I was reading Citizen Science: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction by Mary Ellen Hannibal, and it got me thinking…many people are staying at home right now due to the coronavirus and the holidays, so why not spread the word about citizen science? Many citizen science projects do not require physical interaction with others, so now would be the perfect time for people to get involved!
As someone who majored in Environmental Science but opted to pursue a career in Computer Science, I aspire to continue volunteering for conservation projects whenever I can, and citizen science is the perfect way to do that! Citizen science is a great way to connect the community to the science community. Sadly, science is something that has been politicized and disregarded when it comes to certain environmental issues, so it’s more important than ever for people outside of the field to be involved with science.
What is citizen science?
In this sense, “citizen” doesn’t mean that you have to belong to a certain country or region-essentially, you just have to be a citizen of the world. Citizen scientists are people who are interested and engaged in different projects without having the formal education and occupation. These activities and projects are generally guided by a scientist who can instruct people on what to look for and how to properly record their findings. No background knowledge is typically required-as long as you have the time, you should be able to participate!
You might be asking…why are citizen scientists needed? Many conservation initiatives require plenty of data-but it can be difficult to gather so much information when there are no funds or guarantees that the data will back up current research. Many hypotheses come from observing data and discovering abnormalities, so this is where citizen science comes in. Citizens can help record their findings, and scientists can interpret it (although even citizens may be able to distinguish patterns too!).
While some projects require you to physically go out and observe/carry out tasks, others focus primarily on going through and transcribing data-which you can easily do at home. Personally, I view citizen science as a great way to not only gather more data for necessary research projects, but to raise awareness and involve the local (and sometimes global!) community in environmental topics.
Note: As I reside in the US, the opportunities mentioned in this post are going to be focused in the US. With a little research, I’m certain you can find citizen science projects to get involved in other countries as well!
As you can probably tell by the .gov part of the address, CitizenScience.gov is an official government website that allows you to read up on citizen science news, search for projects to participate in, and even list your own. This one seems to provide more in-person opportunities, but there are a few virtual ones listed as well.
Zooniverse offers many virtual projects that you can get started on. Some require you to view satellite images to identify patterns while others may ask you to listen to audio recordings. This site has so many diverse opportunities, you’re bound to find something that piques your interest! I believe these are all completely online too, so you can work on them right from your home!
This one is probably my favorite citizen science site due to it’s diverse (and purely online!) content, so I would recommend giving it a look if you’re interested!
Great Sunflower Project
The Great Sunflower Project focuses on gathering data on pollinators. This requires you to go outside, find flowers to gather data on, record all the data specified on their quick start guide and count the pollinators you see visiting the flowers, and then log your data to the app or website. If you’re passionate about pollinators and flowers, this could be a great way for you to get involved!
This might be a project better suited towards the spring/summer months.
If you love bird watching, why not share your findings and observations at eBird? This data can help scientists identify migration patterns and population hotspots. Plus, if you’re into ornithology, I’m sure you’ll be interested to see other people’s findings on eBird as well!
Do you like to go outside and look for insects, birds, amphibians, or mammals? There’s an app for that and it’s called iNaturalist! This app allows you to record your location and what type of species you found. This type of information can be useful to scientists and resource managers who can use the data to identify where species are and their populations in different habitats.
Especially if you like hiking and being outdoors, this could be the perfect app for you to submit data based on your findings.
I hope you enjoyed reading more about citizen science in this post and found an opportunity that interests you! If you would like to learn more about citizen science, the book I mentioned at the beginning of this post (Citizen Science: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction by Mary Ellen Hannibal) might be a good place to start. She does incorporate a lot of her personal life into the book though, so if you want purely informational content, it might not be the best book for you.
I have yet to read them (although I hope to soon!), but here are a few other book options:
- The Field Guide to Citizen Science: How You Can Contribute to Scientific Research and Make a Difference by Darlene Cavalier, Catherine Hoffman, and Caren Cooper
- Citizen Science : How Ordinary People Are Changing the Face of Discovery by Caren Cooper
- The Rightful Place of Science: Citizen Science by Darlene Cavalier and Eric B. Kennedy