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Welcome to April! We’re kicking off this first full month of spring, known for the commemorations of movements to protect the environment, Earth Day and Arbor Day, by asking ourselves what it means to be a citizen of this world. Specifically, what can it mean to be a citizen in a world struggling with the effects of phenomena such as climate change, which include extreme weather, famine, and increased rates of extinction, to name a few.
So what can those of us who are concerned inhabitants of Earth but lacking formal scientific training do to support the efforts of those directly working to stymie and reverse climate change? Read on to learn more about citizen science and how you are already qualified to take on its work.
Basically, citizen science is research conducted by amateur or nonprofessional scientists. The term entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 2014 where it 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.” The term was initially coined by Alan Irwin in the mid-1990s to reclaim two dimensions of the relationship between citizens and science: (1) that science should be responsive to citizens' concerns and needs; and (2) that citizens could produce reliable scientific knowledge.
While the boundaries of what makes an individual a “citizen” have been under discussion over the years, the term has persisted because it is familiar to most and is commonly understood to identify a member of a community—including you! From SciStarter.org, four features common to citizen science include: (a) anyone can participate, (b) participants use the same protocol so data can be combined and be high quality, (c) data can help real scientists come to real conclusions, and (d) a wide community of scientists and volunteers work together and share data to which the public, as well as scientists, have access.
Broadly, folks interested in engaging in citizen science usually work within one of three fields of science: The most common is composed of research on biology, conservation and ecology, and utilizes citizen science mainly as a methodology of collecting and classifying data. A second strand of research involves geographic information research, where citizens participate in the collection of geographic data. A third line of research relates to the social sciences and epidemiology, which studies and facilitates public participation in relation to environmental issues and health (Kullenberg & Kasperowski, 2016).
Specifically, a number of projects employing digital platforms for observation, collection, and processing of data have emerged and have succeeded in publishing results in peer-reviewed journals. Some examples include Galaxy Zoo, Planet Hunters, Globe at Night, Foldit, and the Genographic Project (no longer in operation). Additionally, Ebird and other similar projects that rely on observations performed in the field are increasingly depending on digital platforms for reporting observations. Check out this National Geographic web page and visit SciStarter.org—both list other citizen science projects you can get started on today!
What’s notable about many of the projects listed above is that their success in producing world-recognized results relies on the work of its volunteers—work that, as their websites state outright, cannot be done by computers (i.e., we need you, human).
Basically, engaging in the work of citizen science offers you the ability to meaningfully contribute to causes that might otherwise feel outside of the scope of your influence. Citizen science brings together the public and professionals by providing new opportunities for those interested in science-based conservation to work together to expand the shared knowledge base and explore solutions (Dickinson & Bonney, 2012). Furthermore, citizen science has been identified as a way of democratizing science, aiding concerned communities in creating data to influence policy, and promoting political decision processes involving environment and health (Kullenberg & Kasperowski, 2016).
More specifically, citizen science bridges gaps by harnessing the power of people who are motivated by curiosity or concern or a desire to advance research in their communities, connecting them to projects that benefit from their energy and dedication. It allows millions of people from around the world to contribute remotely to studies and provide, analyze, or report data researchers and policymakers actually use, enabling investigations that would not otherwise be possible. Finally, public participation in scientific research encourages people to take a stake in the world around them. So get involved today!
hBARSCI offers two kits, both by Innovating Science, designed specifically for engaging students in environmental science!
The first lab kit aims to have students be able to answer the question of how water that comes out of our faucets is made safe for consumption by teaching them about water filtration systems. In addition to learning about water filtration plants, students will also be able to engineer, develop, and evaluate their own water filter. This kit contains enough material for 15 groups of students, and includes instructions and safety data sheets for all components.
The second kit is designed to teach students how environmental scientists test air and water samples for contaminants and pollution. Additionally, students will be able to perform nine different tests on air and water from their local area, including dissolved oxygen levels, pH, and smoke density, among others. This kit contains enough material for 30 students working together in groups, and includes instructions and safety data sheets for all components
Citizen science. (2022, March 30). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizen_science
Dickinson, J. L., & Bonney, R. (2012). Citizen Science: Public Participation in Environmental Research. Cornell University Press.
Kullenberg C., & Kasperowski D. (2016). What Is Citizen Science? A Scientometric Meta-Analysis. PLoS ONE, 11(1): e0147152. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0147152