Commentary July 15, 2020

Being Clear-Eyed About Citizen Science in the Age of COVID-19

An anthropologist explores the network of citizen monitoring capabilities that developed after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011 for what they might teach all of us about such strategies for the covonavirus pandemic.
The Fukushima Dai’ichi Nuclear Power Plant in northeastern Japan.
Yomiuri Shimbun, Masamine Kawaguchi/AP Photo

On the quiet Friday afternoon of March 11, 2011, Natsuo* was working in Fukushima, the capital city of Fukushima prefecture. At 2:46 p.m., a devastating earthquake of 9.0 magnitude hit the Pacific coast of Japan, where the prefecture of Fukushima is situated. Natsuo recalled to me the sheer power of this earthquake: “The whole office shook like hell, everything began to fall from the walls. I thought to myself ‘That’s it … I’m going to die!’”

Natsuo quickly returned to her hometown of Koriyama City, unaware that the earthquake had triggered a massive tsunami, which inundated an important part of the prefectural shoreline and ultimately claimed the lives of nearly 20,000 people. On top of the initial devastation, the tsunami severely damaged the Fukushima Dai’ichi Nuclear Power Plant, in Ōkuma, Fukushima, located on the east coast of Fukushima prefecture. She later learned on TV that something “seemed wrong” with the nuclear power plant. “During that time,” she said, “I tried to get as much information as I could, but the media weren’t being clear on the situation.”

Read the rest at Sapiens