Citizen Science

Recently the following sign was put up in Mölnlycke where I live: "Barnmarknad lördag 9 april i Furuhällskolan"

It's kind of tricky to translate, due to how easily we can create new nouns in Sweden by putting to words together. The sign advertise a fair where items to be used by children are sold. Barn=child or children and Marknad=market.

However, for me with my strange imagination and inclination to play with words, there are other possible (although not very likely) interpretations. It could be a market where they sell children, like a slave market. Or it could be a market where the market stands are managed by children, similar to a farmers' market. Or it could be a market where everything is adjusted to children as a customer group.

I see the same dilemma in the concept of Citizen Science where the debate is still on-going regarding the definition. Should it be science for the citizens, or science conducted by citizens and to what extent?
From Vandalorum 2013
At the 2nd General Assembly of the European Citizen Science Association in 2014, Lucy Robinson and Jade Cawthray made an attempt to present ten principles of citizen science and a lively debate followed. According to to this blogpost, more effort appears to be needed to define citizen science, as well as “citizen” and ”scientist”.

Even the Wikipedia includes a number of possible definitions for example
  • The participation of nonscientists in the process of gathering data according to specific scientific protocols and in the process of using and interpreting that data.
  • The engagement of nonscientists in true decision-making about policy issues that have technical or scientific components.
  • The engagement of research scientists in the democratic and policy process.
I think what is often missing is the reason why citizens should be involved. Sometimes they are used as cheap labour, as we described in our report "Open Innovation - A Handbook for Researchers" although perhaps not so bluntly. In his book "Engaged Scholarship" Andrew van de Ven argues for making strategic decisions regarding what partners to include in a research project during its various phases in order to increase the quality: Research Design, Theory Building, Problem Formulation, and Problem Solving. Other reasons can be to create transparency for the tax payers or to provide a foundation for research utilisation.
From New England 2012
I'm definitely for involving citizens for all the reasons above. However, I think we as researchers should also engage in defining and to some extent defending our profession. In Sweden, pre-school teachers tell the kids that they do scientific research when they go out in the woods counting ants unrelated to any scientific research project. I'm not really comfortable with that usage, although it might of course make more kids interested in science. Let's hope it makes them good citizens as well.

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