activities at the WID fit with Davies's analysis?

Kinchy & Kleinman

  • E.g. GMO labeling debate.
    • Even lacking science for potential harms, there may be valued reasons for labeling food (not supporting Monsanto).
  • Mythes of objectivity and impartial science.
  • Predetermined political goals are supported through cherry-picking the scientific findings that support the political goal.
    • The outcome is that some "scientific facts" become reified and influence future research.
  • Stacked committees, Technocracy, and democratic science.
    • Is there a good solution? and realistic? This is hard.
  • Allen Hunter is thanked. Hunter has been opposed to this type of writing because it gives support to partisans for "democratizing" science but society is better served with science holding out the myth of impartiality (could we say objective?).

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