For Liberty and Accessible Science for All - Building a Better Understanding of U.S. Community Laboratories and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Biology Movement

dc.creatorYong-Bee Lim
dc.description.abstractThe Do-It-Yourself Biology (DIYBio) community is a global movement comprised of citizen scientists, bio-artists, tinkerers, and other individuals exploring and experimenting with biology outside of academic, government, and industry. Since its emergence in 2008, it has drawn the attention of the biorisk community, mainstream media, and the public due to the potential implications it has on the biorisk threat landscape in the United States and across the globe. The biorisk community views the community as a potential threat based on three assumptions in its narrative, including how this community 1) is likely to harbor malevolent intent given its disruptive ideology; 2) can successfully achieve complex scientific projects now that is has access to life sciences technology and protocols; and 3) is the harbinger of a world where anyone, anywhere can obtain life sciences equipment and information. However, the existing literature provides little to no evidence that the assumptions of the biorisk narrative are true. Therefore, this dissertation seeks to fill this gap by research a large subsection of the Do-It-Yourself Biology (DIYBio) movement known as community labs – shared biology lab spaces that are open to their local community and reside outside of academia, industry, and government spaces. This study used a combination of on-site field observations and interviews with community members and leaders at 9 community labs across the United States. While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic prevented me from going to all 9 community labs in-person, I observed 7 community labs directly as an active observer and interviewed and recorded a total of 43 community lab members using the video-conferencing tool Skype. With these two qualitative datasets, I generated novel data that provides and unprecedented level of understanding concerning community lab participants in the DIYBio movement in four ways. First, this study provides insights into the drives of community founders and members – what motivates founders to start these places, as well as the initial and current motivations for why members participate in these spaces. Second, it provides insights into the design of community labs spaces – how these spaces are organized, as well as leadership and financial details. Third, I provide insights on the degree to which community labs represent the democratization of the life sciences. Fourth, I use these three different data categories to do a biorisk threat assessment using bioterrorism, STS, and ICT literatures to test the assumptions of the biorisk narrative. This study argues that researchers, policymakers, and the DIYBio community itself have lacked a comprehensive characterization of this techno-social phenomenon since its inception in 2008. For scholars of science and technology studies (STS), this study argues that a more comprehensive characterization is necessary to better understand how DIYBio community labs emerge, grow, and operate in the United States. For policymakers, this study argues that a better understanding of the capabilities and limitations of U.S. DIYBio community labs enhances the policymakers’ ability mitigate the risks and maximize the benefits of these unconventional spaces of life sciences learning, experimentation, and innovation. Finally, for the U.S. DIYBio community, this study provides a unique resource for introspection: a snapshot of the similarities, differences, and trajectories of nine community labs across the United States between 2019 – 2020. This study concludes by offering observations and recommendations to address biorisk narrative discrepancies, find ways to build bridges and break silos between these two communities, and improve existing biorisk threat assessments.
dc.titleFor Liberty and Accessible Science for All - Building a Better Understanding of U.S. Community Laboratories and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Biology Movement Mason University


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