What Is Citizen Science?
Updated May 24th, 2022
Citizen Science is a relatively new term, even though volunteers have collaborated and contributed to science for years. Learn about Citizen Science, different projects that allow various kinds of participation, the public debate regarding Citizen Science, and how Citizen Science looks today in this article.
What Is Citizen Science?
Citizen Science is a term referring to when the general public voluntarily helps conduct scientific research. Citizen scientists may do any of the following:
- design experiments
- collect data
- analyze results
- solve problems.
The information collected from experiments, datasets, or results helps resource managers and professional scientists answer specific scientific questions and solve vital issues. These managers and scientists typically decide which topics (scientific or otherwise) are vital, how to collect data, which tools to use, and how to use the results. The public is enabled, invited, and encouraged to participate.
Who Can Be a Citizen Scientist?
Anyone can be a citizen scientist, regardless of age, gender, geographic location, or background. All you need is curiosity, a sense of wonder, and a desire to help. Volunteers have diverse levels of expertise, from kids in their garden at home to amateur astronomers with more sophisticated equipment. Citizen Science requires collaboration between scientists and researchers with the general public.
What Are Some Citizen Science Projects?
Citizen Science projects may include anything from wildlife monitoring programs to online databases and visualization to sharing technologies and other community efforts. Below is a list of some location-specific projects, as well as worldwide ones:
- Zooniverse - a Citizen Science online platform that supports a wide variety of citizen scientists. Instead of taking volunteers outside, Zooniverse exists exclusively online. Astronauts can virtually explore distant galaxies, investigate solar explosions, and study the surface of the moon, all from the comfort of their own homes.
- Earthdive - a Citizen Science concept and a global research project that allows millions of recreational scuba divers, snorkelers, and others to help preserve the health and diversity of our oceans. Together with the United Nations Environment Programme and contributors from 118 countries, Earthdive provides the Global Dive Log, where one can record sightings of key indicator species and human-induced pressures in oceans.
- National Park Service (NPS) - NPS uses the best available scientific information to manage national parks. One of the best ways to obtain this information is from Citizen Science projects. This website includes a list of year-round park-sponsored projects in different states throughout the US.
- CitizenScience.gov - an official government website designed to encourage Citizen Science across the US government. Through Citizen Science, non-governmental organizations and the federal government can engage the American public in addressing societal needs and accelerating innovation, science, and technology.
The Public Debate About Citizen Science
Since Citizen Science has only been widely promoted in the last decade, many people haven’t heard about the term or understand its meaning. In this real-life story, a recreational diver talks about not having heard of the term until he participated in a reef conservation project. Open Access (OA) publishing helps shed some light on the matter, although some academic journals don’t publish data collected by volunteers, unfortunately.
Read about how the Open Access movement can help the public and other researchers understand the integrity and complexity of the Citizen Science practice.
In the past, it was also very rare that participants of community geography projects had a chance to create and interpret visualizations or analyze data themselves. Project organizers would prefer to provide the participants with opportunities to work with the data but lacked the resources or expertise necessary to create the tools needed to do their own visualization or analysis. Therefore, FieldScope was launched, allowing individuals interested and invested in researching a specific scientific question to further their research, regardless of skill set.
Unlocking the Educational Potential of Citizen Science
Community geography projects have a plethora of educational possibilities. Community geography breaks down the boundaries between school and the real world, allowing students to participate in inquiry-based learning outdoors and learn science in a new way.
One of the first FieldScope projects implemented was measuring the water quality in the Chesapeake Bay tributaries. Two years following implementation, more than 600 teachers received training on the software, and there were over 40,000 visits to the site. There have also been schools that have implemented the project into their science curriculum for middle school students.
Students and teachers have since enthusiastically taken on the opportunity to participate in the geospatial analysis of data. Today, teachers and middle and high school students can use the interactive FieldScope platform to collect, visualize, and analyze environmental data, engaging students with the community and Citizen Science data. Additionally, administrators see that community geography enables them to achieve learning outcomes for science understanding and science skills.
Potential of Orvium
Orvium offers a unique chance for citizen scientists to upload their contributions and be peer-reviewed by academic scientists. Therefore, when they are consistently peer-reviewed and published, citizen scientists’ work can obtain scientific status and could potentially be accepted into the scientific community. This means that they will be able to review publications themselves, ultimately elevating their status from citizen scientist to scientist.
From Past to Present - How Does Citizen Science Look Now?
One of the first Citizen Science programs in the US was developed in the 1800s by Wells Cooke, a member of the American Ornithologists’ Union. Cooke began a program that looked at the pattern of bird migration, which expanded into one of the first government programs for birds. From 1900 to the present day, organizations have had more than 2,000 volunteer groups across the US and Canada collect information about birds every year. This information informs bird conservation efforts.
In the past, when scientists wanted to gather more information, they would use existing Citizen Science networks of birders and other amateur groups. Since the late 1900s, however, widespread Internet availability made it easier for people to contribute and share information, and the number of Citizen Science programs increased. The last several years have seen a more significant Citizen Science program expansion, thanks to the rapid development of smartphones and digital media.
New communities and networks of interested citizen scientists are created every day as we learn more about the world and ecosystem around us and how we can contribute further. Phones now have GPS, allowing volunteers to provide geo-location information about situations or species in real-time. In the future, we might be able to measure and record environmental data (temperature readings and air quality levels) as more phones could be equipped with smart sensors.
We as a society can always benefit from more participation, data sharing and gathering, and scientific advancement. And today, it’s easy to participate and contribute by becoming a citizen scientist. You just have to want to be a part of your community or have an interest in:
- the environment
- the humanities
- the planet
- or all of the above!
Orvium understands that collaboration between the public, researchers, and scientists is key.
Read more about our collaborations and communities of researchers on our platform.