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Citizen science (CS) (also known as crowd science, crowd-sourced science, civic science, volunteer monitoring or networked science) is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists. Citizen science is sometimes described as "public participation in scientific research", participatory monitoring and participatory action research.
- 1 Definition
- 2 Citizen Science Ethics
- 3 History
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
The term CS has multiple origins as well as differing concepts. It was first defined independently in the mid-1990s by Rick Bonney in the U.S.A. and Alan Irwin in the U.K. Alan Irwin defines CS when referring to: "His developing concepts of scientific citizenship which foregrounds the necessity of opening up science and science policy processes to the public". Rick Bonney defines CS when referring to: "Public-participation engagement and science communication projects".
The terms citizen science and citizen scientists entered the Oxford English Dictionary in June 2014. Citizen science is defined as scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions, and citizen scientists, in the modern sense, are defined as "a scientist whose work is characterized by a sense of responsibility to serve the best interests of the wider community" or "'a member of the general public who engages in scientific work, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions'" an amateur scientist.
Prior to the term entering the Oxford English Dictionary the "Green Paper on Citizen Science: Citizen Science for Europe" was published and gave a definition for citizen science, referring to "the general public engagement in scientific research activities when citizens actively contribute to science either with their intellectual effort or surrounding knowledge or with their tools and resources. Participants provide experimental data and facilities for researchers, raise new questions and co-create a new scientific culture. While adding value, volunteers acquire new learning and skills, and deeper understanding of the scientific work in an appealing way. As a result of this open, networked and trans-disciplinary scenario, science-society-policy interactions are improved leading to a more democratic research, based on evidence-informed decision making as is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or non professional scientists."
Citizen science may be performed by individuals, teams, or networks of volunteers. Citizen scientists often partner with professional scientists to achieve common goals. Large volunteer networks often allow scientists to accomplish tasks that would be too expensive or time consuming to accomplish through other means.
Citizen science has evolved over the past four decades. Recent projects place more emphasis on scientifically sound practices and measurable goals for public education. Modern citizen science differs from its historical forms primarily in the access for, and subsequent scale of, public participation; technology is credited as one of the main drivers of the recent explosion of citizen science activity.
In March 2015, the Office of Science and Technology Policy published a factsheet entitled: "Empowering Students and Others through Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing". It states: "Citizen science and crowdsourcing projects are powerful tools for providing students with skills needed to excel in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Volunteers in citizen science, for example, gain hands-on experience doing real science, and in many cases take that learning outside of the traditional classroom setting. As part of the 5th White House Science Fair, the Obama Administration and a broader community of companies, non-profits, and others are announcing new steps to increase the ability of more students and members of the public to participate in the scientific process through citizen science and crowdsourcing projects." Among the "New Steps Being Announced by the Administration" there is a section on the "Installation of a Rain Gauge in the White House Garden".
In May 2016, a new open access journal was started by the Citizen Science Association along with Ubiquity Press called 'Citizen Science: Theory and Practice'. Quoting from the editorial article 'The Theory and Practice of Citizen Science: Launching a New Journal', written by R. Bonney, C. Cooper and H. Ballard: "Citizen Science: Theory and Practice provides the space to enhance the quality and impact of citizen science efforts by deeply exploring the citizen science concept in all its forms and across disciplines. By examining, critiquing, and sharing findings across a variety of citizen science endeavors, we can dig into the underpinnings and assumptions of citizen science and critically analyze its practice and outcomes. Such explorations can examine methods, approaches, benefits, costs, impacts, and challenges of citizen science and will help us better understand the role that citizen science can play in environmental science, public health, physics, biochemistry, community development, social justice, democracy, and beyond." The first edition has 5 research papers, 2 essays and 1 case study.
- The participation of nonscientists in the process of gathering data according to specific scientific protocols and in the process of using and interpreting that data.
- The engagement of nonscientists in true decision-making about policy issues that have technical or scientific components.
- The engagement of research scientists in the democratic and policy process.
Scientists and scholars who have used other definitions include Frank von Hippel, Stephen Schneider, Neal Lane and Jon Beckwith. Other alternative terminologies proposed are "civic science" and "civic scientist."
Further, Muki Haklay offers an overview of the typologies of the level of citizen participation in citizen science, which range from 'crowdsourcing' (level 1) where the citizen acts as a sensor, to 'distributed intelligence' (level 2) where the citizen acts as a basic interpreter, to 'participatory science' where citizens contribute to problem definition and data collection (level 3) to 'extreme citizen science' which involves collaboration between the citizen and scientists in problem definition, collection and data analysis.
Some projects, such as SETI@home, use the Internet to take advantage of distributed computing. These projects are generally passive. Computation tasks are performed by volunteers' computers and require little involvement beyond initial setup. There is disagreement as to whether these projects should be classified as citizen science.
The astrophysicist and Galaxy Zoo co-founder Kevin Schawinski stated: "We prefer to call this [Galaxy Zoo] citizen science because it's a better description of what you're doing; you're a regular citizen but you're doing science. Crowd sourcing sounds a bit like, well, you're just a member of the crowd and you're not; you're our collaborator. You're pro-actively involved in the process of science by participating."
Compared to SETI@home, "Galaxy Zoo volunteers do real work. They're not just passively running something on their computer and hoping that they'll be the first person to find aliens. They have a stake in science that comes out of it, which means that they are now interested in what we do with it, and what we find."
Citizen policy may be another result of citizen science initiatives. Johanna Varner (pen name SciCurious) writes: "If citizens are going to live with the benefits or potential consequences of science (as the vast majority of them will), it’s incredibly important to make sure that they are not only well informed about changes and advances in science and technology, but that they also...are able to...influence the science policy decisions that could impact their lives."
In a research report published by the U.S. National Park Service in 2008, Brett Amy Thelen and Rachel K. Thiet mention the following concerns, previously reported in the literature, about the validity of volunteer-generated data:
- Some projects may not be suitable for volunteers, for instance when they use complex research methods or require arduous or repetitive work.
- If volunteers lack proper training in research and monitoring protocols, they are at risk of introducing bias into the data.
- Members may lie about data. This risk is even greater when bounties are awarded as an incentive to participate.
The question of data accuracy, in particular, remains open. John Losey, who created the Lost Ladybug citizen science project, has argued that the cost-effectiveness of citizen science data can outweigh data quality issues, if properly managed.
Citizen Science Ethics
Various studies have been published that explore the ethics of CS, including issues such as intellectual property and project design.(e.g.) The Citizen Science Association (CSA), based at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), based in the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, have working groups on ethics and principles. The ECSA has published its 'Ten Principles of Citizen Science, which are listed below:
ECSA: The Ten Principles of Citizen Science
In September 2015, the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) published its 'Ten Principles of Citizen Science' which have been developed by the "Sharing best practice and building capacity" working group of the ECSA, led by the Natural History Museum, London with input from many members of the Association. The principles are (quoting):
"1. Citizen science projects actively involve citizens in scientific endeavour that generates new knowledge or understanding. Citizens may act as contributors, collaborators, or as project leader and have a meaningful role in the project."
"2. Citizen science projects have a genuine science outcome. For example, answering a research question or informing conservation action, management decisions or environmental policy."
"3. Both the professional scientists and the citizen scientists benefit from taking part. Benefits may include the publication of research outputs, learning opportunities, personal enjoyment, social benefits, satisfaction through contributing to scientific evidence e.g. to address local, national and international issues, and through that, the potential to influence policy."
"4. Citizen scientists may, if they wish, participate in multiple stages of the scientific process. This may include developing the research question, designing the method, gathering and analysing data, and communicating the results."
"5. Citizen scientists receive feedback from the project. For example, how their data are being used and what the research, policy or societal outcomes are."
"6. Citizen science is considered a research approach like any other, with limitations and biases that should be considered and controlled for. However unlike traditional research approaches, citizen science provides opportunity for greater public engagement and democratisation of science."
"7. Citizen science project data and meta-data are made publicly available and where possible, results are published in an open access format. Data sharing may occur during or after the project, unless there are security or privacy concerns that prevent this."
"8. Citizen scientists are acknowledged in project results and publications."
"9. Citizen science programmes are evaluated for their scientific output, data quality, participant experience and wider societal or policy impact."
"10. The leaders of citizen science projects take into consideration legal and ethical issues surrounding copyright, intellectual property, data sharing agreements, confidentiality, attribution, and the environmental impact of any activities."
The medical ethics of internet crowdsourcing has been questioned by Graber & Graber in the Journal of Medical Ethics. In particular, they analyse the effect of games and the crowdsourcing project Foldit. They conclude: "games can have possible adverse effects, and that they manipulate the user into participation."
"Citizen science" is a fairly new term but an old practice. Prior to the 20th century, science was often the pursuit of gentleman scientists, amateur or self-funded researchers such as Sir Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, and Charles Darwin. By the mid-20th century, however, science was dominated by researchers employed by universities and government research laboratories. By the 1970s, this transformation was being called into question. Philosopher Paul Feyerabend called for a "democratization of science." Biochemist Erwin Chargaff advocated a return to science by nature-loving amateurs in the tradition of Descartes, Newton, Leibniz, Buffon, and Darwin—science dominated by "amateurship instead of money-biased technical bureaucrats."
