Public School: The Obligation to Make Science Accessible to the Public

In a nutshell, advocates of the public school argue that science needs to be accessible for a wider audience. The basic assumption herein is that the social web and Web 2.0 technologies allow scientists, on the one hand, to open up the research process and, on the other, to prepare the product of their research for interested non-experts (see Table 2).

Accordingly, we recognize two different streams within the public school: The first is concerned with the accessibility of the research process (the production), the second with the comprehensibility of the research result (the product). Both streams involve the relationship between scientists and the public and define openness as a form of devotion to a wider audience. In the following section we will elaborate more on both streams in reference to relevant literature.

Accessibility to the Research Process: Can Anyone be a Scientist?

To view the issue as a formerly hidden research process becoming transparent and accessible to the common man seems a decidedly romantic image of doing science.

Table 1 Five Open Science schools of thought

Table 2 Public School

Yet, coming from the assumptions that communication technology not only allows the constant documentation of research, but also the inclusion of dispersed external individuals (as supposed in the pragmatic school), an obvious inference is that the formerly excluded public can now play a more active role in research. A pervasive catchphrase in this relationship is the concept of so-called citizen science which, put simply, describes the participation of non-scientists and amateurs in research. Admittedly, the term, as well as the idea, have already existed for a long time. In 1978, well before the digital age, the biochemist Erwin Chargaff already used this term to espouse a form of science that is dominated by dedicated amateurs. The meaning of the term has not changed; it merely experiences a new magnitude in the light of modern communication technology.

Hand (2010) refers, for instance, to Rosetta@Home, a distributed-computing project in which volunteer users provide their computing power (while it is not in use) to virtually fold proteins. The necessary software for this also allowed users to watch how their computer tugged and twisted the protein in search of a suitable configuration (ibid., p.2). By observing this, numerous users came up with suggestions to speed up the otherwise slow process. Reacting to the unexpected user involvement, the research team applied a new interface to the program that allowed users to assist in the folding in form of an online game called Foldit. Hand states: ''By harnessing human brains for problem solving, Foldit takes BOINC's distributedcomputing concept to a whole new level'' (ibid., p. 2). In this specific case, the inclusion of citizens leads to a faster research process on a large public scale. Citizen science is in this regard a promising tool to 'harness' a volunteer workforce. However, one can arguably question the actual quality of the influence of amateurs upon the analytical part of the research research. Catlin-Groves (2012) takes the same line as the Rosetta@Home project. She expects citizen science's greatest potential in the monitoring of ecology or biodiversity at a large scale (ibid., p. 2). The specific fields possibly issue from the author's area of research (Natural Sciences) and the journal in which the review article was published (International Journal of Zoology). Nonetheless, in respect to the two fields, it becomes apparent that citizens can rather be considered a mass volunteer workforce instead of actual scientists.

Indeed, most citizen science projects follow a top-down logic in which professional scientists give impetuses, take on leading roles in the process and analysis, and use amateurs not as partners, but rather as a free workforce. Irwin (2006) even claims that most citizen science projects are not likely to provide amateurs with the skills and capacities to significantly affect research in meaningful ways. Powell and Colin (2009) also criticize the lack of a meaningful impact for non-experts in the research: ''Most participatory exercises do not engage citizens beyond an event or a few weeks/months, and they do not build citizens' participatory skills in ways that would help them engage with scientists or policy makers independently'' (ibid., p. 327).

The authors further present their own citizen science project, the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC), which at first also started as a onetime event. After the project was finished, however, the University engaged a citizen scientist group which is in frequent dialogue with field experts. The authors do not lay out in detail how citizens can actually influence research policies, rather present a perspective for a bottom-up relationship between interested amateurs and professionals. There is still a lack of research when it comes to models of active involvement of citizens in the research process beyond feeder services. Future research could therefore focus on new areas of citizen participation (e.g. citizen science in 'soft sciences') or alternative organizational models for citizen science (e.g. how much top-down organization is necessary?).

Another, also yet to explored, aspect that can be associated with citizen science is the crowdfunding of science. Crowdfunding is a financing principle that is already well established in the creative industries. Via online platforms, single Internet users can contribute money to project proposals of their choice and, if the project receives enough funding, enable their realization. Contributions are often rewarded with non-monetary benefits for the benefactors. A similar model is conceivable for science: The public finances research proposals directly through monetary contributions and in return receives a benefit of some description (for instance: access to the results). Crowdfunding of science allows direct public influence on the very outskirts of the research (a kind of civic scientific agenda setting) yet hardly at all during the process. Nonetheless, it possibly constitutes a new decisive force in the pursuit of research interests besides the ''classica'' of institutional and private funding. There is still, at least to the authors' knowledge, no research regarding this topic. Future research could for instance cover factors of success for project pitches or the actual potential of crowdfunding for science.

Comprehensibility of the Research Result: Making Science Understandable

The second stream of the public school refers to the comprehensibility of science for a wider audience, that is mainly science communication. Whereas, for instance, citizen science concerns the public influence on the research, this sub-stream concerns the scientists' obligation to make research understandable for a wider audience—a demand that Tacke (2012), in an entry on his blog, provocatively entitled ''Come out of the ivory tower!''.

In this regard, Cribb and Sari demand a change in the scientific writing style: ''Science is by nature complicated, making it all the more important that good science writing should be simple, clean and clear'' (2010, p. 15). The authors' credo is that as the scientific audience becomes broader and the topics more specific, the academic dissemination of knowledge needs to adapt.

On a perhaps more applied level, numerous authors suggest specific tools for science communication. Weller and Puschmann (2011), for instance, describe the microblogging service Twitter as a suitable tool to direct users to, for example, relevant literature and as a source for alternative impact factors (as expressed in the measurement school). In this volume (see chapter Micro(blogging) Science? Notes on Potentials and Constraints of New Forms of Scholarly Communication), Puschmann furthermore dwells on the role of the scientist today and his need to communicate: ''Scientists must be able to explain what they do to a broader public to garner political support and funding for endeavors whose outcomes are unclear at best and dangerous at worst, a difficulty that is magnified by the complexity of scientific issues''. As adequate tools for the new form of scholarly public justification, the author refers to scientific blogging or Twitter during conferences. In the same line of reasoning, Grand et al. (2012) argues that by using Web 2.0 tools and committing to public interaction, a researcher can become a public figure and honest broker of his or her information (ibid., p. 684).

While numerous researchers already focus on the new tools and formats of science communication and the audience's expectations, there is still a need for research on the changing role of a researcher in a digital society, that is, for instance, the dealings with a new form of public pressure to justify the need for instant communication and the ability to format one's research for the public. A tenable question is thus also if a researcher can actually meet the challenge to, on the one hand, carry out research on highly complex issues and, on the other, prepare these in easily digestible bits of information. Or is there rather an emerging market for brokers and mediators of academic knowledge? Besides, what are the dangers of preparing research results in easily digestible formats?

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