Accepted Paper:

Access to equipment and epistemic injustices within scientific research  

Author:

Louise Bezuidenhout (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

The availability of research technologies varies considerably. Many scientists rely on donations of equipment to overcome shortages. While useful, such systems raise considerable epistemic and social concerns, as they may unintentionally perpetuate inequalities within the global science community.

Paper long abstract:

The availability of research technologies around the world is a topic of considerable discussion. In many research environments - particularly in the Global South - researchers struggle to produce data with older research equipment, few reagents and little infrastructural support. The awareness of these resource inequalities plays out against the widespread framing of science as the key to sustainable and equitable futures.

A number of initiatives aim to address the inequalities of research resources, including schemes that facilitate equipment donation and/or sharing. While such schemes have had some success, the problems associated with them must also be recognised. These include reinforcing the distinctions between well- and poorly-resourced laboratories in terms of up-to-date equipment. Moreover, they can also trap low-resourced laboratories in cycles of dependence with regards to proprietary reagents and software, maintenance contracts and high costs of repair.

Examining the current discussions about research resource inequalities highlights how current structures of inequality are unintentionally reinforced. This reveals wider epistemic and social implications. As scientific research and the production of research become increasingly mechanised, the recognition of resource inequalities must raise significant concerns about the possible marginalization of data produced using older equipment. This may lead to situations of epistemic injustice, where certain regions of scientists continue to dominate the emerging data-centric milieu of modern science by virtue of the equipment available to them. The possibility of such situations must raise concerns - particularly for the notion of an egalitarian, Open Data future for science - and warrants further discussion.

Panel C05
Science, innovation and inequality: part of the solution or the problem?