The pamphlet on citizen scientists

samedi 4 septembre 2010


This pamphlet is an output of the STACS (Science, Technology and Civil Society) project, funded by the European Commission Sixth Framework Programme (Science and Society-19-044597).

The pamphlet


Preface: Fieldwork

Consider the cauliflower. The cauliflowers we eat now tend to be big, white and fluffy. They have been bred this way over the last 30 years, taking the place of the various Italian varieties that were once bred on farms. Europe has largely forgotten the other possible shapes, colours – green, yellow, pink and purple – and flavours of cauliflowers. In the fields and village markets of Brittany, a group of farmers, activists and scientists are trying to help us remember.

Veronique Chable is a scientist who wants to resurrect the biodiversity of cauliflowers before it is too late. She is well aware that, with the excitement of technological progress, we can ignore what is getting lost or forgotten. As scientific knowledge expands, the local knowledge of people like farmers is often downgraded. In agriculture, vast increases in productivity have meant that we get more food than ever. But, for some, the homogenisation of knowledge is reflected in the homogenisation of the food we eat.

Chable is a Citizen Scientist. She can’t draw a line between her professional activities as a scientist and her responsibilities towards society as a citizen. She not only engages vigorously with the social and ethical context of her work, but has changed the way she conducts her research. She is part of a recent but rapidly-growing movement towards « participatory plant breeding » – involving small farmers and scientists. As a geneticist, she is interested in what she can offer to those small farmers who want to breed crops for their flavour rather their yield or their longevity. She helps cauliflower farmers work back through their crops’ genetic heritage to rediscover varieties that were forgotten with the move to industrial agriculture in the second half of the 20th century. But as her interest in organic agriculture and biodiversity has grown, her colleagues have changed. Now, she says, « the best colleague for me is the farmer. » Based at INRA (the national institute for agronomic research) in Rennes, she does the genetics while her colleagues do the breeding, the sowing, the harvesting and the eating.

The way Veronique Chable does science has evolved. She explains how most of her colleagues think “from the DNA to the plant.” She now works in the opposite direction, starting with the plants. Her lab extends way beyond the university, into the fields and her own village market. She finds it impossible to work alone. She works with NGOs like Reseau Semences Paysannes.  Reseau Semences Paysannes – (the Peasants’ Seeds Network) represent those French farmers who are interested in the science of farming. The NGO connects Chable to the farmers breeding new (and often old) varieties of wheat, cauliflowers and other crops. But it has not been easy. For her to do a new sort of science, she has had to break free of other people’s expectations about how scientists should behave and the sorts of research they should do. This pamphlet is an analysis of, and an argument in support of, scientists like Veronique Chable – Citizen Scientists.


About the project STACS

STACS: Science, technology and civil society – Civil Society Organisations, actors in the European system of research and innovation

 The STACS project was selected under the Science and Society call: Bringing research closer to society: Promoting science and scientific culture, FP6-2005-Science-and-society-19, with special emphasis on section « Increasing the societal relevance of research ». Giving support to the active participation of civil society organisations in research projects was the core issue addressed in the call.

STACS linked concrete experiences of workshops and seminars bringing together scientists and civil society representatives with a theoretical reflection on and an analysis of existing experiences and policies, and policy recommendations for the further development of academia – civil society research partnerships. Our project attempted, in an exploratory way, to give input and impulses to the following questions:.

  • How do we prepare CSOs to participate in research projects?
  • How do we make scientists interested in research projects with CSOs?
  • How do we raise awareness of policy makers and scientists that the implication of CSOs in research will create a win-win situation for research, development and innovation?
  • How do we ensure that scientists and CSOs can build common projects, for instance under Framework programme 7?
  • How do we strengthen the role of CSOs as mediators between citizens and researchers (e.g. bridging the gap between populations and the scientific community)?

Our project aimed at exploring the feasibility of academia – civil society partnerships in different research areas and how to optimize the interaction between science dynamics and the needs and concerns of society. The project intended to impact on the strengthening of CSOs participation in the elaboration of research protocols and to bring new arguments and issues into the public and political debate around scientific-technical problems with wide societal consequences.

All the reports from STACS are under: