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Cyberscience

The two conceptions of education as public good and as commercial product have close analogues in that distinctly modern form of knowledge acquisition and production known as science—i ncluding cyberscience, that is, science transformed by ICTs. From its earliest forms, modern natural science was inherently technological. Its theory was oriented toward production (for the “conquest of nature,” in the words of Francis Bacon); it was dependent on instrumentalization (Galileo Galilei’s telescope and Antonie van Leeuwenhoek’s microscope); and it even created new sciences of particular technologies in order to improve them (William Rankine’s thermodynamics of James Watts’s steam engines). As this interrelationship has become thema- tized, science is increasingly described as technoscience—and the philosophy of technology supersedes the philosophy of science as an effort to understand the contemporary world.

In one sense, cyberscience is simply a new form of technoscience. To the methods of doing science by mathematical theory construction (deduction) and by empirical observation and experimentation (induction), computers have added a third form: by simulation. Simulations create virtual or cyberworlds that can be used to give mathematical theories dynamic graphical representations in which virtual phenomena testing can take place. Global climate models (GCMs) exemplify cyberscience in this sense. Another form of cyberscience in this sense attempts to reform science education to make it more effective and efficient.

A second type of cyberscience builds on information and communications technologies. Large-scale collaborations, even transnational teams, cooperate on small parts of big science projects such as sending space probes to Mars or mapping and sequencing the human genome. This is cyberscience enabled by prototypes of social media. Social media cyberscience is also transforming the peer review process and scientific publishing (open, interactive peer review and open access journals). The result is sometimes just called open science or Science 2.0.

Light can also be thrown on what is taking place in science by Yochai Benkler’s (2006) analysis of transformations operative in the cybernetworked economy. From the past are efforts to defend intellectual property rights with patents, copyright laws, and trade secret agreements. Stimulated by the emergence of cyberspace are efforts to practice the free sharing of knowledge in a kind of digital gift economy. The former continues to envision a market logic based on scarcity; the latter sees a market emerging based on digital affluence. It is within the context of potentials for digital affluence that both types of cyberscience arise.

The first type of cyberscience characteristically remains more professionalized. Although not privatized in the commercial sense, it is nevertheless privatized in another sense: It takes place in a professional realm and gives science as a regionalized public sphere an increasingly cyberistic cast. The civil society of scientists that previously existed in the classroom, the laboratory, and scientific conferences is projected into cyberspace. Simulations can even be thought of as cyberized field work—field work being another locus of scientific civil society distinctive of environmental scientists. Cyberscientific efforts in science education reform, using computer models and clickers or other more advanced (and invasive) devices to control student learning, are even more obviously based in the professional scientific community.

The second type of cyberscience opens the door to nonscientist participation in science and what has also been called “citizen science” and public participation in technological decision making. Citizen science and technology can take top-down and bottom-up forms. One top-down example of citizen science is associated with efforts by the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University to enroll amateur scientists in the collection of data that could then be analyzed by professional scientists; indeed, some evidence points toward Rick Bonney, working at the Cornell Lab in the 1980s, as the person who coined the term “citizen science.” Yet the practice itself is much older; see, for instance, the Christmas Bird Count of the American Audubon Society, which goes back to 1900. Now such citizen-science projects utilize smartphones and related electronic devices for higher-quality data collection and more rapid communication. Citizen science projects dependent on ICTs include SETI@Home and the search for extraterrestrial life, volunteers working for NASA to classify astronomical objects, and the monitoring of flower pollinating animals—all can be accessed through the Scientific American “Citizen Science” web site (http://www.scientificamerican.com/ citizen-science).

Bottom-up citizen science is more activistic and can even take the form of do-it-yourself science by nonprofessional scientists. Again, there are precyberspace anticipations. The AIDS activist movement of the 1980s, which demanded shifts in the priorities and practices of HIV-related research, became a paradigmatic case in which people with nonscientific vested interests in a research program forced scientists and policy makers to consider their own perspectives (Epstein, 2004). Since then, cyberspace and social media have definitely enhanced opportunities for citizen-i nitiated public- sphere technoscientific policy making.

 
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