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Setting the table: An open letter to North Carolina

My friend Dan once told me the story of an elder who was called to testify in a court case. When he was asked to swear that he would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, he shook his head, pursed his lips, and said, in a quiet and patient voice, “No.” “No,” he continued, “I can’t tell you the whole truth, I can only tell you the part of the truth I know.”

For me, this story is about humility and the idea that multiple lines of evidence and many different perspectives help us construct better understandings. The fundamental importance of multiple viewpoints is, for me, one of the tenets of citizen science, and this is part of what moved me, as a member of the CSA board, to vote in favor of moving the CSA conference out of North Carolina. It is also a value I tried to convey, as a member of the CSA Board, in helping contribute to an open letter to the North Carolina Governor about our decision to move the 2017 Citizen Science Conference out of North Carolina.

The letter [available here] explains that citizen science is better – more insightful and more impactful – in environments that welcome and engage the full fabric of society. The letter doesn’t mention HB2 by name, or call for its repeal. Doing so could constitute lobbying, and current tax law limits the amount of lobbying a non-profit like CSA can do while maintaining its nonprofit status. Instead, the letter seeks to educate the state government about the importance of diversity to the progress of science, including citizen science, and the positive impact that citizen science can have on the economy and livelihood of the state, the nation and the world.

In two years, we will hold our third CSA conference and meeting in North Carolina. I think the CSA board shares my optimism that things will be different by then, and we will be able to celebrate the change – and our small role in effecting that change – at our conference. Even if the law hasn’t changed, though, we will hold our 2019 conference in North Carolina. There is a financial reason for that (rebooking for 2019 was the only way we could get out of 2017 venue contracts without huge financial penalties) but there is another kind of pragmatism behind that decision. If moving in protest doesn’t work in 2017, we will try a different approach in 2019 – partnering with local activists, highlighting the contributions LBGTQ communities to citizen science, and promoting citizen science that advances LBGTQ priorities.

Either way, we will continue our commitment to invite all people and perspectives to participate in science and to contribute the part of the truth that they know.

Rajul (Raj) Pandya is a member of CSA’s Board and is the director of AGU’s Thriving Earth Exchange, which connects scientists, communities, and sponsors and helps them work together to develop solutions that have local impact and global implications. Raj believes that scientists are part of making the planet a better place for all its residents. To do that, he thinks, we’ve got to move beyond telling people about science and start listening and including them in science. He believes that diversity enhances science, but only when diverse questions and approaches are as welcome as diverse backgrounds.

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