The alchemists: opportunity for a research project on biohacking/citizen ethnography


Earlier this year, Edgeryders and others wrote a neat research proposal called CCCP (a tongue-in-cheek acronym for Community as a Crucible for Citizen science Projects). It did not get funded, but we still like the idea behind it: doing citizen science (essentially citizen ethnography) on citizen science (essentially biohacking). Add to that the we believe in the biohacking movement, and we still feel committed to help where we can. So, we are considering applying to this call, with deadline March 2019.

This new 2019 call is not identical to the 2018 one we responded to. The main differences are:

  • Projects funded under it are supposed to engage with “existing citizen science projects” as opposed to starting their own in-house projects, as we did with CCCP. Among them, we should engage with the projects funded by the same EU program (Anique is doing a check on them).
  • The budget is going to be smaller (~2.5 million instead of ~3 million).

So, here’s the idea.

  • We identify a number of possible partners that plan to be doing citizen science stuff in 2020-2022. That would be you.
  • We find a way to write them into the proposal.
  • We incorporate in the proposal a fellowship program, derived from the one in OpenCare. Fellows would be people that come from your communities and are paid to connect your projects to each other and to the new iteration of CCCP. IN practice, fellows have some paid time to devote to developing their own communities and project. So, there is a fair exchange here: CCCP-2 gets access, information and data, and the grassroots communities get some financial support. This is the same idea that was behind the OpenCare fellowship won by @winnieponcelet and others.

In practice, what we want to get at is a reflection on the role of citizen science in society. Already in CCCP, we had the idea that citizen science is not “normal” science done by unpaid researchers, but something else entirely. This something else derives by the rich context that citizen science data are embedded in. Since then, Winnie reports radicalizing. The following is not verbatim, but a hopefully faithful reconstruction of a conversation we had recently:

WINNIE – “Scientists think there are ‘the data’. This is false. There is no such thing as ‘the data’. All data are contextual, all data are partial. The fiction of ‘the data’ underpinning credentialed science is so blatant that I no longer think of myself as a scientist. I may even be an anti-scientist.”

ALBERTO – “This reminds me of the epistemological wars of the 16th-17th century, as natural philosophers split between alchemists and the Invisible College, that would later become modern science. Science won on openness and sharing results, but the alchemists had some interesting points about connectedness of phenomena and what today we would call self-similarity of the physical world. Maybe you are now an alchemist!”

Ok, this is Edgeryders-style wild speculation, but understanding what non-scientists can do with science is important and urgent, and has immediate consequences for how organizations like Reagent and Hackuarium position themselves. In the project, we would have this discussion online – referencing actual wet lab work as often as possible – and then do citizen ethnography on it.

@anique.yael and I would like to suggest a call with Winnie, @dfko, @rachel, @cindys, @Dorsaf (on the biohacking side) and @amelia, @akmunk and @meta (on the ethno side) to discuss the idea and its implications for all of us. If we all think this can fly, the ER Research Network can take the lead on trying to get the funding.

If this sounds interesting, please let us know the dates when you are available through the poll below.

  • Monday 5th November at 15.00 CET
  • Monday 5th November at 16.00 CET
  • Monday 5th November at 17.00 CET
  • Tuesday 6th November at 15.00 CET
  • Tuesday 6th November at 16.00 CET
  • Tuesday 6th November at 17.00 CET

0 voters


(I can’t change my votes in the poll so noting here I’m no longer available the Monday afternoon as I’ll be at the Social Good Village at the Web Summit.)


Cool! Quick ping for @JasperB to also join, Citizen Science Lead at ReaGent :slight_smile:

Edit: reason being I personally won’t have capacity to be deeply involved in future projects on citizen science. I’m focussing more on biodesign and sustainability for the coming period.


@anthony_di_franco mentioned interested in this


isn’t being in this sort of project also for sustainability??


For info: Hackuarium is currently moving its lab space, joining a new cooperative with makers and startups for a new dynamic. Our good bye party next week is combined with our summary of our first urban garden trial (pea plants and symbiotic bacteria). Definitely, we hope to do more citizen science also in regard to the ‘open sourcing of DNA damage detection’ efforts…

looking forward to getting something exciting together, for a successfully funded proposal this time around!


