Citizen Science

Citizen Science: Public Participation in Environmental Research

JANIS L. DICKINSON
RICK BONNEY
FOREWORD BY RICHARD LOUV
AFTERWORD BY JOHN W. FITZPATRICK
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt7v7pp
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  • Book Info
    Citizen Science
    Book Description:

    Citizen science enlists members of the public to make and record useful observations, such as counting birds in their backyards, watching for the first budding leaf in spring, or measuring local snowfall. The large numbers of volunteers who participate in projects such as Project FeederWatch or Project BudBurst collect valuable research data, which, when pooled together, create an enormous body of scientific data on a vast geographic scale. In return, such projects aim to increase participants' connections to science, place, and nature, while supporting science literacy and environmental stewardship. In Citizen Science, experts from a variety of disciplines-including scientists and education specialists working at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where many large citizen science programs use birds as proxies for biodiversity-share their experiences of creating and implementing successful citizen science projects, primarily those that use massive data sets gathered by citizen scientists to better understand the impact of environmental change.

    This first and foundational book for this developing field of inquiry addresses basic aspects of how to conduct citizen science projects, including goal-setting, program design, and evaluation, as well as the nuances of creating a robust digital infrastructure and recruiting a large participant base through communications and marketing. An overview of the types of research approaches and techniques demonstrates how to make use of large data sets arising from citizen science projects. A final section focuses on citizen science's impacts and its broad connections to understanding the human dimensions and educational aspects of participation. Citizen Science teaches teams of program developers and researchers how to cross the bridge from success at public engagement to using citizen science data to understand patterns and trends or to test hypotheses about how ecological processes respond to change at large geographic scales. Intended as a resource for a broad audience of experts and practitioners in natural sciences, information science, and social sciences, this book can be used to better understand how to improve existing programs, develop new ones, and make better use of the data resources that have accumulated from citizen science efforts. Its focus on harnessing the impact of "crowdsourcing" for scientific and educational endeavors is applicable to a wide range of fields, especially those that touch on the importance of massive collaboration aimed at understanding and conserving what we can of the natural world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6395-2
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Richard Louv

    The original use of “amateur” probably came from the French form of the Latin root, amator: lover, or lover of, or devotee. In Thomas Jefferson’s agrarian time, few people made their living as scientists; most were amateurs, as was Jefferson. As an amateur naturalist, he tutored Meriwether Lewis in the White House before sending him off to record the flora and fauna of the West. Since then, the word “amateur” has become something of a pejorative. But now the stage is set for the return of the amateur, in a twenty-first-century incarnation, as the citizen scientist. The popular spirit is...

  4. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Introduction: Why Citizen Science?
    (pp. 1-14)
    JANIS L. DICKINSON and RICK BONNEY

    In this book we examine citizen science within the modern context of the Internet’s impact on environmental science, focusing on the burst of large citizen science projects that now engage people in tracking biological and environmental change over broad geographic regions. Such activities are vital to discovering and projecting the impacts of environmental pollution, land use change, and global climate change on species extinctions, distributions, compositions, and ecosystem health. They also provide new opportunities to motivate the public and professionals interested in science-based conservation to work together to expand the shared knowledge base and explore solutions.

    Citizen science is a...

  7. PART I. THE PRACTICE OF CITIZEN SCIENCE
    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 15-18)

      Developing, implementing, and evaluating the impact of citizen science projects is a complex endeavor. How can projects be designed to accommodate potentially competing goals and objectives for research, conservation, and education? How can projects be organized at the vast geographic scales necessary for understanding environmental problems that stretch across continents and around the globe? How do we ensure data integrity and quality data analyses? Given our goal of large geographic coverage and repeated observations at the same site, how do we recruit and train large numbers of participants to donate their time to participate in essentially altruistic endeavors? And how...

    • 1 Overview of Citizen Science
      (pp. 19-26)
      RICK BONNEY and JANIS L. DICKINSON

      While the term “citizen science” may be relatively new, the idea that any person can participate in scientific research—regardless of background, formal training, or political persuasion—is as old as Aristotle. After all, scientific knowledge is largely derived from observation, experimentation, and analysis, which most people are capable of, at least at a basic level. Basic scientific observations, such as kinds, numbers, and locations of plants and animals, can be made and recorded by anyone who carefully examines the world around them. Furthermore, such observations can lead naturally to new discoveries, insights, and questions. Participants in the Cornell Lab...

