Get Involved in Citizen Science

Get Involved in Citizen Science

Get Involved in Citizen Science

Science is great. It’s the most reliable way we have of learning new things about ourselves, our planet and our wider universe. One of the best things about science is that it never stops asking questions; it’s also prepared to change and adapt as new information comes to light.

Citizen science is a new (although some might say an old) movement which involves members of the public, either singly or in millions, working towards a common goal. Very often, citizen scientists collect data, report it or analyse it.

Where do you want to go today?

Citizen science covers pretty much all fields – astronomy, genetics, engineering, medicine, ecology, to name but a few. The fact that thousands or even millions of people all over the world are contributing means that scientific investigation can cover vast expanses of space and time; something that no single scientist or team can do alone.

What makes a citizen scientist?

Anyone who contributes their time, effort and whatever resources they have to a scientific research venture is a citizen scientist. This can be a keen birdwatcher with a pair of binoculars and a notebook, or an amateur astronomer with a high-power telescope and image visualisation software. There’s no need for a formal or strong scientific background, just enthusiasm.

Citizen scientists come from all walks of life – housewives, retirees, students, sportspeople, children – they can all contribute their time and energy. From the schoolchildren who keep a daily count of caterpillars in their gardens to the online gamers who analyse complex folding proteins, they all have a part to play.

How to get involved

There are so many opportunities! If you have a particular hobby, interest or expertise there’s almost certainly an initiative you can join. Search online for citizen science projects happening in your area (be that neighbourhood or solar system!) and pick out the ones you fancy. It could be counting meteors, migratory birds, even tectonic movements; all you have to do is to record and submit observations. You can use your laptop or even your smartphone to do this – easy!

How will citizen science affect research in the future?

It fills gaps – by bringing in people with the enthusiasm and motivation and, more importantly, the time beyond that of professional scientists and connecting them with the right projects, these projects can be advanced further than they would be otherwise.

It makes collecting data easier – collecting samples for research was the most time-consuming and challenging part of any project. However, with thousands of people doing the job, all over the world if necessary, this is made light work. The rapid and widespread collection of data also makes previously impossible projects possible.

It creates a more scientifically-literate populace – just by collecting and submitting data then seeing what’s done with the information, people (and children especially) get to see how science is done. This gives people a sense of ownership and care over the world around them and helps them to contribute to informed decisions about, for example, environmental policy.

Will it ever be “real” science?

Citizen science is how real science started! Most of our early scientific discoveries were made by amateur enthusiasts and when modern scientific exploration and research started, amateurs still contributed a great deal.

Raw data collected by volunteers is just as reliable as that collected by “real” scientists and as big data becomes more prevalent, the tools to process it are becoming more user-friendly and widely-available. So yes, citizen science is as real as can be!