Transparency and secrecy in citizen science: Lessons from herping – ScienceDirect

Abstract:  In this paper I will outline a worry that citizen science can promote a kind of transparency that is harmful. I argue for the value of secrecy in citizen science. My argument will consist of analysis of a particular community (herpers), a particular citizen science platform (iNaturalist, drawing contrasts with other platforms), and my own travels in citizen science. I aim to avoid a simple distinction between science versus non-science, and instead analyze herping as a rich practice [MacIntyre, 2007]. Herping exemplifies citizen science as functioning simultaneously within and outside the sphere of science. I show that herpers have developed communal systems of transmitting and protecting knowledge. Ethical concerns about secrecy are inherently linked to these systems of knowledge. My over-arching aim is to urge caution in the drive to transparency, as the concepts of transparency and secrecy merit close scrutiny. The concerns I raise are complementary to those suggested by previous philosophical work, and (I argue) resist straightforward solutions.