Very cool ! I’ll join for Reagent, @alberto. This project idea aligns with the future plans of Reagent, in which we see citizen science as a way to create a basis for tackling societal problems, bottom up and go beyond collecting and analyzing data. For example in Flanders, a big citizen science project on air quality all of a sudden got this topic on the political agenda, right before local elections. Therefore we should use the momentum that this project (and others) created to further explore the role of citizen science in society. So I’m happy to further discuss on this 5th/6th November.


Noted @JasperB!


Seeing as Monday 5 November 17:00 is the most voted and incidentally the only time I can now make it, let’s lock it in.

@JasperB @dfko @rachel and whomever else interested, join us on zoom this coming Monday 5 November 17:00 CET via


I’ll join repping for Counter Culture Labs and Open Insulin and will remind Anthony to get on the call too. Thx for the nudge @alberto. Looking forward to seeing you all!


Looking forward to see you too, Ramy :slight_smile:


Great to talk with you @ramykim @JasperB @rachel @dfko and @alberto now.

As promised, here are some scattered notes of what we talked about. We’ll then await some more thoughts from you on the potential numbers and architecture of the hub partnership which can feedback to our collaborating partners and in my intel gathering with the Commission. It’d be great if we could have this within a week, and of course please feel free to keep using this thread as a place to dialogue among us all rather than feeling pressured to come forward with a fully formulated proposal.

  • It seems that there is potential for us to co-design a partnership where you and other communities - such as @khaoula at ELSPACE in Tunis and @thomasmboa’s lab in Cameroon - become a hub of community scientists expanding the knowledge base on citizen science through key data and meta-data for this potential project’s research.
  • As @alberto summarised at the end of our call, a minimal viable configuration for the partnership could take shape in:
  • 1 partner would act as an accessible hub for the community scientists - eg. Reagent
  • The hub would deploy an inclusive fellowship program, where diverse participants are selected by the representatives of the lab around the world and would work with your lab’s activities
  • This would involve double purposing whatever you do and also moving the conversation here to the biofabrication forum to produce data for the citizen ethnographers, as per the CCCP idea - conducting a citizen science of citizen science.
  • It seems we have a triangulation of ideas shared in the call that could guide the fellowship’s architecture through:
  • my interest in leveraging Edgeryders to expand on alternatives to institutional research; increasing the credibility of heterogeneous knowledges, offering accessible pathways and incentives into research for marginalised groups, and advocating community scientists’ as viable leaders of EU research
  • @JasperB’s thinking on the underground university and how to offer capacity building platforms for emerging community scientists
  • @ramykim’s idea on a toolkit as a simple and elegant means to bring the invisible into the visible, and work across different levels of change.
    Here the toolkit could potentially act as the lever for onboarding emerging citizen scientists as researchers contributing to your activities and the meta-data of the hub partnership.
  • There is an inclination to use community science in lieu of citizen science because of socio-political reasons. This in itself is a fascinating and pertinent insight in terms of the value of bringing citizen science leaders directly into EU research and this project. Might you expand more on this movement @ramy and @JasperB?
  • Counter Culture Labs can offer an Oakland perspective; eg. - a lot to learn in terms of socio-economic incentives and community science as an alternative to institutional knowledge
  • Metrics of impact are key - how can the community science approach / scientists inform RRI/ MORRI indicators? Eg. Reagent “making climate change tangible” with University of Antwerp
  • There are strong links between citizen science initiatives and science education for underprivileged groups.
  • We need to bridge the discussion that’s boiling at the edge of things and bring it into where we can study it
  • @rachel offered the potential for incentivising or meme-fying participation through Hackquerium’s protocol for DNA damage, that anyone could pick up and offer a basis for online collaboration. This moves towards science communication and how to make the activities relevant to people’s own life.


Yes, I picked up on that too. It would be useful if we could arrive at whether we want to go with it, and what it means exactly. If we go forward, we will need to spin a narrative around the core intuition of “citizen science on citizen science”.


Language is a hairy one in our sphere. I’ve seen the most activist community leaders decry the term “citizen science”, yet it’s the only term really understood by policy makers and reviewers. @JasperB mentioned the current wave of projects and they’re all called citizen science.

Not sure what an elegant solution is for all. You can write in a proposal that you will “brand” your project under a different term than “citizen science” when promoting the project to certain audiences. I guess reviewers should probably understand that, and it gives you freedom to investigate the different ways in which different projects see their projects.

