Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thank you all for your feedback.  With your advice I put together, and submitted, a proposal for the upcoming Citizen Science 2015 conference.  It's a favorite topic of mine and one that is essential to moving our field forward "For Love and Money: Business Models that support, benefit from, and share the rewards with, the work of citizen scientists."

This is an ambitious talk for me but one I feel is important.  In many ways I can only scratch the surface in a PowerPoint presentation to a conference room of citizen science professionals.  But it will kick off a whole series of follow-up reports on this blog about the topic.  There is much good background research that can't be included without overwhelming the audience, but is perfect for an online environment.  There are also nuances, subtleties, and sub-categories of information that are vitally important and can't fit on a Powerpoint slide.  But mostly I want to keep the conversation going long after the conference ends.

I'm doing this in my strong belief that the citizen science community can make important discoveries and support research that provide value to profit-making companies, and they deserve to be rewarded for that service.  But that money is also needed to support citizen science research and pay for investments that will expand what citizen scientists can do.  Research costs money and it has to come from somewhere.

Conferences also cost money.  And in true citizen science fashion they are hoping to crowdfund through the company Razoo for a significant amount of support. I'm hugely appreciative of all the opportunities this conference provides so I'm happy to make a donation.  Won't you join me?  This conference is here to help you but they need your support.  Give a little or give a lot, anything will help.

See you in Palo Alto!  

Monday, September 1, 2014

Care to Team Up on Some Citizen Science Conference Sessions?

I love a good conference.  Most are filled with opportunities to learn new things and meet like-minded people.  You can become an expert in anything by yourself at home, then suddenly realize there is much more to learn.  And it's a great way to stay motivated until the NEXT conference.  Which is why I'm so excited about next year's Citizen Science Association Conference in San Jose.

But what do I plan to talk about at the meeting?  And do you want to join me?

For starters, there is an open Call for Proposals for sessions due mid-September.  As I wrote last week there are some good ideas I've been considering that would be of interest to attendees and would take advantage of my previous work.  I've since narrowed it down to these two.  If you would like to help with them or have ideas of your own to add, please let me know.  I'd love to make these as inclusive as possible with the participation of a wide variety of people.   In other words, doing it the citizen science way.
  • For Love and Money: Business models for creating a citizen science industry infrastructure that supports, and benefits from, the work of citizen scientists.
An important finding of my poster for the 2012 Citizen Science Conference was that "... the strongest positive correlation for all interactive citizen science projects is the availability of a reward."  This piqued many people's curiosity and was the source of many discussions at my poster.  While they all agreed with the sentiment none had a really good (and cost-effective) way of doing that, and they were looking for advice.  Unfortunately this is a "chicken and egg" problem where you need scale to drive benefits that bring monetary rewards, but getting to that scale required monetary incentives.  So we need to break this logjam and incrementally create a self-sustaining infrastructure that will support our efforts. 
This fits under the theme of "Tackling grand challenges and everyday problems with citizen science" by addressing the only way to ensure extensive data collection and public participation in scientific research - by introducing a profit motive.   This half hour session will include independent research on existing techniques,  analogies to other scientific fields, select experiences from current companies in the field, and impact analysis of existing projects that include profit motivators. 
The big challenge here is providing organization and self-sustaining momentum to the citizen science movement.  Currently we are reliant on people's good will and free time for their participation.  This applies across all of the various scientific fields that citizen science impacts, such as medicine, ecology, astronomy, and climate change. While this has worked for the time being we need to find ways to bring the POTENTIAL for amateur scientists to earn money from their work.  To do that, companies need to be able to profit from the work of amateur scientists. 
I see this session unfolding in the following way:
  • Demonstrating need for a profit motive beyond altruistic, educational, and other motivating factors
  • (Non-financial) Ways Profit Helps Citizen Scientists
  • Ways to Benefit Companies
  • Analysis of Current Profit Motivators (Quantitative)
  • Analysis of Current Profit Motivators (Qualitative)
    • Challenge Projects
    • "Door Prizes" based on participation, not results
    • Non-cash incentives 
    • Bounties
    • Entrepreneurship
    • Crowd-funding
  • Building the Infrastructure
    • Initial Steps
    • Middle Steps
    • Final Vision
Through this session, we will see how developing an mutually beneficial infrastructure can help all participants and will lay out a course for achieving that vision. 
The big question is how large and long this talk will be.  There is a short version I can do as a solo speaker that should engage the audience and provide a lot of new perspectives to spark discussion.  And I'm already planning to include insights from some people already trying to make this work.  But I am still looking for some people/companies with experience partnering with and profiting from citizen science efforts.  If you are one of these people and would like to join the discussion, I'd love to make this a larger panel discussion for the full conference.


