The Role of Citizen Scientists in Collecting Data

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An article in today's BBC News ("Volunteers 'vital to science data collection'") gives an interesting overview of the use of non-professional scientists in current research. The good news is that there appears to an understanding that volunteer Citizen Scientists make many kinds of research possible that otherwise would be prohibitively expensive. The bad news is that volunteers need training in many cases in order to produce usable data. The article quotes Dr. Chris Newman of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at Oxford University:

"It is very easy to say 'yes, citizen scientists can collect the data', but it comes with a whole set of caveats," he explained.

"Such as what sort of training is needed, and the need for instructions.

"It is no good just mailing out some instructions to people, asking them to go out into the countryside and find field signs for animals - that does not work and people do need to be trained."

Dr Newman added that it was wrong to suggest that anyone could do anything, without compromising the results.

"It does need validation and calibration," he said.

However, he did say that many data sets would cease to exist if volunteers were taken out of the equation.

One of the roles I hope to see CSL fulfill is to become a clearinghouse for not just doing projects, but training Citizen Scientists in how to take good data. How that will happen is still not entirely clear, but I have some idea.  Meanwhile, I urge you to read this article and offer your feedback in the comments section. The role of Citizen Scientists is clearly a matter of active discussion in the scientific community. How might we, as an organization, become part of that discussion?

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