The democratic control of science—A self-guided e-trail

(part of the Spring 2014 Collaborative Explorations: Science in a Changing World series)

A Collaborative Exploration (CE) in which participants contribute sites and guides for an e-trail (an online equivalent of a nature trail) on grassroots or citizen initiatives that have helped to shape the directions taken in science and technology.
  • In brief, CEs are an extension of Problem- or Project-Based Learning (PBL) and related approaches to education in which participants address a scenario or case in which the problems are not well defined, shaping their own directions of inquiry and developing their skills as investigators and prospective teachers (in the broadest sense of the word). (For more background, read the prospectus.)
  • If you want to know what a CE requires of you, review the expectations and mechanics.
    • on hangout for 1 hour each week, Thursday February 6, 13, 20, 27, in two sub-groups: 9am & 4.30pm (US EST). The URL for the first hangout will be provided only to those who register (via, which entails making a commitment to attend that 1st session and at least 2 of the other 3 hangouts.
  • If you are wondering how to define a meaningful and useful approach to the topic, let us present a scenario for the CE and hope this stimulates you to apply to participate. We will then let CE participants judge for themselves whether their inquiries are relevant.
  • Intended outcomes for participants of this CE are of two kinds:
    • a) tangible: choose a site or entry for the e-trail and design the guide that tells e-visitors how to think about the site. (The e-trail will eventually have a portal on this wiki, but draft guides to sites will be posted on the private google+ community); and
    • b) experiential: being impressed at how much can be learned with a small commitment of time using the CE structure to motivate and connect participants.

Dickson, an English science journalist who had spent a number of years reporting from Washington, ended his 1984 book, The New Politics of Science, with the passage:
  • [S]cience must remain firmly identified as a powerful tool that can help us understand the natural universe in potentially powerful ways, but at the same time carries the seeds of human exploitation. How to tap one without falling victim to the other is the key challenge of the decades ahead. Creating the individuals and the political institutions through which this can be successfully achieved is the principal task now facing all those engaged in struggles over the new politics of science (Dickson 1984, 336).
Dickson, who had previously written The Politics of Alternative Technology, favored wider democratic involvement in shaping the directions taken in science and technology. He recognized, however, that the "new politics" being struggled over also included efforts by the military and private corporations to retain or increase their influence, control, and ownership of the processes and products of scientific and technological development.

In 2009 students in a graduate course at UMass Boston helped prepare part of a possible proposal to a publisher to reprint the book with a postscript that examines how this new politics has played out in the 25 years since the book was published. What the class took on was to consider the rise and fall of grassroots or citizen initiatives in shaping the directions taken in science and technology and drawing attention to their effects. It turned out that the postscript did not get realized, but perhaps all for the better given the ever-changing, vast and varied landscape of initiatives. Moreover, it seems against the spirit of participation to set down in uneditable text more than 25 years of participatory initiatives. This CE addresses those issues by creating an equivalent of a self-guided nature trail. In this case, however, the trail is online and instead of showing us what to see in nature, we want to guide the trail-walkers about ways that some broad questions about democracy and science get addressed:
  • Who is included/excluded in shaping research and its applications?
  • What social organization gets built to support participation or ensure exclusion?
  • In what ways are the included/ excluded parties made to matter?

To choose a site or entry and design the guide for it, consider the rise and fall of grassroots or citizen initiatives in shaping the directions taken in science and technology and drawing attention to their effects. "Guide" refers to the text that tells e-visitors how to think about the site in relation to the larger context, namely, the three broad questions above. "Consider" means focus on an initiative or episode or strand at the same time as you attempt to position this in relation to other developments and the wider context. "Developments" refers not only to democratizing initiatives-from-below, but also to changes in government, military and corporate policies. "Context" includes political, social, and cultural circumstances not only during the last 25 years, but also in relation to the post-WW2 history that Dickson describes, and includes developments in the interpretation of science in the fields of sociology, politics, anthropology, history, philosophy, and discursive or rhetorical analysis. For the guide prepare text, notes, figures, and annotated links that help readers understand what has emerged since The New Politics of Science. (You may prepare more than one entry.)

Some resources

( ‎provides a glimpse at the books listed below. If it is important to you to see more, ask other CE participants if they have a soruce they can share from.)
Dickson, D. (1984). The New Politics of Science. New York, Pantheon, reprinted University of Chicago Press, 1988.
Edwards, P. N. (2003) . Infrastructure and modernity: Force, time, and social organization in the history of sociotechnical systems. Modernity and Technology. T. J. Misa, P. Brey and A. Feenberg. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press: 185-225.
Frickel, S. and K. Moore (eds.) (2006). The new political sociology of science: institutions, networks, and power. Madison, WI, University of Madison, Wisconsin.
Hackett, E., O. Amsterdamska, et al., Eds. (2008). The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.
Hess, D., S. Breyman, et al. (2008). Science, Technology, and Social Movements. In The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. E. Hackett, O. Amsterdamska, M. Lynch and J. Wajcman (eds.) Cambridge, MA, MIT Press: 473-498.
Leopold, L. (2007). The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi. White River Junction, VT, Chelsea Green Publishing. [provides entry points into the politics of science and technology through workplace-related struggles]
Moore, K. (2006). Powered By the People: Scientific Authority in Participatory Science. In The New Political Sociology of Science: Organizations, Networks, and Institutions. S. Frickel and K. Moore (eds.) Madison, WI, University of Wisconsin Press: 299-323.
Moore, K. (2008). Disrupting Science: Social Movements, American Scientists, and the Politics of the Military, 1945-1975. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press. (see links to Introduction & Chapter 6 )
Panofsky, A. (2011). "Generating sociability to drive science: Patient advocacy organizations and genetics research." Social Studies of Science 41(1): 31–57. (abstract )
Sclove, R. (1995). Democracy and Technology. New York, Guilford. (excerpts )

Some other initiatives from below include Science for the People , New World Agriculture Group, Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, Loka Institute, Community Research Network, Rachel Carson Institute, popular epidemiology, PugWash, Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, science shops, consensus conferences on technology, and the New England Workshop on Science and Social Change .