Participation and science governance

22/03/2010

This introduction presents the essays belonging to the JCOM special issue on User-led and peer-to-peer science. It also draws a first map of the main problems we need to investigate when we face this new and emerging phenomenon. Web tools are enacting and facilitating new ways for lay people to interact with scientists or to cooperate with each other, but cultural and political changes are also at play. What happens to expertise, knowledge production and relations between scientific institutions and society when lay people or non-scientists go online and engage in scientific activities? From science blogging and social networks to garage biology and open tools for user-led research, P2P science challenges many assumptions about public participation in scientific knowledge production. And it calls for a radical and perhaps new kind of openness of scientific practices towards society.

22/03/2010

In this essay, I argue that the rise of personal genomics is technologically, economically, and most importantly, discursively tied to the rise of network subjectivity, an imperative of which is an understanding of self as always already a subject in the network. I illustrate how personal genomics takes full advantage of social media technology and network subjectivity to advertise a new way of doing research that emphasizes collaboration between researchers and its members. Sharing one’s genetic information is considered to be an act of citizenship, precisely because it is good for the network. Here members are encouraged to think of themselves as dividuals, or nodes, in the network and their actions acquire value based on that imperative. Therefore, citizen bioscience is intricately tied, both in discourse and practices, to the growth of the network in the age of new media.

22/03/2010

In this commentary, we collected three essays from authors coming from different perspectives. They analyse the problem of power, participation and cooperation in projects of production of scientific knowledge held by users or peers: persons who do not belong to the institutionalised scientific community. These contributions are intended to give a more political and critical point of view on the themes developed and analysed in the research articles of this JCOM special issue on Peer-to-peer and user-led science. Michel Bauwens, Christopher Kelty and Mathieu O'Neil write about different aspects of P2P science. Nevertheless, the three worlds they delve into share the "aggressively active" attitude of the citizens who inhabit them. Those citizens claim to be part of the scientific process, and they use practices as heterogeneous as online peer-production of scientific knowledge, garage biology practiced with a hacker twist, or the crowdsourced creation of an encyclopedia page. All these claims and practices point to a problem in the current distribution of power. The relations between experts and non-experts are challenged by the rise of peer-to-peer science. Furthermore, the horizontal communities which live inside and outside the Net are not frictionless. Within peer-production mechanisms, the balance of power is an important issue which has to be carefully taken into account.

09/03/2010

The online world constitutes an ever-expanding store and incubator for scientific information. It is also a social space where forms of creative interaction engender new ways of approaching science. Critically, the web is not only a repository of knowledge but a means with which to experience, interact and even supplement this bank. Social Network Sites are a key feature of such activity. This paper explores the potential for Social Network Sites (SNS) as an innovative pedagogical tool that precipitate the ‘incidental learner’. I suggest that these online spaces, characterised by informality, open-access, user input and widespread popularity, offer a potentially indispensable means of furthering the public understanding of science; and significantly one that is rooted in dialogue.

11/12/2009

This study explores the presence of science programs on the Flemish public broadcaster between 1997 and 2002 in terms of length, science domains, target groups, production mode, and type of broadcast. Our data show that for nearly all variables 2000 can be marked as a year in which the downward spiral for science on television was reversed. These results serve as a case study to discuss the influence of public policy and other possible motives for changes in science programming, as to gain a clearer insight into the factors that influence whether and how science programs are broadcast on television. Three factors were found to be crucial in this respect: 1) public service philosophy, 2) a strong governmental science policy providing structural government support, and 3) the reflection of a social discourse that articulates a need for more hard sciences.

03/06/2009

Standards and Good Practice guidelines provide explicit criteria for maintaining quality and integrity in science. But research practices are now openly questioned. I defend the idea that the tension between norms and practices in scientific writing must be addressed primarily by the scientific community if quality of the sources in the process of science communication is to be guaranteed. This paper provides evidence that scientific writing and researchers’writing practices do not reflect expected quality criteria. Evidence is based on four complementary analyses of: (i) communication manuals, journals’ recommendations to authors and the norms they convey (ii) feedback given by reviewers (ii) interviews and questionnaires (iv) researchers’ written productions and writing practices. I show that researchers’ writing and communication practices are very often in total contradiction with the norms and standards the scientific community has established. Unless researchers can improve and guarantee quality and integrity of the sources, the whole system of science communication will be threatened.

19/12/2008

The knowledge deficit model with regard to the public has been severely criticized in the sociology of the public perception of science. However, when dealing with public decisions regarding scientific matters, political and scientific institutions insist on defending the deficit model. The idea that only certified experts, or those with vast experience, should have the right to participate in decisions can bring about problems for the future of democracies. Through a type of "topography of ideas", in which some concepts from the social studies of science are used in order to think about these problems, and through the case study of public participation in the elaboration of the proposal of discounts in the fees charged for rural water use in Brazil, we will try to point out an alternative to the deficit model. This alternative includes a "minimum comprehension" of the scientific matters involved in the decision on the part of the participants, using criteria judged by the public itself.

19/12/2008

The importance the Brazilian government has given in the last few years to the dissemination of science points out the necessity of a more discerning analysis about the establishment of this subject on the public agenda and the related public policies undertaken. This work tries to contribute to the debate as an inquiry about the policies to popularize and disseminate Science and Technology (S&T) established by the Science and Technology Popularization and Dissemination Department, which was created in 2004. In order to do so, theoretical references from Public Policy Analysis, the Studies of Science, Technology and Society (SSTS), and Public Communication of Science are used. Furthermore, we analyze some of the results from research on Science and Technology Understanding carried out in Brazil in 2006. As a final point, this associated approach aims at identifying some of the limiting factors related to science dissemination actions in Brazil.

19/12/2008

In a refereed journal in the food and agriculture sector, papers were tracked over a five-year period during the introduction of electronic submissions. Papers originated in the Americas and Pacific region and were processed in Canada. Acceptance times for revised papers were reduced (P < 0.001) to 59% of the original, from 156.5 ± 69.1 days to 92.8 ± 57.5 days. But the start of electronic submission coincided with a change in the geographical origin of papers, with papers from Anglophone countries changing from a 61% majority to a 42% minority. It is possible that submissions from non-Anglophone sources were facilitated, thus creating challenges to the traditional Anglophone reviewer population.

19/09/2008

Global changes such as urbanisation, new ways of travelling, new information and communication technologies are causing radical changes in the relationships between human beings and the environment we are both a part of and depend on. Relationships which – according to a multiplicity of researches in various fields – are crucially important. Science education and the language of science risk exacerbating a tendency towards objectifying nature and inhabiting a virtual reality, thereby rendering ever more tenuous the dialogue between people and the natural world. This article examines two approaches to science and language – as products or as processes – and suggests how awareness of the dynamic relationship between language and knowledge can help restore that vital dialogue.

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