Charles Lotterman

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Rice U.

Grant number

Gr. 9609

Approve Date

April 13, 2018

Project Title

Lotterman, Charles K., Rice U., Houston, TX - To aid research on 'Public Science, Ambiguous Knowledge, and the Question of Personality in Post-Socialist Czech Republic,' supervised by Dr. Andrea Ballestero

Preliminary abstract: Shortly after the implosion of the socialist project, a team of scientists in the Czech Republic began to overcome reductions in state support for science by entrepreneurially mobilizing public curiosity in order to sustain an ambitious research agenda on the question of individual personality. These practices have yielded a controversial claim: that a parasite harbored by a third of the human population makes its hosts less fearful but more selfish, among other symptoms. By promoting their provocative findings in national media, the scientists have recruited as many as 50,000 participants from the public, who complete online personality surveys and diagnostic blood tests that power the scientists’ inquiries. However, other scientists globally are skeptical, as such practices transgress traditional research protocols by actively intervening in the imagination of research participants. My study thus asks how practices generally understood as antagonist to the scientific ideal — improvisation, lack of funding, and convenience sampling — come together in the production of knowledge that, regardless of its accuracy, blends scientific facts with personal narratives in ways that broaden its impact. By ethnographically studying the interface between scientists, participants, and the broader context in which science unfolds, it asks how this interaction between scientists and the public shapes and is shaped by social understandings of personhood in the post-socialist Czech Republic. Further, it follows divergences in scientific and public interpretations of scientific facts to understand how such ambiguities may expand and accelerate, rather than hinder, knowledge making practices.