    • 2 Projects and Possibilities: Lessons from Citizen Science Projects
      (pp. 27-57)

      Even with a tool kit handy, understanding how to create, run, and achieve the desired outcomes of a citizen science project can be challenging without detailed information about what types of efforts work well. Specifically, it is useful to learn about the issues that project leaders find most challenging and how a variety of practitioners have gone about the process of creating and delivering citizen science projects to a diversity of audiences and within a wide range of subject areas and contexts.

      In this chapter we have asked experienced project leaders to share their insights regarding design and delivery of...

    • 3 Using Bioinformatics in Citizen Science
      (pp. 58-68)
      STEVE KELLING

      Advances in informatics—the gathering, management, and analysis of large quantities of data using computational techniques—are creating many opportunities for engaging volunteers in scientific study. Placing informatics tools in the hands of continental or even global networks of volunteers provides the potential to study processes that occur across very large spatial, temporal, and organizational scales. For example, a continent-wide network of bird observers participating in eBird (ebird.org) allows researchers to monitor the spread of the Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto), an introduced species, across North America (Sullivan et al. 2009). In addition, volunteers are identifying patterns in massive data resources....

    • 4 Growing the Base for Citizen Science: Recruiting and Engaging Participants
      (pp. 69-81)
      MIYOKO CHU, PATRICIA LEONARD and FLISA STEVENSON

      The birth of a citizen science project may begin with scientific questions and educational objectives, but its ultimate success hinges on a practical question: Given the scientific requirements of large geographic coverage and repeated observations at the same site, will enough people participate to reach the project goals? Unfortunately, it’s not true that if you simply build it, they will come. First, prospective participants have to find out about the project. Then they must decide whether to participate. Next, they have to learn how to participate. Finally, they must volunteer their time to collect and submit data. Recruiting hundreds of...

    • 5 What Is Our Impact? Toward a Unified Framework for Evaluating Outcomes of Citizen Science Participation
      (pp. 82-96)
      TINA PHILLIPS, RICK BONNEY and JENNIFER L. SHIRK

      Citizen science is a methodology that engages the public in large-scale scientific research while also attempting to achieve social and educational objectives. Despite the success of citizen science at answering biological questions at unprecedented scales (Bhattacharjee 2005; Cooper et al. 2007; Greenwood 2007b), there is growing recognition that the power of citizen science to promote science learning in informal environments has not effectively been measured or demonstrated (Bonney, Ballard, et al. 2009; Bonney, Cooper, et al. 2009; National Research Council 2009). Documenting educational and social impacts of citizen science is challenging because it is a highly interdisciplinary and relatively new...

  8. PART II. IMPACTS OF CITIZEN SCIENCE ON CONSERVATION RESEARCH
    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 97-98)

      This section of the book illustrates the questions, methods, and potential research impacts of citizen science with detailed discussion of a few projects. We focus on birds because large-scale projects with other taxa are too new to have accumulated a body of research suffi cient to illustrate the full range of research possibilities. The major ecological questions addressed here, however, as well as discussions of sampling design, analysis methods, and tools, are applicable across a broad array of taxa.

      Today, the Breeding Bird Survey weighs in with more than 500 publications and the Christmas Bird Count with more than 300....

    • 6 The Opportunities and Challenges of Citizen Science as a Tool for Ecological Research
      (pp. 99-113)
      CAREN B. COOPER, WESLEY M. HOCHACHKA and ANDRÉ A. DHONDT

      In this chapter we explore the potential for large-scale citizen science to advance our understanding of ecological systems. We will (1) note the types of ecological research questions for which the scale (extent and resolution) of data from citizen science is particularly suitable, and (2) highlight research considerations that need to be taken into account when designing (or continuing) a citizen science project. We hope this chapter will encourage ecologists to see novel ways to make use of citizen science to examine large-scale patterns, effects of spatial variation on the processes they study, and higher levels of biological organization.

