The Citizen in Citizen Science

Michael Tippet Room - Staff House - Third Floor
Thursday 7 February 2019 (09:00-17:00)

This workshop has an initial guest list, but if you are interested in attending please email The Institute of Advanced Studies.

Citizen Science

WORKSHOP LEADER: Dr Vanessa Heggie, Institute of Applied Health Research

With the current emphasis on impact and outreach, and a new narrative about the need for scientifically literate populations, citizen science has become a significant form of scientific practice.  The search for good practice in this area has begun to include more critical, and interdisciplinary voices; but while there have been a small number of major European grants awarded for the study of, rather than practice of, citizen science, they have not so far included researchers from Birmingham University, despite our significant and interdisciplinary expertise in this area.

This workshop will push beyond the current analysis of citizen science by bringing together all the constituents involved in the practice: practitioners, participants and critics.  Uniquely, it will bring together people who are engaging in activities that are either the ‘next generation’ of citizen science or who are undertaking collaborative scientific research but whose lay participants are not always considered ‘citizens’, and are excluded from the more traditional study of citizen science.  Many of the archetypal citizen science projects require participants to be (computer) literate, to have significant spare time, maybe their own transport to and from study sites, and so on.  Given the increasing importance of Impact in the academy, the ability to design successful collaborative research projects which engage in outreach that goes beyond the ‘usual suspects’ – the demographic groups already engaged with university public events and activities – is crucial to the production of socially valuable research.

Further, the lack of diversity in research, particularly surveys and ‘crowd-sourced’ data, has measurable negative impacts on its outputs.  This workshop will therefore include scholars who study the ‘quantified self’ – research that involves individuals collecting data about themselves, their bodies, even their emotions.  While this work poses obvious questions about privacy and data handling (for example the tension between citizen genetics studies and the legal obligation to disclose health information to medical insurers), it also touches on the ways in which ‘neutral’ scientific theories and algorithms can replicate inequality in society (for example, the recent failures of facial recognition software to correctly identify non-white faces, because so few non-white faces were recruited as ‘training models’ for the AI). It also includes researchers who work with disadvantaged and excluded groups, and groups whose capacity for engagement and informed consent is sometimes questioned, e.g. those with learning disabilities, or young children.

This workshop will therefore be an interdisciplinary interrogation of the word ‘citizen’ in the phrase ‘citizen science’.  What is the difference between a participatory citizen, and an experimental subject?  Who counts as a ‘citizen’ in the design of, and recruitment to, scientific projects? Who might currently be excluded from scientific citizenship, and what is the relationship between ‘scientific citizenships’ and citizenship more broadly conceived?  How can open research practices empower, and disempower, populations?