Citizen science

Citizen science

Citizen science is a term used for the systematic collection and analysis of data; development of technology; testing of natural phenomena; and the dissemination of these activities by researchers on a primarily avocational basis[1]. Individual citizen science volunteers or networks of volunteers, many of whom may have no specific scientific training, perform or manage research-related tasks such as observation, measurement, or computation.

The use of citizen-science networks often allows scientists to accomplish research objectives more feasibly than would otherwise be possible. In addition, these projects aim to promote public engagement with the research, as well as with science in general. Some programs provide materials specifically for use by primary or secondary school students. As such, citizen science is one approach to informal science education. To capture these multiple meanings of citizen science, some workers in the field now refer to "public participation in scientific research."[1]

Citizen science is related to long-standing programs employing volunteer monitoring for natural resource management,[2][3][4] and is often employed as a form of education and outreach to promote public understanding of science.[5][6][7][8] In recent years, however, citizen science projects are becoming increasingly focused on benefits to the scientific research.[9][10][11]

The current form of citizen science, which has evolved over the past two decades, places more emphasis on scientifically sound practices and measurable goals for public education than similar historical efforts.[12] Modern citizen science differs from its historical forms primarily in the access for, and subsequent scale of, public participation; technology is credited as one of the main drivers of the recent explosion of citizen science activity.[13]

Paul Feyerabend (in his book Science in a free society, 1978) and Erwin Chargaff (Heraclitean Fire, 1979) strongly pleaded for a "democratization of science" and "amateurship instead of money-biased technical bureaucrats" respectively. Erwin Chargaff wanted to replace the distorted universitarian science (or better: technology) after 1950 and wanted to go back to the science made by "nature-loving" "amateurs" in the 16th to 18th centuries (for example, Descartes, Newton, Leibniz, Buffon and Darwin).



The longest-running citizen science project currently active is probably the Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count, which started in 1900. Other examples of citizen science programs include World Water Monitoring Day,[14] NASA's Stardust@home and Clickworkers, a variety of projects run by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology,[15] such as eBird, NestWatch, Project FeederWatch, the Whale Shark Photo-identification Library, and Celebrate Urban Birds, Zooniverse including the Galaxy Zoo project, Foldit and the Phylo video game. Another example of an effective citizen science project in the United States is the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRaHS), run by the Colorado Climate Center at the Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. Data from this project is used for weather forecasting and monitoring, severe weather alerts, and climate studies. National Geographic has an archeology project, Field Expedition: Mongolia, in which users tag potential archeological dig sites on GeoEye satellite images, to assist explorers on the ground in Mongolia.

Citizen science networks are extensively involved in phenology, the observation of cyclic events of nature, in order to investigate how global warming affects plant and animal life in different geographic areas.[16] Distributed computing ventures such as SETI@home may also be considered citizen science, even though the primary task of computation is performed by volunteers' computers.

The increasing prevalence and use of consumer electronic devices that can record media, such as mobile phones, has allowed for easier citizen data collection about the condition of public spaces, such as public parks as seen in the ParkScan website developed by the San Francisco Neighborhood Parks Council and bird sightings collected using the WildLab [2] iPhone app.

The growing DIYbio and biopunk movements are a form of citizen science, as are amateur radio, amateur astronomy, and Maker activities.

Other uses of the term

Bruce Lewenstein of Cornell University's Communication and S&TS departments points out two additional usages of the terms "citizen science" and "citizen scientist":

(2) the engagement of nonscientists in true decision-making about policy issues that have technical or scientific components; and (3) the engagement of research scientists in the democratic and policy process.
—Bruce V. Lewenstein[17]

Among the scientists and science studies scholars who have referred to these other ideas are Frank Von Hippel, Steve Schneider, Neal Lane, Jon Beckwith, and Alan Irwin.[18] Alternate terminology proposed for these usages are "civic science" and "civic scientist."[19]

Distinction from crowdsourcing

The distinction made between crowdsourcing and citizen science is, according to Yale-based astrophysicist and Galaxy Zoo founder Kevin Schawinski,[3]

"We prefer to call this Galaxy Zoo citizen science because it’s a better description of what you’re doing; you’re a regular citizen but you’re doing science. Crowd sourcing sounds a bit like, well, you’re just a member of the crowd and you’re not; you’re our collaborator. You’re pro-actively involved in the process of science by participating."

