We just published our first scientific paper

Safecast marked another first recently with the publication of a peer-reviewed paper in the prestigious Journal of Radiological Protection (JRP). The paper, titled “Safecast: successful citizen-science for radiation measurement and communication after Fukushima,” tells the story of our project, attempting to place it within the spectrum of citizen science in general and to describe our priorities, values, methodology, and results as clearly and readably as possible. This required us to revisit recent academic discourse about citizen science, crowdsourcing, openness, and post-Fukushima mapping and communication, and to draw relevant distinctions between our own focus and what everyone else has been doing. Azby Brown was the primary author, with significant contributions from co-authors Pieter Franken, Sean Bonner, Nick Dolezal, and Joe Moross.

Last time we checked, the paper had already been downloaded over 850 1300 times (as of July 11), which places it in the journal’s “most read” category. We’re incredibly pleased about this, not only because the number of downloads serves as an indication of the relevance of the contents, but also because we worked very hard to make a convincing case in support of openness as well as citizen science, and have reason to feel optimistic that the message is hitting home. Formulating our argument was very interesting, because while we rarely rely on any kind of explicit theory when deciding what to do, when looking back and evaluating it, we found that our way of working fits fairly well within some of the leading theoretical frameworks for citizen-based science and open-source development, and can be used to demonstrate their validity. By all means read the paper and let us know what you think. The article is open-access and free of charge, but our understanding is that it will revert to paywalled status after six months.

Our paper is included as part of a special section in the journal devoted to the First International Conference on Risk Perception, Communication and Ethics of Exposures to Ionizing Radiation (RICOMET), which was held in Ljubliana, Slovenia, in June 2015. This conference is unique in that it focusses on the ethical and social issues of the use of nuclear power and ionizing radiation. The discussions are primarily directed towards making policy and research recommendations intended to ensure that concerns of ethics, justice, and public participation are fully integrated into the official decisionmaking processes regarding the siting and operation of nuclear powerplants, in protective guidelines, in the disposition of radioactive waste, and in communicating risks. By design, participants at RICOMET 2015 were fairly evenly divided among journalists, people charged with communicating on behalf of government agencies during nuclear disasters, and social scientists studying the flow of information and the shaping of opinion during such disasters. Almost all of the organizers and key participants work for European government agencies or research laboratories, such as Belgium’s SCK-CEN and France’s IRSN. Azby attended and represented Safecast, and found the participants to be refreshingly candid in their criticism of how poorly these important communication responsibilities were carried out worldwide during the peak of the Fukushima crisis.  He also found them to be serious about implementing fairer and more socially just radiation, health, and environment-related policies and procedures. People who are interested to learn how their arguments are being formulated and presented to European decisionmakers are encouraged to read the other papers in this special section, and the presentations from this year’s conference.

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Above: Safecasting Bucharest during the RICOMET 2016 conference.

Having these problems adequately recognized on-high and shepherding the needed changes through the European legal system are extremely fraught political processes. Championing this is a risky career move for many of those involved, and there’s no guarantee of success. But the conference itself and the papers which have resulted illustrate an emerging consensus that the rights of the public need to be placed foremost in any radiation-related decisionmaking process. It’s extremely gratifying that this community of experts welcomes the kind of input that Safecast can provide. We were invited to participate in the conference this year as well, in Bucharest just two weeks ago, and made a joint presentation about rapidly growing education programs in France and the Czech Republic which use the Safecast system, and the importance of arming citizens with the tools and information they need to ensure that their concerns are adequately represented.