The “Citizen Scientist”: Reflections on the Public Role of Scientists in Response to Emerging Biotechnologies in New Zealand

Abstract

Much of the traditional discussion on science and society engagement has concentrated on the role (and even duties) of citizens in response to science, and on attempts to scientise civilian consciousness to appreciate the benefits of scientific progress. Irwin’s (1995) concept of “Citizen Science” was an important milestone in our understanding of “science and society” relations, which focused attention on the needs and concerns of citizens and looked to a new form of science “enacted by citizens themselves” (Irwin 1995: ix). In this paper, I consider the other side of the science and society relationship by focusing on the scientist as citizen. Over time, a significant minority of scientists have been active in raising public concerns around the social impacts of science and technology, particularly around biotechnology and nanotechnology. This paper presents results from a New Zealand study that engaged scientists with community groups in dialogue about biotechnology. I discuss how this may represent an emerging form of scientific reflexivity and consider the implications for future engagement practice.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    This paper discusses one aspect of the findings of the MORST dialogue study, which was conducted as field work for my Ph.D. thesis in risk communication. Full details of the study methodology and results are published elsewhere (Cronin and Jackson 2004) and discussed in my thesis (Cronin 2007).

  2. 2.

    Similar findings were found in a study of UK crop scientists by Burchell (2007).

  3. 3.

    Social scientists and biophysical scientists in the Royal Society made parallel submissions.

  4. 4.

    Maori are the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand

  5. 5.

    Kung Hsin (A.D. 1600) ‘Warning Words to Enlightened Physicians’ cited in Christakis (1992: 691).

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Correspondence to Karen Cronin.

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Cronin, K. The “Citizen Scientist”: Reflections on the Public Role of Scientists in Response to Emerging Biotechnologies in New Zealand. East Asian Science 4, 503–519 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12280-010-9154-x

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Keywords

  • Scientific citizenship
  • Citizen scientist
  • Scientific reflexivity
  • Science and society engagement
  • Biotechnology