– Thousands of eyes, ears & minds at your service.
Have you ever had an idea that you would love to research, a question that you burn to answer but have abandoned simply because the amount of time and effort required to do so is beyond the capabilities of one man/woman. Well the Citizen Scientist can help you!
An increasing number of researchers, institutions, and organisations are enlisting those from outside the realm of science to help collect masses of data and quickly. Oh, and did I mention for free?
Citizen scientists are . . .
- Measuring light pollution
- Measuring water quality
- Observing clouds in order to validate NASA’s ‘Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System’
- Documenting the presence / absence of animals and plants around the world (http://www.projectnoah.org/)
- Recording personal clinical information for contribution to medical science
- Recording the movement, and migratory patterns of animals through both observation and tagging (http://www.tunalab.org/tagatiny.htm, www.myswan.org.au)
- Helping classify astronomical entities in the universe (http://www.galaxyzoo.org/)
- Helping in the search for extra-terrestrial beings (http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/)
Of course volunteer based data collection does have its limitations. Where the science entails gruelling, technical, complex methods, or an in depth knowledge of the subject investigated, the effort is left for us.
What I want to know is do you trust the data collected by citizen scientists? Source: Modified from Wikimedia Commons
The entire notion of citizen science depends upon our faith in the data collected. If people with a reduced level of interest or commitment contribute to data collection there is potential for dishonesty, unintentional mistakes, or sloppiness. It’s the same as filling out a questionnaire or answering telemarketer’s questions. I would hope that the very act of volunteering would weed out those who would fabricate or misrepresent observations.
There are many ways to safeguard against inaccuracies in the information collected. Most projects attempt to do so by putting standardised, unambiguous methods in place which leave no room for human error. Others compare the data delivered by the public with data previously collected by trained scientists in order to assess levels of confidence. Nevertheless there is that niggling doubt.
If you were an editor, would you publish a paper that stems purely from citizen science?
The list of projects which depend upon input from the public is diverse and endless.
Check out http://www.scienceforcitizens.net/ for a comprehensive list of ventures. It’s pretty awesome stuff! Or download one of the many citizen science apps.