The Promise of Community-Driven Science

Article by Louise Lief: “Powered by thousands of early-career scientists and students, a global movement to transform scientific practice has emerged in recent years. The objective is to “expand the boundaries of what we consider science,” says Rajul Pandya, senior director of Thriving Earth Exchange at the American Geophysical Union (AGU), “to fundamentally transform science and the way we use it.”

These scientists have joined forces with community leaders and members of the public to establish new protocols and methods for doing community-driven science in an effort to make civic science even more inclusive and accessible to the public. Community science is an outgrowth of two earlier movements that emerged in response to the democratizing forces of the internet: open science, the push to make scientific research accessible and to encourage sharing and collaboration throughout the research cycle; and open data, the support for data that anyone can freely use, reuse, and share.

For open-science advocates, a reset of scientific practice is long overdue. For decades, the field has been dominated by what some experts call the “science-push” model, a top-down approach in which scientists decide which investigations to pursue, what questions to ask, how to do the science, and which results are significant. If members of the public are involved at all, they serve as research subjects or passive consumers of knowledge curated and presented to them by scientists.

The traditional approach to science has resulted in the public’s increasing distrust of scientists—their motives, values, and business interests. Science is a process that explores the world through observation and experiment, looking for evidence that may reveal larger patterns, often producing new discoveries. However, science itself does not decide the effects or outcomes of these results. The devastating opioid epidemic—in which manufacturers have aggressively promoted the highly addictive drugs, downplaying risks and misinforming doctors—has shown that the values and motives of those who practice science make all the difference.

Instead, open-science advocates believe science should be a joint enterprise between scientists and the public to demonstrate the value of science in people’s lives. Such collaboration will change the way scientists, communities, regulatory agencies, policy makers, academia, and funders work individually and collectively. Each player will be able to integrate science more easily into civic decision-making and target problems more efficiently and at lower costs. This collaborative work will create new opportunities for civic action and give the public a greater sense of ownership—making it their science….(More)”.