Preliminary Notes of the Citizen Science League Meeting, 08 September 2012

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The following notes were taken during a meeting of the CSL leadership along with some invited guests. We are posting the meeting notes to let our readers know what we are thinking about, and as a catalyst for suggestions, comments, discussion, and a call to those who wish to get involved. -sg

Notes by Sheldon Greaves with additions by Tim Raney

MicroMo Electronics, Clearwater, Florida

In attendance:

Fritz Faulhaber
Sheldon Greaves
Denise Greaves
Tim Raney
Reggie Smith

The meeting began with welcome from Sheldon Greaves and a brief recognition of Reggie Smith’s book, copies of which were on hand.

Also announced that Reggie, Tim, and Bill Hilton (who could not be present due to a family emergency) are the newest CSL Fellows, to be recognized once we have decided on titles for them.

Overview: at present the CSL web site is getting about 4500 visits per month and holding steady. We need to increase this number significantly.  CSL has been contacted by Cornell Ornithological Labs and other organizations interested in finding our more about us. We are getting noticed.  One strategy for increasing exposure is to leverage the registrations on the web site, which consists of approximately 2000 entries. It’s unknown how many of these might be spam, but this will get high priority to expand the mailing list. We also need to make a list of other web site enhancements and improvements.

Discussion of different ways that the blog can better serve the amateur scientist community.  Tim Raney has developed a three-part series on shop safety, which we will run. This prompted the suggestion that the blog ought to feature “theme” weeks in which we try to arrange to have blog posts on the same general topic, announced in advance.

The main areas of initial discussion ranged over ways CSL could better serve members through the blog, as well as how CSL itself might obtain more exposure. We discussed the possibility of conferences, perhaps best done by holding a small conference concurrently with a larger professional conference in the same town or even as a side event with such a conference.

Online education possibilities. Discussed in general terms forming educational programs based on online courses, either using existing courses such as are offered through MIT Open Courseware, or more highly specialized such as those proposed by Jeff Lichtman’s CFRARE proposal of a center for teaching radio astronomy and related science.

We discussed the idea of using existing free courses plus “in-house” courses to create certificates for those who complete coursework.  Because certificates are largely unregulated by state post-secondary education bureaus, we can offer them without going through any approval process. One way to make CSL certificates more meaningful is to pair a certificate with a statement specifying those learning objectives accomplished by anyone with the certificate.

We also explored the idea that for members, we might offer some additional aids for those taking free online courses, as well as a service in which we keep a running archive of courses, projects, etc. in a kind of CV/portfolio for members which would function as a kind of credential for scientific purposes.

The meeting also resolved to explore how to best use the list of registrants who have signed up for the CSL web site. The first use of this list would be a simple, short survey to find out more about what our readers want.

Some additional enhancements to the current site include:

  • Adding a list of categories
  • Make more use of the photo Gallery to include additional photos and diagrams linked to individual articles as a way to give extra information that won’t fit gracefully into a blog post
  • Reference pages: lists of online resources, annotated, the catalogue of public domain documents, open-source software, etc. Opinion was unanimous that Ralph Coppola’s Wanderings would form the nucleus of such an effort.
  • Subject pages, listing posts from the CSL blog grouped by subject.

Discussion turned to matters of community, specifically how we might go about recruiting a board of advisors. Instead, it was suggested that the CSL members are (or should be) the advisors. Part of active participation in the CSL community would be to fill out a list of one’s areas of expertise and willingness to answer questions posted or sent on that particular topic. Use this to create a kind of “research gate” for users where they can get one-on-one interaction and help.

This led to a discussion of where we could go to find new members. Many major technology and science corporations have alumni associations. Suggested also finding ways to approach professional organizations related to science and technology, as well as university alumni associations.

“Mentors” would be as well or better drawn from the ranks of regular CSL members rather than elite Ph.D.s

A good suggestion was that mentoring can and should focus on practical matters of scientific research, such as proof of concepts on a small scale and then using what one learns to scale a projects up (or not) and other similar practices that are common in professional science, but not always explicitly taught, especially in secondary school science classes.

Questions emerged about how CSL can help put scientific resources into the hands of amateurs. We discussed the idea of a  CSL  online store that would offer the truly unique and useful items amateurs need but often can’t find. Briefly discussed the possibility of selling chemicals online, as they can be difficult to obtain due to the current security and legal climate.

That said, there is still the possibility of not only offering links to suppliers, but letting selected suppliers and vendors advertise on the site provided that they meet certain criteria (to be determined).

All present agreed that CSL would benefit from having product reviewers for software, apps, books, devices, etc. posting reviews on a regular basis.

Also agreed that CSL should offer branded promotional items; tee-shirts, mugs, hats, etc.

Events: suggested that CSL should have periodic conference calls, web meetings or regular presentations using the “Hangout” feature on Google+ as a way to gain exposure and develop connections among the membership.

On the matter of memberships, we agreed that some kind of paid membership is now worth pursuing. A list of possible perks for members was provided to attendees prior to the conference, but discussion focused on several in particular, such as museum or vendor discounts and access to member-only web content.

Brief discussion extended to the question of chapters or local CSL clubs, something probably best developed once we had a body of individual members.

Fritz then raised an interesting question: is the use of the word “science” a liability when trying to get people interested in doing science? Are they put off or intimidated at some level by it, and would CSL be well-served by rebranding itself in a way that avoids these issues?

