"Scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions."
What Is Citizen Science?
Citizen science is the active involvement and engagement of the public in scientific research.
Any person, from anywhere in society can join citizen science projects and share their knowledge, insights and expertise.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines citizen science as, “Scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions.”
Global challenges can present local problems which can be addressed by local/regional citizens in order to combat whatever the global issue is. This is no different to breaking down a problem into smaller, more workable parts. These global challenges may be things like environmental issues, for example deforestation, the protection of endangered species and the advancement of clinical research. Other such projects can include things like identifying bird nests from satellite aerial photographs of forests and counting astronomical entities from telescopic imagery.
These collaborations between scientists and ordinary citizens can occur through citizen science projects on local and global scales, all potentially leading to scientific discoveries that a single scientist on their own could never achieve in isolation.
The fact is, in order to obtain large data sets, scientists alone can not possibly collate and/or analyse data on a grand scale. This is where the eyes and ears of the many (citizens) can help aid the few (professional scientists).
Ordinary citizens from every walk of life, from all around the world are now taking photographs of clouds, of trees and wildlife and actively engaged in monitoring air and water quality on a daily basis.
There are 4 common features of all good citizen science projects:
- Any person can participate in them;
- All project participants use the same protocols to ensure that all data can be shared in a common format and is of high quality;
- All data obtained should help scientists to reach tangible conclusions; &
- All results can be shared across both the scientific community and also the public.
Taking this further, in 2015 in Barcelona, the 10 Principles of Citizen Science were presented at the ECSA (European Citizen Science Association) General Assembly. These are as follows:
- Citizen science projects actively involve citizens in scientific endeavour that generates new knowledge or understanding;
- Citizen science projects have a genuine science outcome;
- Both the professional scientists and the citizen scientists benefit from taking part;
- Citizen scientists may, if they wish, participate in multiple stages of the scientific process;
- Citizen scientists receive feedback from the project;
- Citizen science is considered a research approach like any other, with limitations and biases that should be considered and controlled for;
- Citizen science project data and meta-data are made publically available and where possible, results are published in an open access format;
- Citizen scientists are acknowledged in project results and publications;
- Citizen science programmes are evaluated for their scientific output, data quality, participant experience and wider societal or policy impact;
- 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.
Dr. Caren Cooper talks about citizen science in her TEDx talk in Greensboro, NC…..
Who Are Citizen Scientists?
Citizen scientists are usually not professionally-qualified scientists. Usually citizen scientists are people who are curious and have enquiring minds about the specific projects they’re working on. They collaborate with scientists in order to further scientific advancements in that scientific field of research.
Benefits of Citizen Science
Citizen science enables scientists to seek a much larger data set, crossing international boundaries without cost implications or further time constraints. The methodology of citizen science projects enables scientists to focus on more pressing matters in their research and frees them from unnecessary large-scale data analysis and interpretation.
As well as increasing voluntary contributions to society, it helps to increase both knowledge, skills and experience in relation to the citizen science project in which they’re engaging. This in itself provides a greater insight into scientific processes, the subject area and part-ownership of the issues being studied. Along the way, many citizens find that they pick up new skills.
Whenever members of the public contribute to citizen science projects, society as a whole benefits. Not only does it engage ordinary citizens directly with scientific research, perhaps even into fields that they would not otherwise have been aware. It also helps to enrich the research study by making it the sum of all the skills and experience of everyone involved.
This can help increase awareness and community involvement in science but also to help steer policy direction and the attitudes of society as a whole.
How Will it Affect The Future of Scientific Research?
Citizen science harnesses the enthusiasm, passion & dedication of those ordinary members of the public who have a sheer curiosity or deep interest in advancing important scientific research.
Data collation and interpretation is one of the most time-consuming aspects of scientific research. With the benefits of the internet and global connectivity, these days people from anywhere in the world can take part in, provide and analyse data from research in a multitude of citizen science projects which frees up the key scientists working on the projects to focus on advancing the research. Quite often, ordinary members of the public make discoveries that key members of the scientific community have themselves missed.
By increasing the number of people involved in scientific research outside the labs, there is an increased level of awareness of scientific projects. Citizen science encourages all aspects of society to engage with and become part of the mainstream scientific community.