5 Responses to Engaging the Public, Citizen Science and Imperialism

  1. Amanda Scott says:

    Really interesting blog. Citizen science is a powerful way of engaging people with current research and developments because they feel involved in the outcome, and then they in turn become wider ambassadors. But I also appreciate that scientists need accurate data for those same results and outcomes to be valid. Maybe in an ideal world there would be funding for scientists to train the citizen scientists in simple techniques that improve the accuracy (but I don’t work in research academia, so that may be completely ‘pie in the sky’ for other reasons than funding that I’m unaware of). What is not engaging is when laypeople become aware that scientists are doubtful about their input, as it tends to come across as an ‘ivory tower’ attitude rather than the genuine concern for validity that it actually is. I’ll be interested if any other commenters have any answers!

  2. Verity says:

    I think one difference between the Victorian citizen science and today’s version is that now, the observation can be published instantly, and can then be checked instantly. There isn’t the problem that all specimens must ben evaluated by Hooker – there are a thousand (or more) experts around the world who can put the time in.
    However, it does still mean that there’s room for faulty observation, so as you say, there are some projects which are better suited to mass observation than others.

  3. Margaret says:

    It’s important to remember that in Galaxy Zoo (and other projects put out by Zooniverse), each item is looked at by multiple citizen scientists. In Galaxy Zoo, in particular, on the order of 50 (fifty!) citizen scientists look at each image and record data on it. Even if each individual person is only able to make observations slightly above random (which seems a bit unlikely), the combination of many people making the same observation will yield a correct result (and with statistic significance with enough people, if you’re concerned about that).

  4. Great post – I really enjoyed it. I’ve been particularly struck by citizen scientist projects that turn boring repetitive tasks of analysis into MPG video-games.

  5. Great post (and thanks very much for your thoughts on the bluesci piece).

    However, as one of the authors of the bluesci article I must point out that “our” thoughts were preceded by the sentence:

    “Despite its increasing popularity citizen science is not without its critics, with some scientists expressing concerns over the validity of volunteer-generated data.”

    Without this context, it sounds a lot like we the authors were ourselves being critical of citizen science (and although I can only comment for myself I, for one, am 100% for interested ‘non-scientists’ (ugh) being incorporated into scientific data gathering/analysis – especially after the excellent panel discussion at Spot On London earlier this month).

    In fact the article (beginning on page 25 here: http://issuu.com/bluesci/docs/merge_final) is supportive of citizen science programmes and continues on to mention FoldIt, which has allowed citizen scientists to generate new and innovative ways of folding a protein in order to minimise its energy state, and our piece ended with the rather rosy paragraph:

    “Citizen science projects have created a symbiotic relationship between the scientific community and the general public. By harnessing the computing power of the general public, scientists are able to analyse significantly more data and achieve far more than they could alone. Meanwhile, the public gains a greater understanding of science, the excitement of scientific discovery and, as gamification shows, entertainment.”

    p.s. I think Verity’s point is a fine one: that the availability of information today means that the Hooker-era, ivory-tower-reality of locked-up knowledge is disappearing. If only all science was open access, then there’d be no need to worry about validity at all. Citizen scientists could just be called scientists.

    p.p.s. @Margaret. Apologies we missed out that about the Zooniverse projects. The paper that that 10% figure came from should have been referenced in the issue but wasn’t. My editor’s away, but she included it in order to balance out all the citizen-science-is-really-really-good rhetoric. But, as she emailed me…

    “When I was trying to find negative points on citizen science for the article I remember I spent hours trying to find something. It’s strange because so many popular science articles on citizen science claim that the data obtained by volunteers is inaccurate but very little primary data [seems to] exists to back this up.”

    I’ll post up the doi as soon as she gets back to me.

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