A study from 2016 indicates that the largest impact of citizen science is in research on biology, conservation and ecology, and is utilized mainly as a methodology of collecting and classifying data.
Collectively, amateur astronomers observe a variety of celestial objects and phenomena sometimes with equipment that they build themselves. Common targets of amateur astronomers include the Moon, planets, stars, comets, meteor showers, and a variety of deep-sky objects such as star clusters, galaxies, and nebulae. Observations of comets and stars are also used to measure the local level of artificial skyglow. One branch of amateur astronomy, amateur astrophotography, involves the taking of photos of the night sky. Many amateurs like to specialize in the observation of particular objects, types of objects, or types of events which interest them.
The American Association of Variable Star Observers has gathered data on variable stars for educational and professional analysis since 1911 and promotes participation beyond its membership on its Citizen Sky website.
Butterfly counts have a long tradition of involving individuals in the study of the range of butterflies and their relative abundance. Two long-running programs are the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (started in 1976) and the North American Butterfly Association's Butterfly Count Program (started in 1975). There are various protocols for monitoring butterflies and different organizations support one or more of transects, counts and/or opportunistic sightings. eButterfly is an example of a program designed to capture any of the three types of counts for observers in North America. Species-specific programs also exist, with monarchs the prominent example. Two examples of this involve the counting of Monarch butterflies during the fall migration to overwintering sites in Mexico:(1) Monarch Watch is a continent-wide project, while (2) the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project is an example of a local project.
Citizen science projects have become increasingly focused on providing benefits to scientific research. The North American Bird Phenology Program (historically called the Bird Migration and Distribution records) may have been the earliest collective effort of citizens collecting ornithological information in the U.S. The program, dating back to 1883, was started by Wells Woodbridge Cooke. Cooke established a network of observers around North America to collect bird migration records. The Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count, which began in 1900, is another example of a long-standing tradition of citizen science which has persisted to the present day. Citizen scientists help gather data that will be analyzed by professional researchers, and can be used to produce bird population and biodiversity indicators.
Such indices can be useful tools to inform management, resource allocation, policy and planning. For example, European breeding bird survey data provide input for the Farmland Bird Index, adopted by the European Union as a structural indicator of sustainable development. This provides a cost-effective alternative to government monitoring.
Similarly, data collected by citizen scientists as part of BirdLife Australia's has been analysed to produce the first-ever Australian Terrestrial Bird Indices.
The concept of citizen science has been extended to the ocean environment for characterizing ocean dynamics and tracking marine debris. For example, the mobile app Marine Debris Tracker is a joint partnership of NOAA and the University of Georgia. Long term sampling efforts such as the continuous plankton recorder has been fitted on ships of opportunity since 1931. Plankton collection by sailors and subsequent genetic analysis was pioneered in 2013 by Indigo V Expeditions as a way to better understand marine microbial structure and function.
Citizen science has a long tradition in Natural science. But nowadays, citizen science projects can also be found in various fields of science like Art history. For example, the Zooniverse project AnnoTate is a transcription tool developed to enable volunteers to read and transcribe the personal papers of British-born and émigré artists. The papers are drawn from the Tate Archive. Another example of citizen science in art history is ARTigo. ARTigo collects semantic data on artworks from the footprints left by players of games featuring artwork images. From these footprints, ARTigo automatically builds a semantic search engine for artworks.
Newer technologies have increased the options for citizen science. Citizen scientists can build and operate their own instruments to gather data for their own experiments or as part of a larger project. Examples include amateur radio, amateur astronomy, Six Sigma Projects, and Maker activities. Most recently scientist Joshua Pearce has advocated for the creation of open source hardware based scientific equipment that both citizen scientists and professional scientists, which can be replicated by digital manufacturing techniques such as 3-D printing. Multiple studies have shown this approach radically reduces scientific equipment costs. Examples of this approach include water testing, nitrate and other environmental testing, basic biology, and optics. Groups such as Public Labs, which is a community where citizen scientists can learn how to investigate environmental concerns using inexpensive DIY techniques, embody this approach.
Video technology has enabled expanded citizen science. The Citizen Science Center in the Nature Research Center wing of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences has exhibits on how to get involved in scientific research and become a citizen scientist. For example, visitors can observe birdfeeders at the Prairie Ridge Ecostation satellite facility via live video feed and record which species they see.
Since 2005, the Genographic Project has used the latest genetic technology to expand our knowledge of the human story, and its pioneering use of DNA testing to engage and involve the public in the research effort has helped to create a new breed of "citizen scientist." Geno 2.0 expands the scope for citizen science, harnessing the power of the crowd to discover new details of human population history. This includes supporting, organization and dissemination of personal DNA (genetic) testing. Like Amateur astronomy, citizen scientists encouraged by volunteer organizations like the International Society of Genetic Genealogy have provided valuable information and research to the professional scientific community.
