Crowd-sourced science: societal engagement, scientific authority and ethical practice

Journal of Information Ethics 26 (1):49-65 (2017)

Sean F. Johnston
University of Glasgow
This paper discusses the implications for public participation in science opened by the sharing of information via electronic media. The ethical dimensions of information flow and control are linked to questions of autonomy, authority and appropriate exploitation of knowledge. It argues that, by lowering the boundaries that limit access and participation by wider active audiences, both scientific identity and practice are challenged in favor of extra-disciplinary and avocational communities such as scientific enthusiasts and lay experts. Reconfigurations of hierarchy, mediated by new channels of information flow, are increasingly visible at the interface between professional and non-professional practice. Setting the scene by surveying the role of the media in defining twentieth-century contexts of lay science, the paper illustrates the appropriation and recuperation of scientific authority being played out in two contemporary models of active public engagement: so-called “citizen science” and varieties of “crowd-sourced science”. Both participatory models are increasingly reliant on information exchange via social media, but may be implemented to support distinctly different societal goals and beneficiaries.
Keywords Ethics, information, online, hierarchy
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