Author:Caitlin Wylie (University of Virginia)
Paper short abstract:
Most paleontology laboratories are run by a few technicians and an army of volunteers, with few scientists in sight. These workers’ “wild research” – done without credentials or professional status, yet with workers’ skill and control over their work – may be a model for future scientific practice.
Paper long abstract:
Science is a relatively exclusive activity, with academic degrees and professional appointments as gatekeepers. Yet most vertebrate paleontology laboratories are run by a few technicians and an army of volunteers. Like many research communities, scientists fund and direct the lab but rarely work there. What then happens in the lab, as the domain of paid and unpaid workers who share no common training and learned their skills on-the-job? Their preparation of fossils for research (by removing rock and repairing breaks) is largely unsupervised and unpublished by scientists. Furthermore, museum labs often have glass walls so the public can watch "science in action". Lab workers are thus portrayed as scientists, despite their absence from publications and their lack of traditional credentials and, for volunteers, professional appointments. These workers thus complicate Steven Shapin's (1989) "invisible technician" category by doing "invisible" work on public display. This "wild research" - without credentials, standard training, or professional status, yet with workers' skill and control over their work - may be a model for future scientific practice. By relaxing the gatekeeping around scientific work, science can become a hobby and community service, and thus open to vastly more people. They would bring a variety of backgrounds and skills, thus enriching science with new perspectives and a larger (and perhaps free) workforce. Based on interviews and participant observation, I investigate how the social and epistemic roles of paid and unpaid lab workers illustrate doing science "by other means", i.e., by "other" workers besides professional, PhD-holding scientists.
Wild research: Radical openings in technoscientific practice?