Citizen Science Panels Proposed for the United States

The scientific elite have been moving forward with their advancements in science at an accelerated pace over the past one hundred years. It is this exponentially speedy development that is providing modest hope to even the Gen-X babies at reaching the moment in the near future–maybe as early as 2042–where living forever will be a technological reality.

This seemly unbounded, fast-forward approach is presumed to be an unquestioned modus operandi for the professional scientist. One must publish or perish in the academic world, and one must be the first to figure out the new science or you can just forget about that tenure track and lifetime job security.

It is also assumed that science, in general, is searching for the truth, and, it would seem that everyone might want to know the truth. And, if we are moving toward the truth sooner than later, then there should be nothing wrong with these sorts of noble, fast-pace, truth-seeking efforts. But, what does the broader populace think about all of the advances, and does what the non-scientific professional think and care about actually matter?

Margaret Wertheim, the director of the Institute of Figuring, recently wrote an opinion article for the Australian Broadcasting Company that presents a clear frustration about how seemingly unchecked advancements in science and technology are allegedly leading to the demise of the planet’s global environment, especially that of coral reef ecosystems. A native of Australia and currently residing in Los Angeles, Ms. Wertheim focuses a great deal through the Institute on publicizing the crises being experienced by coral reefs and believes that citizens can really do something about it.

The idea presented is to develop influential panels composed of concerned citizens who can hear and learn about recent scientific advances, and then help evaluate and predict the potential repercussions of implementing the new science. This sort of “citizen science advisory panel” would possibly provide generalized recommendations, and even offer representative wishes from the masses as to what is desired to come out of new science and technology. The goal with this idea is to open up the dialog to not only present the new science, but to actively discuss its ramifications.

New opportunities for involved interactions between citizens and their society’s professional scientists are becoming more critical for the continued advancement of science. The results of these sorts of interactions today offer more efficient and wide-spread data collection capabilities for the professionals, and they provide an outstanding method for informal education so that more people will appreciate and understand the universe from the backyard to other galaxies.

Opening a formalized dialog between citizen scientists and professional academics can add to this productive collaboration. However, the purpose of the Ms. Wertheim’s proposed panels could also offer a detrimental effect on the advancement of research if not focused correctly. The concern seems to be that advancing science is somehow out-of-control and directly leading to the destruction of ecosystems. Although it is certainly true that some technologies negatively impact our environment, there must be a clear distinction between the discussion about the study and research of new science and the implementation of new science.

A worrisome extreme case of a negative citizen science panel might be a group of non-scientists who collectively don’t want to see certain advancements move forward for personal, religious, or narrow view-points. The panel would act to restrict the research either by trying to influence political policy decisions or filing lawsuits. Scientists would become so frustrated with the red-tape required to “make the masses happy” about their own work that it becomes entirely uninteresting to even pursue a career in academia. And, private research companies–who could possibly avoid the wrath of the panel–might become the primary source for science discovery, but then resulting in extreme secrecy, competition, and the exclusion of knowledge sharing to only further stifle new advancements.

On the other hand, a positive citizen science panel might be one that also participates in the research being considered, or at least is a representative body for a large-scale collaboration of citizen scientists from around the world. The panel could perform their discussion online or by web-based conferences hosted by local academic institutions.

If the panel is designed for a more generalized dialog with scientists with the goal of keeping the professionals in groove with the culture in which they work, the goal of the panel’s feedback should be more focused on the implementation of a particular scientific advancement. Although a hypothetical citizen science advisory panel in the 1940’s might have limited the development and utilization of an atomic bomb during World War II, for example, it should have maintained a role of addressing concerns about implementation of the science, and not on restricting the timely advancements in understanding of quantum mechanics and nuclear interactions.

In addition, professional scientists would have a long-term advantage to take part in the development of citizen science panels, whether they be advisory or collaborative. There can only be positive repercussions from bringing more people to a higher level of understanding of both established scientific understanding and cutting-edge research. With a broader appreciation from a culture, financial support of professional work will become easier to obtain and more individuals will be motivated to follow into the scientific research world.

This appreciation will also bring a more sophisticated approach to science policy-making by elected government officials. Sometimes it seems that governments lack so much understanding of basic scientific principals, that they rely heavily on resources that they can only hope to trust. This certainly increases the risk of irresponsible, illogical, and even dangerous science policy decisions being followed by a nation. By bringing more people into a realm of science appreciation, so much of this risk could be avoided.

Today, a few examples of citizens guiding science directions already exist. In particular, the Florida Citizens for Science is a group of people from all across the state who’s mission is to promote good science, especially in the classroom. And, although this is not a panel organization that directly influences new scientific discoveries, it is a useful model for how citizens work together in an organized and responsible way to affect science learning in the United States. Many more of these grassroots organizations across America supporting science education can be found through Citizens for Science.

Most recently, a new network of professional and citizen scientists is currently being developed called ECAST, the Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology. The goal of this future group is to help policymakers evaluate new science and technologies to better understand the potential social, economic and environmental impacts before making decisions on their implementation.

