There are many unanswered questions. There are many curious people. What if I told you there’s a connection between these two that may solve many large problems? Bonney says “We can employ citizens to gather data that we cannot get any other way”.
Citizen Science, Crowdsourcing, or Participatory Science is becoming a common practice in scientific fields. This new field of study allows for collaboration between scientists and volunteers. The volunteers are able to collect and/or process data to contribute to each project. This type of research began in 1900 when the National Audubon Society started a Christmas bird count. This citizen science project, done yearly, has grown tremendously and is now know for one of the largest participatory projects of all time. Universities have jumped on this opportunity, as well, with Cornell being one of the leading user and promoters of citizen science.
It is said that the best way for the public to understand and appreciate science is to participate in it. Not only is this benefitting individuals by teaching them scientific methods and allowing them to participate in ground breaking research, it is also advancing scientific knowledge to unknown lengths. Must of the research needing to be done is in a location difficult to reach by scientists. With this occurring at broad geologic scales, the use of citizens is extremely beneficial.
You may worry that there may be a flaw in this with citizens collection data. However, when they sign up for these programs, they are given protocols that are easy to perform, explained in a clear and straightforward manner, and are engaging for volunteer participants. The methods are well designed and standardized. Many participants are eager to learn, and are not likely to intentionally mess up the data collected.
There are many advantages and disadvantages that come along with this type of research. Most obvious is the ability to cope with large datasets and the collection of difficult to reach information. This process is completely volunteer based, so research can be collected with little to no cost. With any scientific research, there is error and bias that comes along with it. This data collected by the public needs to be validated or review in some way, however, this significantly cuts back on scientist requirements.
Organizations have been developed to help connect scientists, researchers, and the public together on citizen science projects. Some projects are online participation projects where data can be assessed directly on the site. Others are a way of connecting individuals to projects. Citizenscience.org has now grown to over 1,000 projects, 1 million volunteers, and 4,000 members. This site aims to build collaboration, community and credibility. It’s not the only one of its kind, as many are realizing the benefits of this type of research. It will continue to grow in future years as individuals are encouraged to participate in science, helping to solve issues for the betterment of all people, organisms, and the nature around us.