Can science be a “citizen”?

For a number of years we have found that it has become fashionable to qualify all kinds of activities as “citizens”, as if that would immediately make them more acceptable and democratic. We talk about citizen debate or even consultation, school, speech, initiative and even citizen business! As if it weren’t obvious that all data subjects are by definition citizens. While these terms are in some ways pleonasms, the term “citizen science” is different, and is often used carelessly and, above all, without knowing exactly what it encompasses. Because qualifying a name also means restricting its extension. The question arises: What kind of science would this “Citizen Science” be?

It is first of all a copy – and a bad translation that does not respect the syntax of the French language – of the English expression “citizen science”, which for twenty years has referred to the participation of citizens without scientific training, especially in research projects that require the collection of many relative simple information, such as posting observation locations of migratory birds in a shared database over the Internet – which then allows researchers to track their movements over very long distances. In French, this practice is simply called ‘participatory science’, a term also used in English. (participatory science).

The term ‘citizen science’ is all the more problematic as it encompasses a very different meaning than mere lay participation in a research project. It describes the project of science at the service of the citizen, along the lines of the scientists on the American left who founded the journal in 1969 science for the people. For example, a “Manifesto for Civic, Responsible and United Science” published in 1999 in the context of increasing ecological demands affirms putting science at the service of the “citizens” without anyone really knowing whose conversations about (farmers? environmentalists?) . It states, among other things, that “research must develop within the framework of a democratically drafted social contract”; that such a contract “implies the definition of a common object” and that this object “is no longer knowledge for its own sake, but the answer to the needs of society”. What needs? whose needs?

Before it is in the service of the “citizens”, science is in the service of the understanding of the world and of truth.

The seemingly generous adjective “citizen” indicates the intention to limit the autonomy of researchers. If a “bourgeois” science causes less concern than an “Aryan science” or a “proletarian science” of sad memory, it carries no less the project of a dirigisme at the service of the “citizens” of whom we do not know who in the just will decide the priorities. Not to mention that it’s impossible to predict where the most useful discoveries for society will emerge.

Since 17e Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the purpose of science (without limitation) is to explain phenomena in terms of natural causes, which excludes supernatural causes but includes social causes because man is part of nature. Before being at the service of “citizens” – as if this category were homogeneous and there were no groups with different interests in any society – science is at the service of understanding the world and the truth, whether its results or not please certain “citizens “.

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