Shun-Ling Chen: Beyond Efficiency – Ethics and Fairness Concerns in Citizen Science

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Tuesday, January 24th – 12:00 noon – 2:00 pm in the STS/CSIS room (Social Science & Humanities Building Room 1246)

with Shun-Ling Chen (Assistant Research Professor, Institutum Iurisprudentiae, Academia Sinica)

Beyond Efficiency – Ethics and Fairness Concerns in Citizen Science

Citizen science (scientific research projects that use digital platforms to engage a large number of volunteers in data collection and data analysis) and the online peer production model share many similarities. To improve scalability and effectiveness, citizen science projects often utilize “crowd-herding” techniques, or designing principles, that are distilled from peer production studies.

Yet, citizen science and peer production also differ in important ways. First, peer production projects often champion decentralization, whereas citizen science projects are often managed by a few institution-based scientists. Second, peer production tends to use free software or other measures to ensure the openness of the infrastructure, whereas the openness in citizen science is often limited to research results. Third, peer production projects often have intense debates about the underlying philosophies – whether it is to empower users to regain freedom/control, or to allow efficient extraction of underutilized incentives and surplus cognitive power.

The above differences point to one key question which citizen science projects often fail to address: does “citizen science” change the role of citizens in science, as well as the relationship between citizens and established institutions in the knowledge production system? In this paper I offer a partial look into the question by asking the following: Are the established norms of citizen science adequate? What does projects gain from claiming to be “citizen science,” and what projects offer citizens in return?

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Shun-Ling Chen is an assistant research professor at the Institutum Iurisprudentiae, Academia Sinica (Taipei, Taiwan). She received her S.J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2013, and then spent a year at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law as a visiting assistant professor. She works in fields where society, information technologies and the legal system intersect. In particular, she is interested in the allocation of resources related to intellectual property laws. She spent years studying the development and enforcement of communal norms in online peer production communities, as well as how these communities negotiate externally with established institutions.