      Within...

    • 7 Widening the Circle of Investigation: The Interface between Citizen Science and Landscape Ecology
      (pp. 114-124)
      BENJAMIN ZUCKERBERG and KEVIN MCGARIGAL

      Citizen science data are ideally suited to studies in landscape ecology and can support new areas of research by coupling environmental and biological data to better understand how spatial and temporal factors in the environment affect ecological processes and patterns (Turner 1989; Turner et al. 2001; Wiens 2007). In theory, landscape ecology is a highly interdisciplinary field that strives to integrate biological and quantitative approaches with research from the social sciences and natural resource management (Liu and Taylor 2002). Research topics in landscape ecology often include the study of land use and land cover change, ecological scaling, landscape pattern and...

    • 8 Using Data Mining to Discover Biological Patterns in Citizen Science Observations
      (pp. 125-138)
      DANIEL FINK and WESLEY M. HOCHACHKA

      The citizen science initiatives that are the focus of this book collect large amounts of information on the occurrence and abundance of species at known and exact locations and across very large regions. By combining this information with the vast environmental data resources now available (e.g., remote sensing information on habitat, weather, climate, and soil types), citizen science initiatives can provide new insights about the factors that determine where species live, their abundance, and how environmental influences vary from region to region or through time. The opportunities promised by these data are novel landscape-level ecological insights and discoveries. The challenge...

    • 9 Developing a Conservation Research Program with Citizen Science
      (pp. 139-149)
      RALPH S. HAMES, JAMES D. LOWE and KENNETH V. ROSENBERG

      Although ecologists are increasingly aware of the role played by widespread, human-caused change in altering the population dynamics of wild animals, large-scale processes (those covering large geographic extents) remain understudied, mainly because of logistics and costs (Baillie et al. 2000; Caldow and Racey 2000). Understanding the effects of such broad-scale environmental changes requires extensive data collection by volunteers to delineate patterns; elucidating underlying processes requires even more intensive study along with experimentation. In this chapter, we use the Birds in Forested Landscapes (BFL) project as an example of a research program in which a subset of volunteers was recruited to...

    • 10 Citizens, Science, and Environmental Policy: A British Perspective
      (pp. 150-164)
      JEREMY J.D. GREENWOOD

      Although we have not tended to adopt the term citizen science, collaborative work by amateurs has been an integral feature of ornithology in Britain since the early 1900s. Our citizen scientists come in two forms: members of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and additional, nonmember volunteers. This is more a matter of history than of conscious decision making. In this chapter, I review the history of ornithological research as it relates to citizen science in the United Kingdom. Rather than focusing on a single research area, this chapter weaves together the historical aims of the BTO with current and...

  9. PART III. EDUCATIONAL, SOCIAL, AND BEHAVIORAL ASPECTS OF CITIZEN SCIENCE
    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 165-166)

      The final section of this book explores the relationship between citizen science and educational, cognitive/behavioral, and social sciences research with an eye toward the potential for broad, societal impacts of citizen science programs. Educational materials are critical to ensuring proper data collection, but many citizen science projects have more significant educational goals, especially if they are funded by education grants, which are awarded based on innovative learning objectives. The potential consequences of engaging a large segment of the population in conservation research are largely unexplored. What broader impacts might we imagine for citizen science?

      Future challenges for citizen science include...

    • 11 Cognitive Considerations in the Development of Citizen Science Projects
      (pp. 167-178)
      REBECCA C. JORDAN, JOAN G. EHRENFELD, STEVEN A. GRAY, WESLEY R. BROOKS, DAVID V. HOWE and CINDY E. HMELO-SILVER

      Citizen science projects explicitly link researchers and the public in scholarly research activity (e.g., Bonney, Ballard, et al. 2009; Bonney, Cooper, et al. 2009; Brewer 2002; Evans et al. 2005). The growing popularity of these partnerships raises questions regarding how to most effectively ensure data quality given the broader demands of promoting conservation and science literacy and encouraging pro-environmental behaviors. Issues related to both data quality and learning gains, which have received little attention in the citizen science literature, include cognitive processes and the potential for cognitive bias. To consider these issues, we first describe a research project with combined...

