Finding Pathways to More Equitable and Meaningful Public-Scientist Partnerships
For many, citizen science is exciting because of the possibility for more diverse, equitable partnerships in scientific research with outcomes considered meaningful and useful by all, including public participants. This was the focus of a symposium we organized at the 2015 conference of the Citizen Science Association. Here we synthesize points made by symposium participants and our own reflections. Professional science has a participation problem that is part of a larger equity problem in society. Inequity in science has negative consequences including a failure to address the needs and goals arising from diverse human and social experiences, for example, lack of attention to issues such as environmental contamination that disproportionately impact under-represented populations, and a failure to recognize the pervasive effects of structural racism. Inequity also encourages mistrust of science and scientists. A perception that science is practiced for the sole benefit of dominant social groups is reinforced when investigations of urgent community concerns such as hydraulic fracturing are questioned as being biased endeavors. Defined broadly, citizen science can challenge and change this inequity and mistrust, but only if it reflects the diversity of publics, and if it doesn’t reinforce existing inequities in science and society. Key will be the way that science is portrayed: Acknowledging the presence of bias in all scientific research and the tools available for minimizing this, and demonstrating the utility of science for local problem solving and policy change. Symposium participants called for reflexive research, mutual learning, and other methods for supporting more equitable engagement in practice and in the activities of the Citizen Science Association.