Let's Write About Science
Case studies and best practises of science popularization and storytelling
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of Contents
- Part I: Case Studies and Best Practices of Science Communication and Storytelling
- Citizens Science: A Promising Instrument to Improve Scientific Research
- Science and the City: Making Climate Communication and Governance in Barcelona Attractive for Young Students
- The Importance of Trust, Engagement and Adaptability in Workshop Delivery for Effective Scientific Communication
- Let’s Science – Science Training Programme for Young Refugees
- Connecting Science Communication and Non-formal Education in Later Life: The Science Through Our Lives Project
- Passers-by Offers and Stage Shows: Case Studies on Two German Science Festivals
- SciFest Africa, a Model for Science Communication in Africa
- Renewable Energies on Mars and Polluting Neandertals: Environmental Communication and Storytelling with Infographics and Popular Science Texts
- Space Travelling in the Garden of Eden – Göbekli Tepe, or the Challenge to Communicate Prehistoric Archaeology in a Shark Pond of Post-modern Trivialities
- Göbekli Tepe: The Gathering – Behind the Scenes
- Technoscience and the Sci-Fidelity Turn in Hollywood Films
- Legal Aspects of Technical and Scientific Reporting
- Part II: Popular Science Texts
- A. Environmental Science
- How Many Reds and Greens Are in the Class?
- Midnight in Paris: Trump, the City of Love and Doomsday
- Fighting Against Global Warming: A New Method for Carbon Dioxide Extraction from the Air Is Found
- Walking on Thin Ice
- India and Pakistan’s Fight for Survival: The Battle Against Air Pollution
- Invention That Cleans Oil from the Sea: Oleo Sponge
- Destruction of Livings and Environment for a Piece of Yellow Stone: Use of Cyanide in Gold Mining
- The Green Blanket: Eutrophication
- Air Is Not Only What We Breathe but Also How We Feel
- Why Ozone Layer Is So Important?
- Degrowtopia: A New Age Environmental Utopia with Degrowth Model
- An Organic New World
- Cook with Poop (If You Wish with Tomato Peel Too!)
- The Great Loss: Food Waste
- B. Information Technology and Related Topics
- Method to the Madness: Using Game Theory to Demystify Social Media
- Cryptocurrency, Cryptomining and Cryptodamages: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
- Lilly’s Nightmare
- C. Medicine and Health
- Making the Impossibles Possible
- The Molecular Switch of the Human Body
- Babies of the New World: Lulu and Nana
- Sally’s Guilty Pleasure
- Shall We Sing a Song?
- Doom of Rats and the Fate of Humans
- Unknown and Must Known Problem
- All We Need is Love! (Someone Who Likes Beer as Much as You?)
- To Be Brainless Makes You Live Longer?
- The Biggest Epidemic of Earth
- D. Chemistry
- Don’t Panic, It’s Organic
- E. Physics
- How Do You Put an Elephant in a Fridge?
- Ancient Stars Proved: The Earth Is Not as Unique as We Think
- Flying Closer to the Sun
- Meet the Iron Rain Every Morning!
- Black Holes: Mystery of the Universe
- The Clark Kent of Fluids
- F. Biology and Palaeobiology
- “The Ugly Duckling”
- The Smallest Dinosour: A Hard Nut to Crack
- G. Engineering
- Spider-Man Is No Legend
- H. Economy
- Jabari’s People Are Waiting to Be Understood More
- I. Psychology
- How to Raise a Genius?
- About the Authors
Abstract: The current COVID-19 crisis has shown the great importance and relevance of successful interaction between science and citizens. Citizens science offers a promising instrument to turn anyone into a scientist, thereby producing new and relevant knowledge, but also leading to some methodological challenges. At the same time, citizens science can educate the public and reconfigure science from a closed to an open activity, thereby democratizing science and increasing its effectiveness and impact. Nonetheless, evaluating the promises and effectiveness of citizen science is necessary, for example, by questioning and putting in perspective the nature and the size of the crowd of citizen scientists. The current chapter describes how citizens science can enhance the confidence, trust, understanding, and popularization of science, also taking into account the disadvantages of including citizens in scientific research. Different projects using citizens science will be discussed, providing an overview of important lessons learned. Scientific research can only be fully effective and impactful if people better understand its methodologies and functionalities.
