Citizen Science: A Study of People, Expertise, and Sustainable Development

By Alan Irwin | Go to book overview
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PREFACE

Books about ‘science and its publics’ typically take a number of forms. Of these, perhaps the most common is the scientist’s (or the science journalist’s) attempt to convince the public of either the intellectual grandeur or the practical significance of scientific research. Within this category, we can include the enormous number of ‘popular science’ books which deal with the more philosophical reaches of science (with quantum physics and chaos theory particular favourites here) or with various socially pressing matters within which science plays an important part (ozone depletion or ‘test tube babies’).

However, there has also been a steady output of books which attack science either for its ‘disenchantment’ of everyday life or for its linkage to troubling areas of development such as in vitro fertilization, advanced weapon systems or civil nuclear power. This more critical literature takes a number of forms - including the feminist debate over science and the continuing discussion over the connection between science and environmental destruction.

It follows from even this briefest of summaries of a large and expanding literature that any new book about science and its publics must at least have something original to say - a Unique Selling Proposition of some kind. So where is the USP in what follows? I want to suggest very briefly that the uniqueness of this book comes not from any single aspect but rather from its combination of different elements.

In the first place, Citizen Science tries to find a way through the usual monolithic representations of ‘science’ and the ‘public’. Both the ‘public understanding of science’ and the ‘scientific understanding of the public’ will, therefore, be considered. In doing so, it will be important to view these categories as diverse and differentiated -

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