Carnegie Mellon University

Photo from RSA Workshop 2019.

June 25, 2019

James Wynn, Associate Professor of English and Rhetoric, Leads Citizen Science Workshop at the RSA’s Summer Institute

By Angela Januzzi

Over the last decade, there has been enormous growth in the practice of “citizen science”: the participation of non-scientists in supporting scientific research. James Wynn, Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of English, has become increasingly dedicated to studying and clarifying the rhetorical features of the interactions between scientific professionals and the public participants intending to contribute to their fields. 

Though citizen science has been around for almost two centuries, the practice is not well-known — even to those doing the work. From Thursday, June 6 through Saturday June 8, 2019, Wynn co-led a workshop on these topics at the Rhetoric Society of America’s (RSA) Summer Institute, Citizen Science and Emerging Rhetorics of Science.

During its three days, the group explored the issues and challenges of citizen science, how rhetorical scholarship might emerge from its study, and how rhetoricians might assist scientists, decision makers, and activists in the development of citizen science projects. Participants developed project ideas on these topics with the prospect of  preparing future conference papers and journal articles.

Wynn explains, “Citizen science projects are rapidly expanding and providing opportunities for scientists and the public to engage with one another. Neither scientists nor the public are always prepared for the challenges that arise from these opportunities. Rhetorical scholars can make contributions to understanding and addressing these challenges.” 

What is an easy-to-visualize case of “citizen science” in action? Wynn says The Christmas Bird Count from the Audubon Society is a clear example, referring to the annual day of bird-watching for hobbyists across the country, after which their data is submitted to the organization and later used by professional ornithologists to study bird populations and migration patterns. 

The RSA Summer Institute is a biannual event that includes both seminars and workshops which draw scholars of all levels, from graduate students to full professors, to collaboratively examine topics of significant interest to the field of rhetoric. Attendees at the RSA Summer Institute this June included current CMU Rhetoric Ph.D. students Maggie Goss, Alex Helberg, and Laura McCann; CMU English alumni Justin Mando, Carolyn Comer, Kristin Shimmin, and Derek Handley; and new CMU English faculty member Stephanie Larson.

To prepare for the workshop, part of the reading for the group included Wynn’s 2017 book on the subject: "Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science, and Public Engagement" (The University of Alabama Press).

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Pictured above: James Wynn, top right corner of table, at his co-led RSA workshop in June 2019.