  • Transparency in Government-Funded ResearchPros and Cons from a Citizen Science standpoint
This fits under the theme of "Digital Opportunities and Challenges in Citizen Science" by evaluating the impact of various "Open Science" efforts begun by Federal agencies on citizen scientists and citizen science projects (ironically, that is a different meaning than in my "OpenScientist" name).  This would be a short, 15-minute talk about the current policies of various Federal research agencies, description of the data and materials available to the public, analysis of how (and if) it is actually being used by citizen scientists in their research, and ideas for expanding both its use and utility. 
Unfortunately this is actually part of my day job and may require some ethics approvals to present.  But if there are people who want to talk about this issue (from either a citizen science or Federal agency standpoint) please let me know and it will be worth my going through clearances.
Unfortunately not all of my ideas fit into the six conference themes.  So "Citizen Science vs. Citizen Pseudo-ScienceSeparating amateur researchers from public crackpots" will need to be a future set of posts on this blog, as will "Federal Government's Role in Supporting Citizen ScienceA history and future opportunities".

A third is a prime opportunity for a much longer set of posts or even a separate web site:"Re-Examining Citizen Science Throughout HistoryHow pervasive were amateur researchers in the history of science versus "Establishment" or "Professional" researchers.  How can we apply those modern terms to yesterday's society?  Can we use historical lessons to increase public participation and respect in the field?"   It's not something I can show publicly in the next few months since time will be limited, but I encourage anyone interested in this topic to get in touch with me at OpenScientst (at) gmail.com.  I have a lot of ideas and would love to hear yours too.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Recover Historic Research with the Smithsonian

Photo Courtesy: Smithsonian
This blog was started to highlight the many citizen science projects available and show people how easy it is to contribute.  I've come a long way since then and have begun focusing on larger citizen science themes as well.  But I still like to showcase new projects every now and then.  Especially one so close to my heart.

The Smithsonian Digital Volunteers program needs your help going through their vast collection of historic scientific archives and transcribing the data for future analysis.  With a collection as large as the Smithsonian's a huge number of pieces are donated or created by institution scientists, but their data can easily be overlooked or lost among the overwhelming volume.  By digitizing and transcribing, all the information can be cataloged, stored centrally and then reviewed by anyone interested in the topic. It also allows researchers to use modern data management and analysis tools to find previously hidden connections from within the various sources.

This type of data has many different uses.  In some cases, historical weather data, and even counts of plants and animals, can be used to track climate change and global warming.  Even the impact of that change of local species can be tracked with that data.  It also allows information on now-extinct species that were alive back when the record was created, and allows scientists fill in the holes in the historic record to see how our wold overall is changing.

Transcription may sound easy but things can get complicated.  And not just because of handwriting that is worse then mine.  For example, take the snippet below from a mid-1800s electrical conduction experiment performed by former Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry.

Photo Courtesy: OpenScientist
There is a word here (highlighted in yellow) which seems to be six letters long and is some sort of synonym for "travel".  Also, based on a review of other letters on this page, it is most likely an "H" since the one other word starting with an "H" looks nearly identical to it.  But the word eludes me and has eluded the six other people who have worked on it so far.  You may have better luck, but it's this type of roadblock that can suddenly eat up your transcription time, and which the Smithsonian can not afford to have their own staff doing.  A further analysis of electrical terms beginning with an "H" may help provide the answer, but so far it's still being worked on.  This is where you come in.