In fact, it’s a recurring question for a lot of people, so might be the basis of an ethnographic study. With a (potentially poor) biological metaphor: mapping the genotype diversity of projects (the underlying values, tactics, assumptions, …) and the phenotype diversity (how they profile themselves, communicate, what kind of people end up participating, …) and to identify correlations between both. Maybe this whole naming thing is a load of horse**** and, much like in human genetic diversity, we are all more alike than we think :slight_smile:


As a metaphor, I find it quite promising.


Just a heads up @JasperB @ramykim @rachel @dfko that it’s looking like our next call with the potential consortium partners is being scheduled for Tuesday morning so it’d be great to have something before then [quote=“anique.yael, post:12, topic:9124”]
and of course please feel free to keep using this thread as a place to dialogue among us all rather than feeling pressured to come forward with a fully formulated proposal.


So, the new concept is this:

  1. We build, host and fund a space where different groups of biohackers host the meta-conversation about biohacking: what it is, how it is different from academic and for-profit biotech, what constitutes “evidence”, etc. The biofabforum itself is the obvious online place to host it.
  • This space is traversed by people from a plurality of labs, starting from your own; CCCP2 funds a fellowship program, and fellows are expected to follow, stimulate, and take themselves part in that conversation. The labs would choose fellows that would be physically located in labs themselves. They can spend about half their time working on local projects in Gent, Oakland etc.; and the other half reporting to CCCP2. In practice, our project will pay generously enough that they can devote themselves completely to biohacking for something like two years.
  • The way this meta-conversation happens is twofold. One layer is: some projects (or one project that is spread across several labs) agree to have their conversation about their local results, methodological choices etc. on the forum. We could not have the resources to fund them, however, except in the form explained below. The other layer is: all labs discuss about the high-level issues on the forum. Small lessons learned in individual projects fuel and specify the discussion on larger issues.
  • At least one lab will be a formal partner of CCCP2, with the task of running the fellowship program. @anique.yael is to make inquiries about architectural choices: should the others be “associated partners” or something? Should we have more than one lab as partners?
  • We do “citizen ethnography” on the forum, and ideally,
  • We also do "citizen experimental economics on it. This last step might be unrealistic given the budget.


Hi, Sorry for my delay in posting since our talk!
Just to jump right in semantically - some believe that all people are citizens, whether or not they have official papers for wherever they may be living…
Another point, the problem with calling something ‘community science’ to me is that there is often a great idea of a big ‘community’ - or maybe it is the ideal - but, in fact, in my experience with both water quality monitoring and now the first urban garden trial, it is just a few very dedicated people that are really getting a particular study done. (I mentioned during our chat the very few, who actually reported their counted peas, of 18 participants who took home pots of pea-plants +/- symbiotic bacteria).

To get to the international collaborative ‘virtual toolkit’ for the simplest DNA damage method used for workshops (also in Brussels with Edgeryders), the micronucleus assay, here is a link to the method from the Hackuarium wiki!

This could be perfect for online collaboration, but I am not sure if this is really relevant for ‘meme-ifying’ or ‘incentivizing’ at all. I do know that people do like the idea of checking out their own cells for such signs of DNA damage.
The big idea is that ultimately people will end up with an even easier way to do this (and another assay, the comet assay) in the context of a Cheek Cell Chip, plus an app, so the data can be automatically scored (i.e. you have 3 micronuclei in 1000 cells, no worries!). I had an intern working on automatic recognition of micronuclei through an algorithm last summer, and more prototyping of ‘chips’ will come soon, I hope…
I am not sure, of course, if this progress would come in time for any proposal, but the current protocol for the micronuclei is tried and true.

Additionally, as Hackuarium is currently ‘without walls,’ I need to focus on our latest plans to form a cooperative ( and get our new space, but think we can do some amazing things in the context of fellows and/or associated partners.

Looking forward!


I also wonder if there were some disclosure statements at all, for the biofabbing forum, letting people know that their posts were being taken for your ‘ethnography’ data. Was this the case??? I remember discussions with Gabi about how the term bio-fab-ing itself was already fraught with potential negative connotations… hmmm


perhaps I am confusing your biofabrication side to this site with the old biofabbing conference (esp held at CERN), where I met Winnie??