The tsunami had receded just days before. The cores of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Japan’s central east coast were molten wrecks. The deadly radiation once bottled inside their concrete containment domes — well, nobody knew exactly where it went.
So a group of citizens decided to find out.
The years-long nationwide act of citizen science that followed armed Japan’s citizenry with information never before publicly available, and forced the country’s government and institutions to adapt to a political reality unthinkable just a few years earlier. Their story is one of three examples of the diffusion of scientific research explored in “Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement,” a new book by Carnegie Mellon University’s James Wynn.
Wynn’s book explores how this practice is changing the arguments that steer public policy by raising awareness about risk. If risk data are no longer the sole province of scientific institutions and governments, if the information is gathered and held by the public, that “changes the way people can argue,” said Wynn, associate professor of English and rhetoric in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.