Keywords: Citizens science; scientific research; democratization; methodology; data collection
During the COVID-19 crisis, we have seen that a great number of governments lie their trust in science. Information related to the evolution and spread of the virus has been shared and communicated extensively by experts on virology and epidemiology. National implemented regulations to flatten the curve, like the total, semi, or intellectual lockdowns; social distancing; and the general halt on the economy that had to be conducted, were based on policy recommendations from experts in communication science, behavioural psychology and sociology. Subsequently, predictions and analyses on the development and recovery of the economy have been based on recommendations of economist’s, leading to fast lock-outs in those areas where it was possible. In general, what this crisis has taught us, is that policy makers and societies have great trust in science and logic reasoning when the situation stresses the need for more control, and base their decision-making and behaviours on these findings. But the current crisis has also shown that this confidence in science is existing especially when people ←19 | 20→are anxious and fear a threatening pandemic-virus that is constant in the news. This confidence and trust decrease rapidly once the first response of anxiety and threat is diminished. Importantly, to maintain this confidence and trust in science, a more structural solution is needed, especially now it is becoming more apparent that if societies do not follow policy regulations that were advised by scientists, the consequences are very problematic, as the US and Brazilian cases clearly show. In this chapter the main focus will lie on a specific scientific methodology that is very promising to enhance the confidence, trust, understanding, and popularization of science, namely citizens science.
Although citizens have been participating in scientific research for many centuries, mostly in social and medical sciences, where they were the ones under investigation, different forms of citizens science have become increasingly popular and important during the last few decades. More specific, citizens have donated the processing powers of their personal computers and laptops to perform scientific calculations (SETI@home); amateur naturalists worldwide collecting observational data outdoors about birds and their behaviour (eBird); city residents mapping air pollution with smart devices (City Sense); people classifying online images of galaxies from home to save time and energy of researchers (Galaxy Zoo); patients sharing quantified observations, symptoms, and experiences about their health to inform doctors and healthcare providers (e.g.,COVID-19 apps); and biohackers attempting to produce insulin in a community laboratory (Counter Culture Labs).
Citizens science is considered to be the future of genuine interactive and inclusive science engagement (Cohn 2008; Cooper et al. 2012), whereby public-participation engagement and science communication go hand in hand, thereby actively popularizing science among participants and democratizing the topics of scientific research in order to improve scientific research and its structural impact. Most scholars are still somewhat distrustful towards “citizen science”, having the feeling that including citizens in scientific research devaluates their intense and extensive educational training, which in some cases is also correct, but the rise to prominence of the term in contemporary scientific research is beyond doubt and hugely interesting historically, politically, culturally, and epistemologically (Strasser et al., 2019). It may even point to a potential transformation in the modes of public participation in science to increase the identification of the general public with scientific research, considering also the widespread belief among funding institutions that involving the public in the research is increasingly relevant for funding and the need to show the expected impact of the proposed project among the wider public – also to better inform society about all elements of scientific research.←20 | 21→
In particular, one important element of science is that science is based on uncertainty. It has been overlooked by the general public and is maybe not very well communicated by scientists themselves, but is one of the cornerstones of science itself. Especially in this period of crisis that has no precedent, and assumptions and predictions are established on limited knowledge and understanding of the virus and its consequences, also by the experts. Unless this uncertainty is communicated effectively, and well understood by society, decision makers and citizens may put too much or too little faith in scientific research, which as a result leads to great misunderstandings, and in some countries even to riots because experts support lockdowns while citizens do not understand why and listen to contradicting information, some without any support but still convincing enough. For example, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States of America, and the most important advisor to the national government in this matter, blames the problem on the “anti-scientific attitude” of the Americans to follow the guidelines that have been provided. “There is an anti-science, anti-authority and anti-vaccination feeling in some people,” Fauci said in an interview with CNN (2020). “An alarmingly large number, proportionately.” Taking full advantage of scientific research requires knowing and understanding how much uncertainty surrounds science and scientific research. Science can only be fully effective and impactful if people understand its methodologies and functionalities.