Getting Started is Easy:

  1. Register for a new account by visiting the New User Account page and supplying a username and email address.  Once entered, check your email and click the verification link to confirm your intent to create the account and set up a password.  No other personal information is required.
  2. Visit the main Transcription Center web site to learn more about the project and discover the source transcription materials that most interest you.
  3. Review the Instructions for transcribing.  In a nutshell, include every word as it appears in the document (misspellings included) and accurately describe any images on the page.  Don't worry about bold or italicized text but do note any underlines or strikeouts. 
  4. Go back to the main page and pick the source material you wish to work from.  Click on it, and then see all of the pages in that document. For starters, pick one that has not been begun.
  5. Transcribe the page as directed in the instructions.  Once you are fully done, click to Submit for Review.
  6. If you wish to review someone's transcription, click a page marked "Needs Review" and proofread the entire page.  If there is not a single error, click "Mark as Complete". This sends it to Smithsonian staff for finalizing.  If there is a problem, make the change and then click "Complete and Mark for Review" to have another independent person review this updated, corrected version.
  7. If you are unsure of a word, just enter a set of double brackets [[]] and add your best guess.  This will help the next person while not making it an official note.
That's all there is to it!


It really is simple to lend a hand.  Just select from the source materials currently available; right now they are categorized into themes of "Biodiverse Planet", "Mysteries of the Universe", "Field Book Registry",  "American Experience", "Civil War", and "World Cultures".  These aren't just pulled from the scientific artifacts but the entire Smithsonian collection.  So not only can you learn about science, but U.S. history and art as well.

This is a great project for new citizen scientists, people living in the Washington, DC area, environmentalists studying climate change, and anyone interested in the history of science.  So what are you waiting for?  Let's start transcribing!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Can we Talk About the 2015 Citizen Science Association Conference?

Next February 11-12, 2015, the Citizen Science Association will host it's first conference in San Jose, California.  Will you be there?



Two years ago citizen science practitioners and participants gathered in Portland, Oregon to discuss the present and future state of Public Participation in Scientific Research. Yours truly was there as were many of the most active players in our field.  Everyone learned a lot, shared their experiences, and started planning how to move the field forward.  Out of that an association was formed and now a conference is being planned.  So jump on board and join us in planning the next steps in our evolution.  It just get's bigger and better.

I plan to write MUCH more about this conference over the next few months to help set the stage.  But first a few logistics for you:

  • Get on the Citizen Science Association mailing list and help us grow by joining up today.  Membership is free (for now) and let's your voice be added to all the planning.  You'll also be the first to know once final registration details are announced
  • Register for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting that this is technically a part of.  Attend the whole AAAS conference or opt for a $23 reduced fee registration of just the Citizen Science Conference.
  • Make preliminary travel plans to San Jose that week and reserve a hotel room before they sell out.  Don't contact the hotels directly but instead work through the AAAS meeting coordinators.
  • Check back with the Citizen Science Association before November 10 when the Early Bird Registration Discount ends.

One more thing.  Have you thought about what you want to say?  The Citizen Science Association has placed a Call for Proposals (workshops, short talks, panel discussions, poster sessions) due by September 15, 2014.  Personally I am contemplating a few different ideas and am trying to narrow them down.  Some material will come from things I've discussed in this blog, while others may be from other experiences and new research I've been working on.  But if you have some interest in these topics or might like to join forces, just let me know at OpenScientist (at) Gmail.com.  I think some of you are working on similar ideas and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

  • For Love and Money: Business models for creating a citizen science industry infrastructure that supports, and benefits from, the work of citizen scientists.
  • Federal Government's Role in Supporting Citizen Science: A history and future opportunities
  • Transparency in Government-Funded Research: Pros and Cons from a Citizen Science standpoint
  • Citizen Science vs. Citizen Pseudo-Science: Separating amateur researchers from public crackpots
  • Re-Examining Citizen Science Throughout History: How pervasive were amateur researchers in the history of science versus "Establishment" or "Professional" researchers.  How can we apply those modern terms to yesterday's society?  Can we use historical lessons to increase public participation and respect in the field?

