Inclusion in citizen science: The conundrum of rebranding

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As the scientific community, like society more broadly, reckons with long-standing challenges around accessibility, justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, we would be wise to pay attention to issues and lessons emerging in debates around citizen science. When practitioners first placed the modifier “citizen” on science, they intended to signify an inclusive variant within the scientific enterprise that enables those without formal scientific credentials to engage in authoritative knowledge production (1). Given that participants are overwhelmingly white adults, above median income, with a college degree (2, 3), it is clear that citizen science is typically not truly an egalitarian variant of science, open and available to all members of society, particularly those underrepresented in the scientific enterprise. Some question whether the term “citizen” itself is a barrier to inclusion, with many organizations rebranding their programs as “community science.” But this co-opts a term that has long referred to distinct, grassroots practices of those underserved by science and is thus not synonymous with citizen science. Swapping the terms is not a benign action. Our goal is not to defend the term citizen science, nor provide a singular name for the field. Rather, we aim to explore what the field, and the multiple publics it serves, might gain or lose by replacing the term citizen science and the potential repercussions of adopting alternative terminology (including whether a simple name change alone would do much to improve inclusion).

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