The disadvantage of uncertainty that is part of science offers room for the spread of misinformation and disinformation, which is false or misleading information that is spread deliberately to deceive the recipients. Because science never can give a final answer to questions, especially not to complex questions such as how to perfectly handle pandemics, it leaves room for people to communicate false information. Especially during the current COVID-19, misinformation and disinformation in the health space have been thriving (European Commission 2020). It is therefore extremely important to educate and include people actively in scientific research, also during important and stressful situations such as the current pandemic, to improve our decision-making in difficult situations, create better science, enhance public support for science, and make the impact of scientific solutions greater and more efficient than ever before.
As I am writing this chapter, science tries to involve citizens across the world to contribute to the development of an app to collect data concerning potential infections of COVID-19, showing a clear integration of scientific research questions and public participation, societal relevant, and global impact. In close collaboration with ICT-companies, citizens, experts in privacy and data storage, sociologists and epidemiologists, psychologists and behavioural scientists, and ←21 | 22→many others, national governments are trying to flatten the curve of the first wave of the pandemic, and to prevent a second wave to develop, using science as their guide.
Citizens science appears to be a win-win scenario, attracting scientists into public engagement work and at the same time get the public to participate directly in the process of science and thus learn more about the processes of scientific enquiry and the difficulties this brings (Bauer/Jensen 2011). Public engagement is an integral part of the systematic research being conducted, thereby educating implicitly the participants about scientific research, raising awareness about everything that scientific research brings, and increasing enthusiasm around the scientific research topics and methodology.
In this chapter I will describe how citizens science can enhance the confidence, trust, understanding, and popularization of science, also taking into account the disadvantages of including citizens in scientific research. First, I will discuss the five different forms of citizens science, as has been differentiated by Strasser et al. (2019). Second, I will elaborate on how scientists can benefit from the participation of citizens in their scientific research, also discussing the drawbacks of involving citizens in scientific research. Third, I will outline the positive effects of participation of citizens in scientific research among themselves, whereby I also will focus on the difficulties this brings. Finally, I will conclude and provide some suggestions on how future research projects could effectively make use of citizens science for the popularization of science.
Five Types of Citizens Science
Considering that citizens have been participating actively in scientific research for centuries, many different forms of citizens science exist that all can contribute to improve scientific research. Strasser et al. (2019) differentiated between five different types of practices whereby citizens are actively involved in scientific research, namely sensing, computing, analysing, self-reporting, and making.
First, scientific research can make use of participants through sensing, whereby people contribute to data collection by detecting clearly specified phenomena. For example, one of the first large projects conducting sensing with citizens in scientific research was launched by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, called eBird. Within this project an online database with birds all over the world has been created. This online database is used by birdwatchers, scientists, and conservationists who want to know more about birds worldwide, beginning in North America but spreading across the world after a successful launch, leading to the collection of hundreds of millions ←22 | 23→bird observations on all continents of the globe. Because of its success, many projects have followed this example of data collection, using its strengths and improving its limitations. The projects trusted on people’s familiarity with their local environment and the fact that large numbers of participants can greatly expand the spatial reach of observational projects. Nowadays, most people have a smartphone, making data collection even easier than ever before, whereby data storage is done quickly through the use of apps.
