Calling citizen scientists: collaborators wanted

University of New South Waled Dietary Habits study, PhD research, Hania Rahimi; image is a plate of greens with some protein and a glass of juice.

Here’s a true (and under-appreciated) fact: scientific research couldn’t get off the ground without the help of citizen volunteers and collaborators.  Not only do we allow researchers access to our stories, our bodies, our bodily fluids and tissues, our DNA, our family’s DNA, etc., but we provide a built-in context for all that data– we’re embedded in our bodies, communities, families, cultures, religions, nationalities, and diagnoses, presenting nuance and complexity personified.

Why does (and should) science care about this?  Because lab results based on narrow hypotheses don’t give us enough evidence to help us find good solutions to big problems.  They’re just a part of the process.  What works in the lab often doesn’t work in the world, because there’s a host of other influences that contribute to whatever scientists are researching, whether it’s cancers, pollution, fitness, or gun violence.  Science needs us– people busy living their lives.  We are authorities on the details of our habits and practices, and can offer valuable insights to help researchers better understand complexity.

You may be wondering:  why I am going on about this topic?  Yes, it’s legit, but not my usual beat.  Well, the answer is this:  the blog got an email from Hania Rahimi, a PhD candidate researcher at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.  She and her group are doing a study on dietary habits in adults with BMI 25–40.  They’re going to be testing an “online behavioural intervention for improving dietary habits”– this is from the information page, found here.  They’re recruiting folks to participate, and we’re helping out by posting the information.  To see if you’re eligible for the study, you can go to the previous link or also check here for more information.

For what it’s worth, I signed up.  I find being a study participant, especially in research like this (that doesn’t happen to involve blood draws or stool samples), pretty interesting.  My participation helps provide information for their analysis, and the fact that it’s me (rather than someone else) brings *my* perspective into the mix.  As a person who cares about science in general and dietary science in particular, I think this is a good thing.  Plus, we’re helping a graduate student get data for her PhD research.

By the way, my friend Norah and I have written about this issue here. We (along with lots of other people) argue that a primary feminist critique of science is its failure to include the voices and perspectives and embedded knowledge of those who are affected by or experiencing the phenomenon under investigation.  There’s a lot to say here, and a lot’s been said by many of us, including those who write for this blog. The upshot for us, here, now, though, is that science benefits when informed by the rich reports of embedded-in-the-world experiences of the people who have had those experiences.  The information you get is not the same as what you get just by observing, and it’s useful (in fact often crucial) information.

That’s it.  I’ll be back to fitness/weight/sports/random other ruminations next week.

Feminist science posters, with slogans like "this is what feminist science looks like" and "science and feminism: better together"

Feminist science posters, with slogans like “this is what feminist science looks like” and “science and feminism: better together”

About catherine w

I'm an analytic philosopher, retooled as a public health ethicist. I'm interested in heath behavior change, particularly around eating and activity, and how things other than knowledge affect our health decisions.I'm also a cyclist (road, off-road, commuter), squash player, x skier, occasional yoga-doer, hiker, swimmer and leisurely walker.

5 thoughts on “Calling citizen scientists: collaborators wanted

  1. Sam B says:

    I contacted them too Catherine.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymouse says:

    I’m somewhat confused as to why Ms. Rahimi contacted your blog when her study assumes that anyone who has a BMI over 25 is engaging in unhealthy eating habits? A cursory glance through the posts here makes it pretty clear that eating habits and BMI/weight are not super related to each other.

    I fit the criteria for the study so I am considering contacting her, if nothing else to become a data point for how varied people in the BMI 25 to 40 categories are. I suppose if we’re ever to abandon the BMI because it’s junk science, young scientists need to see for themselves why it’s an ineffective and harmful methodology.

    Liked by 1 person

    • catherine w says:

      Hi– I should have put in the blog post that I don’t endorse any particular view about what “healthy” dietary habits are. You are totally right that none of us who write for this blog think that people with BMI >25 are, for that reason, unhealthy. In fact, my reasons for joining the study are similar to yours– to be a loud and proud data point of a person with BMI well over 25 who tries to live and eat and move in ways that are healthy-to-me (which may well not be healthy-to-the-powers-that-be).


  3. Keri says:

    The fact that I’d like to participate in the study but probably won’t because I would have to get on a scale (something I don’t do) to find out what I weigh, is sadly revealing to me. More inner work to do, I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • catherine w says:

      HI Keri– I’m so with you on the scale issue. Let’s not beat ourselves up about it– there are so many things that we all have to struggle with (inside and out), but this one need not be one of them. Just FYI, to do the intake form, I didn’t have to give them my weight. All I had to do was say that my BMI was between 25 and 40, which I know it is (from previous weighings).


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