ECAST will not be comprised of only citizen scientists, but will be a broader collaboration between nonpartisan policy research institutions, universities and other science centers. The founding partners include The Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State UniversityThe Loka InstituteThe Museum of Science, BostonScience Cheerleader, and the Science and Technology Innovation Program from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

So, with the successful implementation of ECAST, a key test will be seen as to how effective and beneficial broader scientific advisory bodies can be for the positive integration of new science and technologies into society. Through these types of review committees, citizen scientists can become more involved in real scientific advancement and increase their importance in the development of new technology.

Another existing organization that could bring citizen scientists into a policy advising role is the Society for Amateur Scientists. This membership group already has collective of active citizen scientists who largely work independently on personally-interesting science and technology projects and research. Together, however, they could mobilize through the SAS to offer a new advisory council of active and motivated citizen scientists through partnerships with government and professional research centers. In addition, SAS might be a useful vehicle to develop participatory panels of volunteers. These panels would not only maintain an open and ongoing communication with the scientists on a particular research program from development, implementation, to analysis, but would also offer direct involvement with the data collection and reporting results.

To become involved with the exciting SAS organization, visit their active Facebook group and join online.

If you are interested in finding a seat at either a future science policy advising or participatory table, please contact us at Dynamic Patterns Research to express your ideas and motivation. We would like to begin to develop a list of citizen scientists who believe that participatory and advising panels should become a critical element in future science research and implementation. We can then together move forward to prove this growing and important interest from citizen scientists, and consider joining an existing advising organization, or possibly create a new participatory panel that will partner with science research teams from around the world.

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“Time to face the dark side of science” :: ABC Science, Margaret Wertheim :: August 17, 2010 :: [ READ ]

“Reinventing Technology Assessment for the 21st Century” :: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Richard Sclove, Ph. D. :: April 28, 2010 :: [ READ PRESS RELEASE :: READ FULL REPORT – PDF ]

Get involved with ECAST today by joining their mailing list [ JOIN ]

Creepy Crawly Citizen Science Down Under

Citizen Science throughout the Southern Hemisphere has been growing recently, in particular with thanks to increasing efforts in Australia. In fact, Dynamic Patterns Research has just updated an Australia Regional list in our Opportunities section to feature some of these exiting new programs (view).

The most recent event, just launched on September 1, 2010 and sponsored by the citizen science-centric Australian Broadcasting Company and radio station 891 ABC Adelaide, is Operation Spider. This new “down under” citizen science program hopes to encourage people to get to know their crawly co-inhabitants, and report to the program what species of spiders exist in their spaces and how they behave when encountering a spider. (Yes, part of this research is to understand human behavior as well as the spiders!)

The main element of the project asks Southern Australians to complete a two-part online survey. First, is a review about how the observer feels toward spiders, and asks specific questions about how one would behave when encountering a specific species of spider. For example, if you see a daddy-long-legs in your living room would you (a) kill it yourself, (b) have someone else kill it for you, (c) “rescue” it and take it outside, (d) or leave it alone.

Second, the survey includes a worksheet to use while perusing your house and garden for recording observations of specific spiders. Images of certain anticipated species are available to assist in identifications.

Steve Donnellan and Chris Daniels presented a spider information talk to students from Rostrevor, Eden Hills and Belleview schools. (Brett Williamson)

View more images of the launch of Operation Spider on September 1, 2010.

An informative set of six Fact Sheets have also been developed to provide a nice range of educational materials for learning about spiders in Southern Australia. These include a general introduction to invertebrates and their evolution, how spiders live, eat, and make webs, and information on specific species that are expected to be found.

For the compositionally-creative citizen scientists, Operation Spider is also hosting a spider Poetry Competition. They are looking for 8-line short poems about spiders, and winners from four categories will be awarded a spider “prize pack” (valued at over $100!)

If you live in the southern “Down Under,” then start getting friendly with your spider neighbors, and take part in this fun citizen science project. The next time you want to squash an eight-legged crawly creature, you might discover that your feelings have changed from murderous to creepy affection!

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Operation Spider Fact Sheets [ VIEW ]

Operation Spider Survey from the University of South Australia [ VISIT ]

Operation Spider Poetry Competition [ SUBMIT ]

It’s Citizen Science Month at Make: Magazine

The publishers of Make: Magazine have announced that September 2010 is officially “Citizen Science” month. They are looking for citizen scientists to submit their projects, research, and activities to be featured in the magazine.

It also seems that they are interested in developing active collaborations with people who are investing much time in the advancement of citizen science, and they hope to use this outreach to develop exciting new content for their “how-to” project division, Make: Projects.

If you are interested in participating in any way, please email Make: Magazine editor, Gareth Branwyn [ email ] … and also let us know here at Dynamic Patterns Research how you get involved with the magazine!

The Great World Wide Star Count 2010

The 2010 Great World Wide Start Count date has been set! A Windows to the Universe citizen science event, you can join with thousands of other people across the globe anytime from October 29 through November 12 in looking up to see how many stars you can see.

Last year, Dynamic Patterns Research participated (read more), and it was a great opportunity for father and 3 1/2-year old daughter to count, compare, learn about constellations, and start to think about the ridiculous notion that we are part of a universe that is so unfathomably enormous.

