The new issue of Journal of Science Communication is now online (Open Access, so you can download all PDFs for free). Apart from the article on blogging that we already dissected at length, this issue has a number of interesting articles, reviews, perspectives and papers:
Users and peers. From citizen science to P2P science:
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.
This study examines the nature of peer-to-peer interactions in public online comment spaces. From a theoretical perspective of boundary-work and expertise, the comments posted in response to three health sciences news articles from a national newspaper are explored to determine whether both scientific and personal expertise are recognized and taken up in discussion. Posts were analysed for both explicit claims to expertise and implicit claims embedded in discourse. The analysis suggests that while both scientific and personal expertise are proffered by commenters, it is scientific expertise that is privileged. Those expressing scientific expertise receive greater recognition of the value of their posts. Contributors seeking to share personal expertise are found to engage in scientisation to position themselves as worthwhile experts. Findings suggest that despite the possibilities afforded by online comments for a broader vision of what peer-to-peer interaction means, this possibility is not realized.
There is a wealth of medical information now available to the public through various sources that are not necessarily controlled by medical or healthcare professionals. In Australia there has been a strong movement in the health consumer arena of consumer-led sharing and production of medical information and in healthcare decision-making. This has led to empowerment of the public as well as increased knowledge-sharing. There are some successful initiatives and strategies on consumer- and public-led sharing of medical information, including the formation of specialised consumer groups, independent medical information organisations, consumer peer tutoring, and email lists and consumer networking events. With well-organised public initiatives and networks, there tends to be fairly balanced information being shared. However, there needs to be caution about the use of publicly available scientific information to further the agenda of special-interest groups and lobbying groups to advance often biased and unproven opinions or for scaremongering. With the adoption of more accountability of medical research, and the increased public scrutiny of private and public research, the validity and quality of medical information reaching the public is achieving higher standards.
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.
From contributions of astronomy data and DNA sequences to disease treatment research, scientific activity by non-scientists is a real and emergent phenomenon, and raising policy questions. This involvement in science can be understood as an issue of access to publications, code, and data that facilitates public engagement in the research process, thus appropriate policy to support the associated welfare enhancing benefits is essential. Current legal barriers to citizen participation can be alleviated by scientists’ use of the “Reproducible Research Standard,” thus making the literature, data, and code associated with scientific results accessible. The enterprise of science is undergoing deep and fundamental changes, particularly in how scientists obtain results and share their work: the promise of open research dissemination held by the Internet is gradually being fulfilled by scientists. Contributions to science from beyond the ivory tower are forcing a rethinking of traditional models of knowledge generation, evaluation, and communication. The notion of a scientific “peer” is blurred with the advent of lay contributions to science raising questions regarding the concepts of peer-review and recognition. New collaborative models are emerging around both open scientific software and the generation of scientific discoveries that bear a similarity to open innovation models in other settings. Public engagement in science can be understood as an issue of access to knowledge for public involvement in the research process, facilitated by appropriate policy to support the welfare enhancing benefits deriving from citizen-science.
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.
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.
How will peer to peer infrastructures, and the underlying intersubjective and ethical relational model that is implied by it, affect scientific practice? Are peer-to-peer forms of cooperation, based on open and free input of voluntary contributors, participatory processes of governance, and universal availability of the output, more productive than centralized alternatives? In this short introduction, Michel Bauwens reviews a number of open and free, participatory and commons oriented practices that are emerging in scientific research and practice, but which ultimately point to a more profound epistemological revolution linked to increased participatory consciousness between the scientist and his human, organic and inorganic research material.
This essay reflects on three figures that can be used to make sense of the changing nature of public participation in the life sciences today: outlaws, hackers and Victorian gentlemen. Occasioned by a symposium held at UCLA (Outlaw Biology: Public Participation in the Age of Big Bio), the essay introduces several different modes of participation (DIY Bio, Bio Art, At home clinical genetics, patient advocacy and others) and makes three points: 1) that public participation is first a problem of legitimacy, not legality or safety; 2) that public participation is itself enabled by and thrives on the infrastructure of mainstream biology; and 3) that we need a new set of concepts (other than inside/outside) for describing the nature of public participation in biological research and innovation today.
Online knowledge production sites do not rely on isolated experts but on collaborative processes, on the wisdom of the group or “crowd”. Some authors have argued that it is possible to combine traditional or credentialled expertise with collective production; others believe that traditional expertise’s focus on correctness has been superseded by the affordances of digital networking, such as re-use and verifiability. This paper examines the costs of two kinds of “crowdsourced” encyclopedic projects: Citizendium, based on the work of credentialled and identified experts, faces a recruitment deficit; in contrast Wikipedia has proved wildly popular, but anti-credentialism and anonymity result in uncertainty, irresponsibility, the development of cliques and the growing importance of pseudo-legal competencies for conflict resolution. Finally the paper reflects on the wider social implications of focusing on what experts are rather than on what they are for.
The Makers is the latest novel of the American science fiction writer, blogger and Silicon Valley intellectual Cory Doctorow. Set in the 2010s, the novel describes the possible impact of the present trend towards the migration of modes of production and organization that have emerged online into the sphere of material production. Called New Work, this movement is indebted to a new maker culture that attracts people into a kind of neo-artisan, high tech mode of production. The question is: can a corporate-funded New Work movement be sustainable? Doctorow seems to suggest that a capitalist economy of abundance is unsustainable because it tends to restrict the reach of its value flows to a privileged managerial elite.