On comparisons between Galaxy Zoo and SETI@home:

"Galaxy Zoo volunteers do real work. They’re not just passively running something on their computer and hoping that they’ll be the first person to find aliens. They have a stake in science that comes out of it, which means that they are now interested in what we do with it, and what we find."


  1. ^
  2. ^ Ballard, H., Pilz, D., Jones, E.T., and Getz, C. (2005). Training Curriculum for Scientists and Managers: Broadening Participation in Biological Monitoring. Corvalis, OR: Institute for Culture and Ecology.
  3. ^ Cooper, C.B., Dickinson, J., Phillips, T., and Bonney, R. (2007). Citizen Science as a Tool for Conservation in Residential Ecosystems. Ecology and Society. 12 (2).
  4. ^ Firehock, K. and West, J. (2001). A brief history of volunteer biological water monitoring using macroinvertebrates. Journal of the North American Benthological Society. 14 (2) p. 197-202.
  5. ^ Osborn, D., Pearse, J. and Roe, A. Monitoring Rocky Intertidal Shorelines: A Role for the Public in Resource Management. In California and the World Ocean: Revisiting and Revising California's Ocean Agenda. Magoon, O., Converse, H., Baird, B., Jines, B, and Miller-Henson, M., Eds. p. 624-636. Reston, VA: ASCE.
  6. ^ Brossard, D., Lewenstein, B., and Bonney, R. (2005). Scientific Knowledge and Attitude Change: The Impact of a Citizen Science Project. International Journal of Science Education. 27 (9). p. 1099-1121.
  7. ^ Bauer, M., Petkova, K., and Boyadjieva, P. (2000). Public Knowledge of and Attitudes to Science: Alternative Measures That May End the "Science War". Science Technology and Human Values. 25 (1). p. 30-51.
  8. ^ Spiro, M. (2004). What should the citizen know about science? Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 97 (1).
  9. ^ Bonney, R. and LaBranche, M. (2004). Citizen Science: Involving the Public in Research. ASTC Dimensions. May/June 2004, p. 13.
  10. ^ Baretto, C., Fastovsky, D. and Sheehan, P. (2003). A Model for Integrating the Public into Scientific Research. Journal of Geoscience Education. 50 (1). p. 71-75.
  11. ^ McCaffrey, R.E. (2005). Using Citizen Science in Urban Bird Studies. Urban Habitats. 3 (1). p. 70-86.
  12. ^ Bonney, R., Cooper, C.B., Dickinson, J., Kelling, S., Phillips, T., Rosenberg, K.V. and Shirk, J. (2009). Citizen Science: A Developing Tool for Expanding Science Knowledge and Scientific Literacy. BioScience. 59 (11). P. 977-984.
  13. ^ Silvertown, J. (2009). A New Dawn for Citizen Science. Trends in Ecology & Evolution. 24 (9). p. 467-471
  14. ^ World Water Monitoring Day
  15. ^ Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology projects
  16. ^ 'Citizen scientists' watch for signs of climate change, The Christian Science Monitor, April 10, 2008
  17. ^ Lewenstein, Bruce V. "What does citizen science accomplish?" Paper read at CNRS colloquium, 8 June 2004, in Paris, France.
  18. ^ Frank Von Hippel, Citizen Scientist: Collected Essays (Springer, 1991) Jon Beckwith, Making Genes, Making Waves: A Social Activist in Science (Harvard, 2002) Irwin, A. (1995). Citizen science : a study of people, expertise, and sustainable development. London ; New York: Routledge. Neal Lane, "Remarks" at Panel Discussion on Future of Federal Funding for Science and Engineering, Rutgers University, April 8, 1996. Steve Schneider, remarks at AAAS meeting, February 1997; see here.
  19. ^ Clark, F. and Illman, D. L. (2001). Dimensions of Civic Science: Introductory Essay. Science Communication, 23 (5). DOI: 10.1177/1075547001023001002

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