“Let’s pull these technologies out of the ivory tower”: The politics, ethos, and ironies of participant-driven genomic research

Publication Type Journal Article
Year of Publication 2017
Authors McGowan, ML, Choudhury, S, Juengst, ET, Lambrix, M, Settersten, RA, Fishman, JR
Journal BioSocieties
Volume 12
Issue 4
Pagination 494-519
Date Published Dec-2017
ISSN 1745-8552
Abstract This paper investigates how groups of ‘citizen scientists’ in non-traditional settings and primarily online networks claim to be challenging conventional genomic research processes and norms. Although these groups are highly diverse, they all distinguish their efforts from traditional university- or industry-based genomic research as being ‘participant-driven’ in one way or another. Participant-driven genomic research (PDGR) groups often work from ‘labs’ that consist of servers and computing devices as much as wet lab apparatus, relying on information-processing software for data-driven, discovery-based analysis rather than hypothesis-driven experimentation. We interviewed individuals from a variety of efforts across the expanding ecosystem of PDGR, including academic groups, start-ups, activists, hobbyists, and hackers, in order to compare and contrast how they relate their stated objectives, practices, and political and moral stances to institutions of expert scientific knowledge production. Results reveal that these groups, despite their diversity, share commitments to promoting alternative modes of housing, conducting, and funding genomic research and, ultimately, sharing knowledge. In doing so, PDGR discourses challenge existing approaches to research governance as well, especially the regulation, ethics, and oversight of human genomic information management. Interestingly, the reaction of the traditional genomics research community to this revolutionary challenge has not been negative: in fact, the community seems to be embracing the ethos espoused by PDGR, at the highest levels of science policy. As conventional genomic research assimilates the ethos of PDGR, the movement’s ‘democratizing’ views on research governance are likely to become normalized as well, creating new tensions for science policy and research ethics.
URL https://link.springer.com/article/10.1057%2Fs41292-017-0043-6
DOI 10.1057/s41292-017-0043-6
Short Title BioSocieties