How are the boundaries of “good” science shape who gets to do science? How are those boundaries drawn? And how can people who care about inclusion in science start to build an understanding of these questions and do something about it?

Here at CAT Lab, we work directly with the public to answer questions about digital life, conducting research that makes a difference in people’s lives, advances scientific knowledge, and contributes to policy discussions. As a university-based lab, we also train the next generation of diverse scholars to collaborate with the public on those discoveries.

One part of that training involves hosting “Big Tent” 🎪 conversations with our circle of students and collaborators about the theory and practice of publicly-engaged research. This year, we’re starting out our Big Tent by discussing by discussing how people define what counts as science, what doesn’t count as science, and the implications for people from marginalized communities. If you’re thinking about starting a conversation on these topics, this guided conversation might be a good place to start:


I suggest reading the stories by Robin Wall Kimmerer first and then the article by Neil Lewis Jr., since Neil reviews the scientific evidence related to the themes in Kimmerer’s stories.

The Kimmerer readings are short and beautiful. I suggest finding a pretty spot to sit for a half hour (goldenrod and asters are in season right now). If you want more backstory on her grandfather and her family history and have the time, I also suggest reading “The Council of Pecans.”

Discussion Questions

  • In the two stories by Kimmerer:
    • How do definitions of what counts as science create boundaries around who can do science? Have you seen examples of that in your own fields or experiences?
    • How do Kimmerer and her PhD student advance scientific knowledge by expanding whose knowledge is respected in the process? Have you seen examples in your own fields or experiences?
    • What boundaries of science, if any, do you think are important to maintain, in order to preserve the value and integrity of other kinds of knowledge?
  • In the article by Neil Lewis Jr.:
    • Why have some people and questions counted more than others in psychological (and social and computer) sciences?
    • How is exclusion in science related to the methods we use to ask scientific questions?
  • Overall questions about how we talk about diversity in science: comparing the article by Lewis and Kimmerer,
    • Who do you think those articles are meant to persuade?
    • How do they persuade?
    • Given what you read in the Lewis article about public engagement, how could someone decide whether to use one or the other styles when writing about diversity/inclusion?

Image credit: Monarchs with Asters and Goldenrod, CC-BY-ND 2.0 by Ellen MacDonald