Second, computing, or volunteer computing, is a much less familiar form of citizens science. In general it means that citizens donate the power of their desktop computers’ or laptops in order to conduct analyses of big data files. One of the first projects that conducted this form of citizens science was the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project, trying to analyse radio signals that might have indicated the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. Considering its great success, this project led to the BOINC (Berkely Open Infrastructure for Network Computing), an online platform whereby participants can choose between many different science-related projects to share their computing space, which many participants keep doing in the fields of astronomy, chemistry, physics, biology and medicine, mathematics and computer science, artificial intelligence and cognitive science, and earth sciences.
Third, citizens can also support scientists in conducting specific analyses that are needed because of the volume of the data. For example, in 2006 a NASA spacecraft landed back on earth after spending almost seven years in space and collecting millions of specks of dust, hoping that one of them might be of interstellar origin and providing insights on life on other planets. In order to be able to analyse them as soon as possible, they launched the online platform Stardust@home, making it possible for participants to use a virtual microscope to identify these rare particles from online images (Mendez 2008) and see if some of them contained interstellar origin. Subsequently, different projects have started using citizens to analyse data, for example, one project determining the shape of galaxies (e.g., Galaxy Zool; Raddick et al. 2019), counting penguins in large colonies (Penguin Watch; Jones et al. 2018), or playing games folding proteins in three dimensions (e.g., Foldit project; Good/Su 2011).
Fourth, citizens can also be included in scientific research through self-reporting, using the same successful methodologies that have been applied by social networks. Several medical research platforms have invited participants/patients to share and compare both qualitative (e.g., self-reported symptoms, illness-narratives, user experience of technical solutions) and quantitative data (e.g., patients records, sleep hours, exercise activity, genomic, laboratory results). This information is then pooled for research purposes and used to test the ←23 | 24→effectiveness of technical solutions and health interventions, to improve healthcare provision and examine which interventions have the largest impact on the targeted population.
Fifth, citizens can also be actively involved in the making of things and producing knowledge in laboratories and outside. For example, in a recent project I am currently conducting to promote fruits and vegetables to children (Folkvord 2019), vlogs will be developed for a large multi-centred randomized controlled trial in co-creation with different groups (e.g., children, parents, vloggers, fruit and vegetable producers). The primary outcomes from these focus groups will be used to develop the exact intervention that will be implemented in a number of schools in the Netherlands to test the effectiveness of the promotion techniques. The basic idea is that end users have a much better idea and understanding of the practical drivers and barriers of a certain topic, and including them in the co-creation enhances the probability that it will be an effective methodology.
These five different forms of science communication have been widely used by a large variety in different projects, all learning from each other’s experiences and their successes and failures. Including citizens in scientific research has many benefits for both scientists and citizens, but also some limitations and drawbacks, which I will discuss now.
Science with Citizens
In the last few years citizens science has become more popular among scientists. For example, collaborative research by networks of amateurs has had an important role in ornithology and conservation science, and will continue to do so, just like in ecology and environmental studies, biology, sociology, virology, natural history, astronomy, archaeology and local history (Finnegan 2005; Mims 1999). It has been very important, for example, to establish the facts of migrations; systematically recording distribution; providing insights into habitat requirements and recording variation in numbers, productivity, and survival, thereby providing detailed demographic analysis. Scientists alone of course cannot do that, although intense collaborations have been established worldwide to align scientific methodologies and systematic forms of data collection, and need the help of citizens living across the world to help collecting data. In particular in those areas where it is difficult to come and it would take scientist ages to arrive at the location and start collecting data, it is necessary that local citizens support data collection to improve reliable and valid data collection. The disadvantage is that it is sometimes difficult to maintain in control as a project leader and make sure all participants conduct their task in time, and with the same quality ←24 | 25→expectations. In addition, quality checks need to be put in place, which becomes more difficult when the different participants are living across the continents and do not speak the same language.
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- Publication date
- 2021 (April)
- Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 356 pp., 9 fig. b/w, 2 tables.