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Citizen Science Brings the Laboratories to the People


A fetching idea known as “citizen science” has accelerated in recent years, but it is really nothing new. Since the beginning of the 20th Century, the National Audubon Society, for example, has been harnessing people power to learn more about the health of wild bird populations. This coming December through January, during its Christmas Bird Count, the Audubon Society expects tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas to observe wild bird families and report back to the Society on what they have seen.


Since the 1970s, the National Weather Service, through project SKYWARN, has also relied upon volunteers to collect scientific data—initially training people to peruse the heavens for signs of severe storms. SKYWARN now embraces more than 230,000 trained severe weather spotters who report not only on indications of thunderstorms, floods and tornadoes, but also on earthquakes, landslides, avalanches, volcanic ashfall, and coastal hazards such as tsunamis, water spouts and rip currents.


The beauty of these and other citizen science  projects lies in their ability to harness the power of large numbers of volunteers to collect and analyze data in quantities far beyond what any single group of scientists in a laboratory could accomplish. With a small amount of training, lay individuals can contribute to studies of solar flares, the moon’s surface, the health of coastal reefs, the incidence of rising sea levels, the habits and habitats of butterflies and birds.


In fact, there are so many citizen science projects in the world today that you could easily conduct a simple internet search and find a project to participate in that strikes your fancy. GoodSpeaks encourages you to do just this, and in the meantime we will keep you posted throughout the year of different projects that may be of interest to you.


The White House recently held a Citizen Science Champions of Change event, honoring amateur and nonprofessional scientists who conduct scientific research, often by crowdsourcing: