The scale of environmental problems frequently transcends the scale of professional scientific research. Although environmental processes operate at broad geographic scales, most scientists work alone or with small teams of professionals. This traditional approach limits our ability to monitor, understand, and solve many pressing environmental problems. Fortunately, Citizen Science: Public Participation in Environmental Research introduces readers to a new research paradigm that promises to simultaneously remove these limits and improve society's scientific literacy. Done well, this new approach will reveal causal understanding and will produce a citizenry willing to turn understandings into action. The approach is termed citizen science, which this book simply defines as “public participation in organized research efforts.” The 44 authors of this edited book's 16 chapters are experienced practitioners and scholars. Editors and contributors Janis L. Dickinson and Rick Bonney are at the forefront of citizen science efforts and wear scientific and educational hats as director (Dickinson) and cofounder (Bonney) of the citizen science program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Citizen Science describes the perspectives and tools necessary to involve large numbers of ordinary people scattered across the globe in organized research efforts. The logistical challenges of incorporating young students, teachers, and interested amateurs in research are substantial and involve areas that many environmental scholars are ill equipped to tackle, including matters of volunteer recruitment and motivation, creation and maintenance of appealing and reliable Web portals, development of multijurisdictional conservation actions and policies, and assessment of research impact. This book introduces each of these issues and illustrates how selected projects have solved them. For example, readers learn how citizens have expanded the scope of many bird studies and increased ecologists' abilities to track butterfly migration and bud burst.
Framed within these case studies, several chapters describe how bioinformatics, outcome evaluation, and social networking are important to citizen science projects. Other chapters investigate the educational aspects of projects, the factors that contribute to learning by participants, and the possibility of using a citizen science network to monitor and contribute to disaster responses. Most projects describe simple tabulations of the presence and abundance of species by citizens, but more detailed studies are also possible, and this possibility is wonderfully developed in a chapter that illustrates how amateurs in Britain contribute survey and demographic data to national monitoring schemes that are integrated into predictive models relating bird populations to environmental and climatic variables at a national scale. These models inform conservation policy. The interface among largescale data collection, citizen education and engagement, and conservation is a major theme of Citizen Science.
This book inspires the professional to see the scientist in everyone and to broaden our research programs, which will stoke the fire of scientific curiosity that burns within each of us.
As I read, I quickly grasped what adding a citizen science component to my own research could allow me to accomplish. But as each chapter broadened my appreciation for the value of citizen science, it also illustrated the requirements necessary to succeed in this new research arena. This book is not (nor does it claim to be) a how-to manual. Rather, it is an enticement to learn more, including how to facilitate training and data collection by a large and diverse team; how to gather, mine, and analyze messy data sets; and how to develop curricular materials for students and teachers below the university level that enable and encourage them to make their own discoveries.
Introducing readers to potential collaborators of ongoing projects may be the greatest contribution of the book, because successful citizen science programs are, in fact, enormous. Over half of the authors, including both editors, are from a single institution that invests millions of dollars each year in its citizen science programs. Funded by the institution, scientists, educators, information technicians, and administrators work together to deliver some of the world's most impressive citizen science programs. The investment in and sustained commitment to these programs is impressive but not directly relevant to many smaller groups.
Many scientists will be challenged by the new and rapidly evolving paradigm of citizen science. The ongoing needs of massive field teams, huge data sets, and distance education curricula require trade-offs—none more fundamental than the likely sacrifice of traditional scholarly productivity in exchange for the ability to achieve broad conservation goals. I suspect that some agencies and nonprofit organizations will view the benefits of conservation as outweighing the costs of lowered scholarship, but will academic institutions maintain scholarship at a cost to both a broader understanding of environmental problems and the effective implementation of conservation policy?
Citizen Science succeeds in showcasing a path of knowledge that is unfamiliar to—and, at first glance, unwanted by—many professional scientists. Its well-written, wide-ranging, and accessible chapters make a compelling argument that engaging the public in scientific research is important in order to increase our environmental knowledge and build a citizenry that values and uses what science produces. This book inspires the professional to see the scientist in everyone and to broaden our research programs, which will stoke the fire of scientific curiosity that burns within each of us.
Surrounding an informative text are the motivational foreword by Richard Louv and afterword by John W. Fitzpatrick suggesting that the movement to involve ordinary citizens in the craft of science is nothing new. We are reminded that Thomas Jefferson, an amateur scientist himself, tutored Meriwether Lewis before sending him westward to catalog the flora and fauna of our country. By extending his reach, Jefferson increased our scientific knowledge immensely. Today's citizen science projects are infinitely more complex, but the rewards are equally great. Any scientist anxious to improve their scope of inference by following Jefferson's lead will find much to learn from the pages of Citizen Science.