The brave new world of citizen scientists is one of the more extraordinary outgrowths of web-based, app-based communications. The data flow generated by smart phones, webcams, telescopes, drones, robotic rovers, remotely operated submersibles and satellites is more than the scientists—those who still have jobs—can handle, and so they’ve gone trolling for enthusiasts to bring some rudimentary order to the gobs of stuff flowing out of their devices.
So if you’re yearning for more face time with your laptop, try out some of the classy citizen science websites out there complete with fancy graphics, National Geographic-quality photographs, tutorials, blogs, discussion groups and professional ad copy, but don’t be fooled. They’re advertising the Joe jobs of every science project—observing, transcribing, measuring, making lists and counting—nothing wrong with that!
Check into http://www.citizensciencealliance.org/projects.html: definitely one of more awe-inspiring sites and read about Galaxy Zoo Quench where 1600 people peered back in time to when the Universe was less than half its present age and applied their “pattern-recognition skills” to complete 120,000 classifications of 3002 post-quenched (snuffed out) galaxies plus 3002 control galaxies as captured by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Hubble Space Telescope and United Kingdom Infrared Telescope. Phase Two is now underway.
But do heights make you giddy? How about joining a mid-ocean, mapping expedition via webcam videos? Mapping Seafloor Geology at Endeavour Ridge is compiling bathymetric data sets (underwater maps) to better understand the area’s dynamic geological history. By correlating geological features with select animals, you will contribute to an understanding of species distribution in one of the most extreme habitats on earth.
How about digging into climate change? Transcribe Arctic and worldwide weather observations recorded in ships’ logs going back to the mid-19th century. These will establish some useful baselines on which scientists can build their climate model projections to improve our understanding of past and future environmental conditions.
If history is your thing, you can dive into the Ancient Lives Project and transcribe and interpret thousand-year-old texts using an ancient alphabet keyboard. Your digital transcriptions will then be crunched together with other computer and human touches to turn them into intelligible scripts and later published in the Egypt Exploration Society’s Greco-Roman Memoirs series.
These sorts of project might provide a break from Monopoly and gin rummy at the cottage when it is too buggy to go outside.
If you want to collect your own data, check out some new apps being developed, some of which are mentioned in this Scientific American article at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/8-apps-that-turn-citizens-into-scientists/ There’s a secchi dish app that enables mariners to participate in a global study of phytoplankton. This sort of data could throw some light on climate change impacts on the bottom of the food chain.
If you want to turn your kids into science bugs, try out mobile and web-based tools for data collection, for example the Marine Debris Tracker (self explanatory) and Project NOAH, www.mindleaptech.com/apps/science/project-noah/ a resource for nature exploration and documentation, for sharing sightings and helping to identify plants and animals and their locations. This could be useful for any number of (your choice of) missions.
Say you want to plant milkweed for the decimated monarch butterflies. Assuming you could find a nursery to supply you with seeds, you could get a movement going and record your plots using NOAH’s GPS coordinates.
The danger is you will end up poking at and being disappointed by the less-than-adequate intuitive functions of your app. Come to think of it, you don’t actually need a hand-held recording device to plant milkweed, you need a shovel. Just do it, in the company of someone you know in the real world in place on a member of online community or an avatar.
If you want to be a citizen of the great outdoors, think local. Take a look at http://www.citizenscientists.ca/Citizen_Scientists.html a volunteer, not-for-profit group that focuses on ecological monitoring, environmental training and education. They follow a government certified protocol to monitor stream health at various sites. SOLEC, State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference recognized their strong commitment to improving the environment within the Great Lakes Basin with an award in 2011.
One of the oldest and most well-established citizen science projects is the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Now in its 113th year, with over 500 local chapters, it is committed to grassroots conservation action.
The really big NASA-type citizen science projects look fascinating but Darwin got by with a notebook, a magnifying glass, a ruler and a pencil or two, the real tools of engagement. And if you thinking legacies, who’s to say your coffee-stained, yellowed science diary left on a cottage shelf under some old bird books won’t outlive the huge datasets captured in some time-sensitive software?
The act of observing makes you observant. Taking notes anchors you in a time and space. Writing a diary leaves a trail of engagements that give a person a life meaning and shape. If it was good enough for Darwin…