The goals of this program are to raise awareness of light pollution in your area and to increase the interest of the broader public in learning more astronomy. Developed by the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), the Windows to the Universe Great World Wide Star Count is in its fourth year of data collection, and should continue to grow as a very interesting research resource for monitoring the evolving night-time global landscape of light output.

In fact, you can now take a look at the results from the previous three years [ VIEW DATA ], and begin to search for patterns and correlations between how many stars were seen and expected light output from the area. You might find initially, however, that the data is still very sparse, and for this resource to be particularly useful, a much larger set of results really will be required.

Since the data is also provided as a Google Earth KMZ file (download 2007, 2008, 2009), it’s very interesting to overlay the set with a light pollution map (download a North America map). As an example, we’ve completed a simple North American map overlay using Google Earth, and focused into our own data point in Illinois that we provided last year:

The darker the blue of each “data point dot” corresponds to more stars seen at the observation location. So, it seems that there are pretty dark dots at locations that would be expected to have lower visibility. However, this array of data is such a small data set to consider at this time that it is difficult to make any obvious conclusions. But, the potential to use more of this data to support very interesting and useful analysis should be apparent. And, all of the data is entirely accessible to the citizen scientist, so we can easily explore and consider the results.

When planning to make your own observations anytime between October 29 and November 12, all you need to do to prepare is a little stretching out of your neck for looking up (or, find a nice blanket to lie down on your back and view in comfort). If you live in the northern hemisphere, then gaze toward the constellation Cygnus, and toward the constellation Sagittarius if in the southern hemisphere. Simply “count” the stars that you can see at your location–or estimate the visual field that you observe–and match your viewing with the reference magnitude charts provided by the program. Then, simply report your observation online along with your latitude and longitude coordinates (find where you’re at on the globe). If you have any questions on how to participate, please feel free to comment here or contact us.

Learn more about star apparent magnitude [ READ :: READ :: READ ]

Please let us know if you plan to participate in this year’s count, and especially if you are interested in creating any of your own analysis of the results. The project really needs a significant increase in participation to provide a meaningful data set, so please spread the word to your friends and colleagues who you can encourage to join.

We would like to develop a team of citizen scientists who not only want to submit their own observation, but who also want to do an independent analysis on the annual global results. We will then present your thoughts and observations right here on Dynamic Patterns Research.

The Great World Wide Star Count :: October 29 through November 12, 2010 [ VISIT ]

NSF Features Citizen Science and NestWatch

The National Science Foundation‘s online magazine, Science Nation, features the latest efforts from the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology expanding citizen science program. Lab director and ecologist, Janis Dickinson, discusses how successful the fields of ornithology and astronomy have been in matching professional research activities with hobbyists who thoroughly enjoy doing what they do and simultaneously helping the advancement of science.

In particular, the Lab has been collecting data on nesting events of birds since the 1950s through their Nest Record Card Program. These records are still filed away on little, worn index cards written by amateur observers, but include valuable nesting data, including basic climate information, for the great, great, great, great grandparents of birds in the wild today.

With the funding assistance of the National Science Foundation and the collaborative development from Cornell and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, nesting event data collection has moved into the current century with NestWatch. This online, citizen science data collection tool is an efficient method for anyone interested to learn how to monitor the activity from backyard bird nests, report observations, and explore the activity from other citizen scientists all around North America (view an interactive map of the data).

Simple certification is required before submitting observations, but once set up with an account, anyone using NestWatch will have a great opportunity to help support research that is a critical component to global environmental monitoring. The program is also perfect for families and schools to work with an at-home project that is fun and can lead to many educational moments through spending time outside and looking for bird species and behaviors that you may never have witnessed before.

“Citizen Science” :: A special report from NSF’s Science Nation :: August 30, 2010 :: [ READ ]

Register your backyard nest site with NestWatch [ VISIT ]

Perseid Meteor Shower from Your Couch

This August was the annual Perseid Meteor shower (read more from DPR), and hopefully you had a chance to catch a flash, or two. However, if it was just too inconvenient for your schedule–yes, some of us do have to work in the morning!–or, if getting away from the city lights costs too much at the gas pump, then, thanks to the skills of many amateur astro-photographers (learn how to become one yourself), you may still view the shooting beauties from the comfort of your computer monitor. presents a great photo gallery collection of images submitted from observers from all over the world [ VIEW ]. Here’s an amazing image from Jeff Berkes who was apparently on his honeymoon…

Perseid meteor over Poi Pu, Kauai from Jeff Berkes.

You may also review the Perseid 2010 report compiled by the International Meteor Organization [ VIEW ], which includes an interesting graph of reported observation rates.

And finally, photographer Henry Jun Wah Lee of Los Angeles and Evosia Photography, completed an interesting time-lapse videos of Perseid meteors with the inspiring backdrop of the galactic center of the Milky Way…

So, enjoy these great views of falling debris from previous near-passes of Comet Swift-Tuttle, and maybe consider planning a late evening or two next year far out from the city and try to catch a few memorable Perseids yourself.

Last updated May 25, 2020