    • 12 Who Poses the Question? Using Citizen Science to Help K–12 Teachers Meet the Mandate for Inquiry
      (pp. 179-190)
      NANCY M. TRAUTMANN, JENNIFER L. SHIRK, JENNIFER FEE and MARIANNE E. KRASNY

      Use of citizen science in school settings offers potential rewards for everybody involved—scientists, students, and teachers. For scientists, inviting student participation in research offers opportunities for outreach that can build scientific literacy and environmental stewardship values in the next generation (Berkowitz et al. 2005; Brewer 2006; Krasny and Bonney 2005). For students, citizen science provides meaningful connections to the natural world through observation, data collection, and in some cases independent investigation. This engagement can be highly motivational for students, especially when coupled with the chance to present work to an audience beyond the teacher and classmates (Evans et al....

    • 13 A Gateway to Science for All: Celebrate Urban Birds
      (pp. 191-200)
      KAREN PURCELL, CECILIA GARIBAY and JANIS L. DICKINSON

      How do we achieve an equitable representation of all audiences in citizen science in general and birding in particular, and why is it important to do so? In this chapter we explore these questions and take a closer look at successful approaches and project design features to broaden participation. We use Celebrate Urban Birds, a citizen science project developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in 2007, to highlight strategies to include audiences who may not have had opportunities to connect with nature or to see themselves as science participants.

      Early surveys of citizen science projects at the Cornell Lab...

    • 14 Children and Nature: Following the Trail to Environmental Attitudes and Behavior
      (pp. 201-213)
      NANCY M. WELLS and KRISTI S. LEKIES

      Since the early part of the twenty-first century, attention has focused on children’s dwindling connection to the natural world (Louv 2005). Parents, educators, and policymakers are concerned that children may be spending less time outdoors and that disconnection from nature may have detrimental effects on children’s health and functioning. Evidence suggests that worry for children who have limited nature access may be warranted. Residential window views of trees and vegetation as well as time spent outdoors in natural settings have been linked to concentration and other aspects of cognitive functioning (Wells 2000) as well as to reduced symptoms of attention-deficit...

    • 15 Internet-Based Social Networking and Collective Action Models of Citizen Science: Theory Meets Possibility
      (pp. 214-225)
      HEATHER A. TRIEZENBERG, BARBARA A. KNUTH, Y. CONNIE YUAN and JANIS L. DICKINSON

      The Internet has changed how people assemble information, how they interact, and the distance over which they can effectively collaborate. Activities that once were local have become both local and global with the ability to view local benefits within the broader contexts of interconnectedness, cumulative impacts, and scale. The growth of citizen science is an excellent example of this evolution with widespread use of the Internet to collect observations locally, submit them to a centralized database, interact with and display the collective data at larger geographic scales, and interact with others over observations and results. In addition to creating online...

    • 16 A Role for Citizen Science in Disaster and Conflict Recovery and Resilience
      (pp. 226-234)
      KEITH G. TIDBALL and MARIANNE E. KRASNY

      How might we integrate concepts from citizen science with scholarship and practice aimed at fostering community capacity to buffer the impacts of disaster? Drawing from the disaster, conflict, natural resource management, and resilience literatures, and from examples of participatory data collection linked with environmental restoration in postcrisis settings, we hope to stimulate thinking about how commencing citizen science activities both prior to and after large-scale crises might contribute to social-ecological system resilience in situations of human vulnerability.

      Weinstein and Tidball (2007) argue that the deficit-based approach to disaster response, an approach that focuses on absences and weaknesses, is inherently constrained...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 235-240)
    JOHN W. FITZPATRICK

    Perhaps our greatest gift as humans is that by virtue of advanced cognition, imagination, and capacity for observational learning, we are born to be curious animals. Beginning in our earliest years of life we explore our physical and social worlds with powerful internal drives to discover and name things that surround us, to recognize relationships among them, and to make higher-order sense out of these relationships—including where we ourselves fit in. We cannot help wondering how and why these things and relationships exist. Science was born out of these innate drives. In its elemental sense, science is nothing more...

  11. Literature Cited
    (pp. 241-274)
  12. Index
    (pp. 275-280)