Abolishing top-down data collection models: A citizen science approach and critique of the Years of Potential Life Lost equation

Authors: Dorsey Kaufmann*, University of Arizona, Monica Ramirez-Andreotta, University of Arizona, Shana Sandhaus, University of Arizona, Alma Anides Morales, University of Arizona, Denise Moreno Ramirez, University of Arizona, Annabelle Guptill, University of Arizona, Sanlyn Buxner, University of Arizona, Kunal Palawat*, University of Arizona
Topics: Environment, Cultural Ecology, Global Change
Keywords: environmental justice, citizen science, systems theory, resource extraction, contamination, mining waste, political ecology, labor theory of value
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 10
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Health commissions conduct statistical data analyses to inform public policy decisions that shape the long-term patterns of federal health expenditures and biophysical research. Mortality rates have been the central index of health status in a community, typically used to generate hierarchical rankings of the societal burden from disease or death. “Years of Potential Life Lost” (YPLL) is a mortality measure that calculates the years of life lost by a community due to premature death. YPLL is a way to quantify a community’s predicted loss through premature death, yet this quantification is often used to assess the value of human life in relation to productivity and profit. Although YPLL is a vital tool that has the potential to evaluate community loss from environmental pollution, it also reveals an ominous underlying ideology, that is, ¬pairing a dollar amount to years of human life.
By conducting citizen science projects with mining communities in Arizona, our team challenges the top-down models of scientific data collection and use, by providing community members with the tools necessary for them to generate their own environmental data that informs their community’s livelihood. In our essay, we will articulate the contradictions evident in the YPLL equation and how we have co-designed citizen science projects that prioritize local community health and well-being.

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