Special issue on peer-to-peer and user-led science: invited comments:
In this commentary, we collected three essays from authors coming from different perspectives. They analyse the problem of power, participation and cooperation in projects of production of scientific knowledge held by users or peers: persons who do not belong to the institutionalised scientific community. These contributions are intended to give a more political and critical point of view on the themes developed and analysed in the research articles of this JCOM special issue on Peer-to-peer and user-led science.
Michel Bauwens, Christopher Kelty and Mathieu O’Neil write about different aspects of P2P science. Nevertheless, the three worlds they delve into share the “aggressively active” attitude of the citizens who inhabit them. Those citizens claim to be part of the scientific process, and they use practices as heterogeneous as online peer-production of scientific knowledge, garage biology practiced with a hacker twist, or the crowdsourced creation of an encyclopedia page. All these claims and practices point to a problem in the current distribution of power. The relations between experts and non-experts are challenged by the rise of peer-to-peer science. Furthermore, the horizontal communities which live inside and outside the Net are not frictionless. Within peer-production mechanisms, the balance of power is an important issue which has to be carefully taken into account.
Is there something like a peer to peer science?, by Michel Bauwens:
How will peer to peer infrastructures, and the underlying intersubjective and ethical relational model that is implied by it, affect scientific practice? Are peer-to-peer forms of cooperation, based on open and free input of voluntary contributors, participatory processes of governance, and universal availability of the output, more productive than centralized alternatives? In this short introduction, Michel Bauwens reviews a number of open and free, participatory and commons oriented practices that are emerging in scientific research and practice, but which ultimately point to a more profound epistemological revolution linked to increased participatory consciousness between the scientist and his human, organic and inorganic research material.
Outlaw, hackers, victorian amateurs: diagnosing public participation in the life sciences today:
This essay reflects on three figures that can be used to make sense of the changing nature of public participation in the life sciences today: outlaws, hackers and Victorian gentlemen. Occasioned by a symposium held at UCLA (Outlaw Biology: Public Participation in the Age of Big Bio), the essay introduces several different modes of participation (DIY Bio, Bio Art, At home clinical genetics, patient advocacy and others) and makes three points: 1) that public participation is first a problem of legitimacy, not legality or safety; 2) that public participation is itself enabled by and thrives on the infrastructure of mainstream biology; and 3) that we need a new set of concepts (other than inside/outside) for describing the nature of public participation in biological research and innovation today.
Shirky and Sanger, or the costs of crowdsourcing:
Online knowledge production sites do not rely on isolated experts but on collaborative processes, on the wisdom of the group or “crowd”. Some authors have argued that it is possible to combine traditional or credentialled expertise with collective production; others believe that traditional expertise’s focus on correctness has been superseded by the affordances of digital networking, such as re-use and verifiability. This paper examines the costs of two kinds of “crowdsourced” encyclopedic projects: Citizendium, based on the work of credentialled and identified experts, faces a recruitment deficit; in contrast Wikipedia has proved wildly popular, but anti-credentialism and anonymity result in uncertainty, irresponsibility, the development of cliques and the growing importance of pseudo-legal competencies for conflict resolution. Finally the paper reflects on the wider social implications of focusing on what experts are rather than on what they are for.
The unsustainable Makers:
The Makers is the latest novel of the American science fiction writer, blogger and Silicon Valley intellectual Cory Doctorow. Set in the 2010s, the novel describes the possible impact of the present trend towards the migration of modes of production and organization that have emerged online into the sphere of material production. Called New Work, this movement is indebted to a new maker culture that attracts people into a kind of neo-artisan, high tech mode of production. The question is: can a corporate-funded New Work movement be sustainable? Doctorow seems to suggest that a capitalist economy of abundance is unsustainable because it tends to restrict the reach of its value flows to a privileged managerial elite.