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The complexities and pitfalls of citizen science

One such tactic, which was witnessed after Fukushima, occurred through the reframing of radiation risks as simplistic and natural, unrelated to the specific risks associated with Fukushima. For instance, the government distributed pamphlets that explained that radiation naturally exists in our food, ch as the potassium levels present in bananas.

Yet such information is irrelevant to the hazards of internalizing fission products from a nuclear power plant. While bananas have naturally occurring potassium, it would require eating around 20 million bananas to get radiation poisoning.  On the other hand, each radionuclide released during nuclear meltdown events like Fukushima possesses specific biological signatures and presents particular risks when inhaled or ingested.

Being Clear-Eyed About Citizen Science in the Age of COVID-19, Sapiens MAXIME POLLERI / 15 JUL 2020 

“……..there are inherent political complexities involved when citizens or nongovernmental organizations step in and claim expertise in areas typically reserved for state agencies and experts. Like those entities, citizen science has its own potential pitfalls.

For one, corporate polluters or state agencies can potentially exploit citizen science, delegating the monitoring of contamination to the victims of a disaster. For instance, by the end of this year, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Agency plans to remove 80 percent of radiation monitoring posts in Fukushima, arguing that the radiation levels in many areas have stabilized themselves—owing also in part to the presence and efficiency of monitoring networks provided by citizens. This decision has been controversial, since problems of radioactive contamination persist in Fukushima. For instance, one of the main radioactive pollutants, Cesium-137, has a long lifespan and can emit radiation for nearly 300 years.

Retiring these posts will force citizen scientists to take on the burden of monitoring, shifting liability for ensuring safe living conditions onto the shoulders of the nuclear victims. In addition, the growing impact of citizen science can lead to reduced public expenditure, minimal government intervention, and risk privatization, meaning that risk becomes individual and private. Too much delegation to citizens runs the risk of creating societies where individuals have to take care of themselves in increasingly polluted environments, while interpreting complex data about controversial environmental dangers. And not every community can afford to purchase expensive monitoring devices or test food in a consistent manner.

Citizen scientists also risk reproducing forms of ignorance around certain hazards.   n post-Fukushima Japan, what is meant by the “science” of citizen science is often synonymous with a tracking and monitoring agenda, where individuals resort to the very same technologies and knowledge forms used by states, nuclear lobbies, or radiological protection agencies.

Yet many anthropologists and historians have argued that what we know (and don’t know) about the extent of radiation hazards and dangers was embedded in a culture of secrecy, denial, and propaganda that was shaped by the nuclear arms race of the Cold War. Considerations over international security and political stability were often prioritized over the safety of workers or citizens who had been exposed to radiation. As a result, some of the negative effects of radiation were downplayed through different tactics.

One such tactic, which was witnessed after Fukushima, occurred through the reframing of radiation risks as simplistic and natural, unrelated to the specific risks associated with Fukushima. For instance, the government distributed pamphlets that explained that radiation naturally exists in our food, ch as the potassium levels present in bananas.

Yet such information is irrelevant to the hazards of internalizing fission products from a nuclear power plant. While bananas have naturally occurring potassium, it would require eating around 20 million bananas to get radiation poisoning.  On the other hand, each radionuclide released during nuclear meltdown events like Fukushima possesses specific biological signatures and presents particular risks when inhaled or ingested. During my fieldwork in Fukushima, I witnessed that this legacy of misinformation was carried on by some citizens who unwittingly replicated these propagandist forms of knowledge by making similar naturalistic or overly simplistic comparisons.

As citizen science efforts grow, it is also critical to consider to what extent citizen involvement might put individuals at risk of adverse health effects. This is a tricky question when one considers that certain members of the population, like children, are more sensitive to radiation than others. In Fukushima, some Japanese parents have understandably opted to evacuate rather than rely on citizen science, arguing that doing so would expose their children to unacceptable levels of radiation and that forcing children to be responsible for their own safety is unethical.

Citizen scientists are hardly homogeneous groups, as mothers, farmers, and urban citizens do not experience hazards and recovery in the same way. In that regard, factors such as gender, employment, and social class strongly influence why people enter citizen science, how science is mobilized, and how data about a controversial hazard ends up being interpreted. For instance, people like Natsuo have used the results gathered by citizen science to highlight the dangers of living in Fukushima, while other citizen science organizations help bring people back to their beloved region. These conflicts can result in even more fragmented communities and conflicts within and around citizen science. ……

In Japanese, two words—shiru and wakaru—can be used for the verb “knowing.” Shiru means “to find out” or “to learn.” It implies a process of acquisition of knowledge and information. Wakaru, on the other hand, is closer to “understanding this knowledge.” Shiru comes before wakaru, and in a way, one can know but not necessarily understand. Wakaru consequently shows a greater and more personal level of comprehension often based on a given context.

For Masayuki, state institutional experts possessed shiru, but not wakaru. Having been directly affected by radioactive contamination, Masayuki strongly believed that the inhabitants of a place, the jūmin (literally, the people who resided) were best suited to manage their life in a post-Fukushima Japan.  https://www.sapiens.org/culture/fukushima-citizen-science/

 

July 15, 2020 - Posted by | health, Japan, Reference, secrets,lies and civil liberties, spinbuster

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