Citizens in Space (CIS), a project of the United States Rocket Academy, seeks to combine citizen science with citizen space exploration. CIS is training citizen astronauts to fly as payload operators on suborbital reusable spacecraft that are now in development. CIS will also be developing, and encouraging others to develop, citizen-science payloads to fly on suborbital vehicles. CIS has already acquired a contract for 10 flights on the Lynx suborbital vehicle, being developed by XCOR Aerospace, and plans to acquire additional flights on Lynx and other suborbital vehicles in the future.
CIS believes that "The development of low-cost reusable suborbital spacecraft will be the next great enabler, allowing citizens to participate in space exploration and space science."
The Internet has been a boon to citizen science, particularly through gamification. One of the first Internet-based citizen science experiments was NASA's Clickworkers, which enabled the general public to assist in the classification of images, greatly reducing the time to analyze large data sets. Another example is Quantum Moves, a game developed by the Center for Driven Community Research at Aarhus University which uses online community efforts to solve quantum physics problems. The solutions found by players can then be used in the lab to feed computational algorithms used in building a scalable quantum computer.
The internet has also enabled citizen scientists to gather data which will be analyzed by professional researchers. Citizen science networks are often involved in the observation of cyclic events of nature (phenology), such as effects of global warming on plant and animal life in different geographic areas, and in monitoring programs for natural-resource management. On BugGuide.Net, an online community of naturalists who share observations of arthropods, amateurs and professional researchers contribute to the analysis. By October 2014, BugGuide has over 808,718 images submitted by more than 27,846 contributors.
The Zooniverse is home to the internet's largest, most popular and most successful citizen science projects. The Zooniverse and the suite of projects it contains is produced, maintained and developed by the Citizen Science Alliance (CSA). The member institutions of the CSA work with many academic and other partners around the world to produce projects that use the efforts and ability of volunteers to help scientists and researchers deal with the flood of data that confronts them. A NASA/JPL picture to the right gives an example from one of Zooniverse's projects The Milky Way Project.
The website CosmoQuest has as its goal: "To create a community of people bent on together advancing our understanding of the universe; a community of people who are participating in doing science, who can explain why what they do matters, and what questions they are helping to answer.
CrowdCrafting enables its participants to create and run projects where volunteers help with image classification, transcription, geocoding and more. The platform is powered by PyBossa software, a free and open-source framework for crowdsourcing.
Mobile technology has further boosted the opportunities for citizen science. Examples include the San Francisco project, the WildLab, iNaturalist, and Project Noah. There are also smartphone apps for monitoring birds, marine wildlife and other organisms, and the 'Loss of the Night'.
The first Conference on Public Participation in Scientific Research was held in Portland, Oregon in August 2012. Citizen science is now often a theme at large conferences, such as the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
Since 2010, there has been bi-annual citizen cyberscience summit, organised by the Citizen Cyberscience Centre in Geneva. The 2014 Citizen Cyberscience Summit Conference was hosted in London in February 2014 and featured 'leading figures in citizen science and exploring the process of public engagement, outreach in citizen science'.
The next citizen science conference hosted by the Citizen Science Association was in San Jose, CA in February 2015 in partnership with the AAAS conference.
- Galaxy Zoo
- Independent scientist
- Independent scholar
- List of citizen science projects
- Open science
- Open source lab
- Outsider art produced by artists that are non-institutionalized in the same way as citizen scientists
- Participatory monitoring
- Participatory action research
- Participation (decision making)
- Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science
- Popular science
- Scientific instruments
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- Ridley, Matt. (2012, February 8). "Following the Crowd to Citizen Science," The Wall Street Journal
- Young, Jeffrey R. (2010, May 28). "Crowd Science Reaches New Heights," The Chronicle of Higher Education
- Sauermann, Henry; and Chiara Franzoni (2015, January 20). "Crowd Science User Contribution Patterns and Their Implications," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
- Citizen Cyberscience Centre. The Citizen Cyberscience Centre in Geneva.
- Citizen Cybersummit Conference 2014. Every two years.
- The Public Library of Science (PLOS). CitizenSci – projects, people, and perspectives fueling new frontiers for citizen science.
- Citizen Science Center
- GeoTag-X run by UNITAR-UNOSAT
- Ibercivis Foundation
- Search and Rescue Citizen Science Experiment by National Research Council Canada
- Atlas. Australia's voice for birds since 1901.
- Marine Debris tracker. Spreading awareness of marine debris.
- Indigo V Expeditions. Dedicated to the advancement of citizen oceanography.