“Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure science” – Edwin Powell Hubble
One of the most widely held misconceptions that exists within the world of science is that discovery lies solely within the domain of academics and researchers. We’ve all read science books in school that highlight the achievements of early scientists and technology blogs that celebrate new advancements and discoveries in everything from medicine to genetics. The reality, however, is that science has always originated from the average person’s observation of the natural world. In fact, naturalists have been some of our earliest scientists before the term “citizen science” or Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR) was ever invented. I almost think of it as the “Quora of Science”: The crowd sharing of information from diverse origins for the education of others and the advancement of research and discovery. What then is citizen science and why is it important? What are some of the misconceptions about observation, data collection and analysis that would prevent anyone in the world from making the next breakthrough discovery? I think we need to demystify what constitutes “real” science and debunk the notion of that research can only occur within academia’s ivory towers and hallowed halls to encourage all members of society to participate in, and contribute to, scientific research.
- ANYONE CAN PARTICIPATE IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
Before there is data collection and scientific analysis, there is simply observation. You don’t have to be a world-renown researcher who works in a mahogany library wearing a monocle to get in on the action. Possessing intellectual curiosity about a particular subject and having the willingness to volunteer your time are often the only requisites of the job. Not all amateur scientists will build nuclear reactors in their backyards, but you can certainly help scientists identify features on Mars, and there is certainly no shortage of fascinating opportunities to engage in as either a solo or group researcher.
- SCIENCE ISN’T NEARLY AS EXACTING AS PEOPLE ARE LEAD TO BELIEVE
One of the biggest challenges with any type of research is collecting accurate and adequate amounts of data. Now, with global connectivity, people can make contributions across the world in real-time, which can influence the outcome of a research project. Broad participation, however, is only as good as the training and research methods employed to gather the data. Scientists have learned through experience, that citizen science isn’t a “one size fits all” model. Peer reviewed data and information exists with regard to volunteer participation models and best practices.
- PEOPLE BELIEVE THAT EVERYTHING THAT CAN BE DISCOVERED HAS BEEN DISCOVERED.
This is simply not true. A world of discovery awaits humankind and we just might be waiting for yours! Many game-changing discoveries, both large and small have been made by people who have simply asked the reason ‘Why….”
GalaxyZoo, a research project within citizen science platform, Zooniverse, has tasked volunteers with classifying the shape of galaxies, which has resulted in what the organization states, is the “largest number of published research papers based on citizen science input.” Interested in the human brain? Eyewire gamifies the mapping of complex neural networks to the brain, which will also help artificial intelligence algorithms better map them without the use of human aid. OpenRov, an open source underwater drone company encourages the exploration and discovery of the earth’s lakes and oceans, so they created Open Explorer, a community platform that they call a “digital field journal” so that explorers can share all of the details and data of any type of underwater expedition, using any type of tools or technology. SciStarter and Citizenscience.gov are also great project finding resources.
There are many other reasons one should consider becoming a citizen scientist, but one of the greatest benefits is that it offers flexible participation. You can either get out and observe the great outdoors or work from your laptop at a local café with a cup of coffee in hand. Who knows how citizen science will evolve? I wouldn’t be surprised if a research project was integrated into Pokémon GO, which could lead to the largest data collection and crowd science project ever known to man.
Note: I’m not a scientist, nor do I play one on TV. My Avatar just looks like a really cute baby Einstein.