It’s a nice, sunny day out on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, USA, and avid hiker David Helms is on a mission. He walks mile after mile until stopping suddenly at what seems like the middle of nowhere. Pulling out a global position system device, he checks his own location as he leaves the safety of the trail and ventures out into a foray of trees and brush. Pushing aside leaves and branches, he finds a track of deer prints and shuffles back and forth along this animal trial until eventually coming across a camera. A camera that he himself had fixed to the tree last month. Quickly, he switches the memory card, puts in fresh batteries, moves the camera to a new location, ...view middle of the document...
They question the objectivity of the information presented. They question the legitimacy, especially in situations where financial incentive are offered to attract volunteers. And they question whether some more difficult research processes are too complex for volunteers to conduct accurately (Thelen & Thiet, 2008). However, despite the limitations presented in regards to the valid use of citizen-gathered results, the voiced objections can quite easily be worked around or overlooked in light of the major benefits this scientific practice brings to society as a whole. Citizen science not only allows researchers to conduct projects on scales much larger than they would be capable of alone, but also paves the way for encouraging citizens to be active participants in scientific movements and overcome a dominant stigma that science is an art only for a few chosen elite to dabble with.
Although it only recently adopted its moniker, citizen science — using ordinary citizens to carry out professional scientific research — is no new practice. The Audubon Society’s annual “Christmas Bird Count” is a project where sixty to eighty thousand of parents, children, teachers, hikers, birders, and computer nerds alike set out with binoculars, comparison guides, and lists in a mission to count as many birds as they can within a set geographic location and timeframe. It’s not just a fun tradition, but also a source of mass data that is critical in helping the Society to monitor bird populations and offer advice regarding preservation action. The Society initiated this project back in 1900 and is one of the earliest known and most basic forms of using ordinary citizens to conduct important scientific research: just a person with pen, paper, and their five senses — ready to observe and watch the world to tell its story.
Monitoring wildlife, counting birds, observing constellations, counting stars — citizen science has touched numerous fields of science over the past century. Major educational research institutes such as Cornell’s Laboratory of Ornithology and its individual academic departments put a large focus on pushing the use of volunteers in research projects, and actually require their students to make special consideration and parameters during experimental design to account for the participation of everyday citizens. Furthermore, more national institutes such as the America’s National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and Canada’s Parks Canada are not only funding but conducting their own surveys through employing volunteers of all ages and backgrounds. The work of volunteers is often in the environmental sector: monitoring populations, mapping migration routes, charting safe nesting zones, or tracking breeding seasons in hopes of aiding professional scientists to find ways to prevent a species such as the monarch butterfly from going into extinction (David Suzuki Foundation, 2014).
Many of the most...