We looked at several alternatives to “scientist” such as investigator, experimenter, explorer, researcher, natural philosopher, watcher, and others.  After the meeting Denise suggested using the word “Eureka!” as part of a new brand. A quick Google search revealed that there appears to be a number of studies and surveys available that discuss this problem of public perception of “science”.  All agreed that it might be worth looking at a name and branding change, and to look into finding some marketing expertise to do a little preliminary research into this question. The sentiment was that if such a change would benefit CSL, better to do it now than later. Some of those in attendance might know some people who could help us with this, and it would be a good idea to read some of these studies to find out more about the nature of this issue.

One of the last items discussed was the possibility of partnerships with Museums and Technology Centers. We acknowledged that most of them will have their own programs in place and probably be reluctant to work with us unless we can find some way to help them bring in money. That said, there are associations for science museums that we believe we should contact at least to further explore this possibility.





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3 Responses to Preliminary Notes of the Citizen Science League Meeting, 08 September 2012

  1. Dave says:

    Interesting meeting. I have a few comments (Feel free to ignore/discard these if you don’t agree.).

    As for the web-page, it may be good to organize the topics/articles into categories. This would allow people interested in a specific topic to go to that area, without having to go through the other articles. For example, someone interested in physics or chemistry may want to skip over some of the biology articles.

    The shop safety presentation sounds interesting. It may be interesting to organize some presentations around various other safety topics, such as electrical safety, chemical safety, etc. There may need to be a disclaimer, though, to absolve the site of liability in the event someone injuries themselves, perhaps while misinterpreting the safety presentation.

    Another possible web-page enhancement may be for a Question and Answer section, or, perhaps, even a forum area. There are a couple of concerns, though, such as preventing spammers. This may tie in with the topic of advisers, field experts, or mentors.

    I have some issues with the store, though. One would have to be VERY careful of legal liability issues, and laws regarding the sale and shipping of hazardous materials. While not really strictly comparable, one is reminded of the United Nuclear case:

    Thus, one would have to be VERY careful of various federal, state, and local laws when selling equipment or supplies. Plus, there would be the issue of warehousing the materials, and shipping them. And, of course, the group would experience an extreme black-eye if a terrorist event traced some of the equipment/supplies back to the group.

    The advertising idea sounds reasonable, if the logistics can be worked out. It may even be better to provide pointers to suppliers, than selling material directly, especially if some kind of deal can be worked out whereby the group obtains a portion of the profits.

    As for the product reviews, I think the group needs to be a little careful with that. Quite a few of us are involved in various industries where such a review could be considered a conflict of interest. While I expect most of us to be ethical and refuse to comment on any subject which may represent a conflict of interest, it still may present the appearance of favouritism. Or, maybe a strongly worded disclaimer would be enough? Obviously, such reviews would have to be strictly technical, and backed up by relevant facts to avoid (or, at least, deflect) any charges of slander/libel.

    One of the issues with live presentations/events would be that the members are spread across numerous time zones. Thus, selecting a time when a majority of the members would be available to attend any such presentation may be problematic.

    As for paid memberships, that may not be too bad, given that the group doesn’t make the dues so excessive that they overly limit membership. The other thing to remember is that there are lot of professional scientists, and even interested amateurs, out there that are having financial trouble, especially with the state of the economy. It may also be good to remember that students typically live on a very restricted budget, as do retirees. Thus, it may be worth considering student discounts, retiree/senior discounts, and, perhaps even family discounts.

    There would also be a question of what the dues would be used for. I can think of many valid uses, but it may be good to spell these out so that there’s no animosity later.

    This brings up the subject of 501(c)3 non-profit status. By becoming a tax exempt corporation, donations become tax deductible. The problem, of course, is that it’s not necessarily easy nor cheap to become a 501(c)3 corporation. The laws of incorporation vary between states, and the IRS has rules and regulations dealing with how such corporations keep records and use their funds. But, it may be something to think about (I am not a lawyer, so I can not offer legal advice with regards to incorporation or 501(c)3 status.).

    One presumes that various elections would be held periodically, which would be limited to paid members. Maybe?

    Would it be useful to include a promotional item with the membership? That might encourage people to join, as well as getting the word out about the organization.

    As for local clubs, has any consideration been given to working with the various hacker-spaces out there? Might be a way to bring the hacker-spaces together, as well as boosting membership. What about working with local schools? Could the group provide some expertise in the science fair circuit?

    As for partnering with various science centers/museums, it might be interesting to offer various lectures and presentations to the centers/museums. Obviously, that would depend upon having a member willing to give the presentation that is within travel distance of the center/museum.

    As for the name, I firmly believe in calling the group what it is, which seems to include the word “science” in the name. While that may frighten some people away, not having that word may make it harder to find the group while doing a search, or confuse people as to the nature of the group. I specifically dislike “watchers”, since that sounds too much like “UFO watchers”, which may attract too many of the “fringe science” believers. While “Natural Philosopher” was used in the 1700s/1800s, I’m not sure how many people now would associate that phrase with what the group is about. I’m afraid the word “Experimenter” would exclude those interested in the theoretical aspect (and astronomers?). I’m not a big fan of “explorer”; would that cause people to mis-associate the group with the Explorer Scouts? “Researcher” sounds rather dry, even more so than “science”. Regardless of the name, someone should probably do a trademark search to make sure the group isn’t infringing on someone else’s trademark (and, the group should probably register its name as a trademark).


  2. Anna Sudaric Hillier says:

    I believe that “Eurika” is already taken by an educational group. Also, membership would be good. Some of the suggestions have already been done or are doing. AAVSO
    and the Astro-assembly meetings in Rhode Island is having a conference and has committed the whole day to Citizen Science. March on.

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