Citizen Science, do-it-together

By Renata Kubus
Illustration: Innovartesss (IG)

“We are all very ignorant. What happens is that not all ignore the same things.” said once Einstein. Even if the question of our times is supposedly “Be or not to be… an expert”, we must recognize that due to the complexity of our reality we cannot pretend to know it all. It is rather the way that today if you are not confused it’s that you are not thinking clearly. For the night is dark and full of urgent dangers and ‘wicked problems’, especially when they are related to our environment. In so many cases, we have not enough data or understanding of underlying processes, especially local ones as “every generalization is false” even if science would like to have it the other way around.

Well, we have divided reality into specialization fields, but it brings the corresponding danger of not seeing the forest for the trees. “If facts conflict with a theory, either the theory must be changed or the facts”. Sometimes, we are going so far as to cut the trees and after that… everybody can see that there is no forest any longer, only a side-effect such as desertification and global warming.

We need to spend some time and effort, going through Schumpeterian stages of ridiculing, violently opposing and accepting the truth as self-evident. Anyway, some will arrange it by themselves, for instance building the wall in the North and perhaps even sending some troops to the sun to fully stop once for all, illicit nuclear activities. If not, we always have some experts promising to lower dramatically the temperature by switching from Fahrenheit to Celsius… The trouble with troubleshooting is that trouble shoots back. We may delay, but time will not…

On the other side of equation, we fall so much in love with logic and reason, with symmetry… Everybody has heard for instance: “what makes you ill, makes you regain health”. The question is in the dose. Basically, you can drink the water where the part of the car that crashed you in the accident was washed. Should help. Don’t forget, one drop in sugar, three times per day. In brief, it is homeopathy, still working, at least in some countries.

“In theory, the theory is better than practice, in practice it never is”. But we have cognitive schemes to face the unknown, which so far were and are enabling our race to survive and even thrive. Even more, the patterning instinct is here to stay, we have an all-encompassing need to make sense of our reality.

We need to do something and by this we do not mean to resign ourselves to doing nothing. We all – citizens, the grey mass (in whatever area of our ignorance), can start working for the collective brain. It is not only a question of illuminating ourselves from science. It is a transformative learning and empowerment. Citizen science can help us all through working with (also local) data collection and interpretation (about stars, pollution or butterflies). There are many subjects to choose, to solve an interesting problem, first we need to find a problem that is interesting to us.

Citizen science can be present and should be required in all the stages of ‘wicked” problems assessment. Sometimes, when languishing for solutions, we shouldn’t ask if we got the correct answer. The correct question can be reached almost only (serendipity aside) if we have the ability, diversity and mind openness to formulate the correct question. And afterwards, the results can also be seen from different perspective of society as ethics, justice or equality.

But we still need to learn that it is not an exception that confirms the rule. And it is not self-generated. Learning is not compulsory… neither is survival. Internet is a medium, neither rare nor well done. This participation to give the valid outcome for science, participants and society needs to be carefully calibrated. Thus, it should be encouraged, supported and promoted. Woody Allen says that seventy percent of success in life is showing up. Opportunity dances with those on the dance floor. Shall we dance with citizen science? Join us in the AEAC (Spanish Association for Science Advancement) strategy formulation!