See you in San Jose!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Five Best Cities for a Citizen Scientist to Live

Last month I wrote a post on where the best places are for a citizen scientist to live.  In case any of you out there are planning to move, these are things to look for indicating many opportunities to participate in citizen science.  After hearing your feedback and doing some research on my own, I narrowed them to five general indicators:
  1. Access to Universities and Community Colleges
  2. Proximity to Museums and Science Centers
  3. Access to National, State, and Local Parks
  4. Dark Skies
  5. Environmental Consciousness
After hearing your comments and looking more closely a sixth criterion has revealed itself. This has also been added as an update to the previous post.

  • Entrepreneurship: Many of the key traits of citizen scientists are shared by successful entrepreneurs. Both are highly independent, dedicated, intellectual, and comfortable with risk. They are also willing to question authority and defy conventions.  These traits help you build a business from scratch or offer your data to tenured researchers as an equal. So citizen scientists will look for areas that welcome similar personalities as themselves and they fit right in.  As an added bonus, in an entrepreneurial city any scientific discoveries can be more easily turned into profitable businesses or used in other ways to make money.  A perfect way to motivate, and support, the citizen science community.

With these key traits in place we can start identifying the best U.S. cities for citizen science.  Admittedly one could argue over the relative merits of each city and their ranking.  But this is the sense I have from my years watching the field and it should move this interesting conversation forward.

5) Portland, OR
Portland has long enjoyed an independent streak among it's citizens, as well as a strong environmental awareness.  This has created a town with a larger-than-normal size of existing nature and animal tracking citizen science projects, and these are expected to just increase.  So it's the perfect place for new and experience citizen scientists to join existing projects or find people for new ones. It was even the site of the first Public Participation in Scientific Research Conference back in 2012; just another way it supports the citizen science community.

4) Phoenix, AZ
Picking just one city in the U.S. Southwest as best for citizen scientists was a difficult job.  All are in desert areas with the abundant life (if you know where to look), and many need scientific help to preserve the fragile environment.  The desert also holds many important archaeological finds as dinosaur bones and remains of ancient cultures lie just below the surface.  Just a few miles outside many of these cities find low populations and crystal clear skies at night...perfect for star-gazing.  But ultimately Phoenix rises above it's other desert counterparts.  It's high concentration of world-class research universities and concentration of PhD scientists make it a great spot for public participation in science.

3) San Francisco, CA
The San Francisco Bay area is known as the heart of Silicon Valley and the innovative technical culture that thrives there.  The University of California Schools, along with local Stanford University, provide a wealth of highly educated researchers ready to be involved in citizen science or guide the public in their citizen science endeavors.  Currently it is a great place to find new citizen science tools being made, from a thriving DIYBio community to programmers creating many of the citizen science apps we use today.  Even the old Xerox PARC center laid a building block for the 1970's amateur computer clubs that Apple eventually sprouted from.  Again citizen science and entrepreneurship show their close link and make San Francisco a worthy choice at number three.

2) Washington, DC
Free access to a treasure trove of information and activities are at the heart of DC's citizen science appeal. Start with the Smithsonian Institution Museums...the Air and Space and Natural History museums are free to the public and host world class treasures -- from the Hope Diamond to the Space Shuttle Discovery and everything in between.  The city also attracts leading experts to speak at free or low-cost events, either at the museums or at the many scientific associations around town (such as a American Academy of Sciences and National Geographic Society) hoping to lend a scientific voice to our politics.  Even the headquarters of major Federal agencies (such as the National Science Foundation) offer access to cutting-edge discoveries to the public.  Of course, you can learn all about happenings in the DC area at our sister site ScienceinDC.

1) Honolulu, HI
What doesn't Hawaii top the charts in?  Ifthe beautiful beaches and tropical climate aren't enough to lure you over the Pacific, hopefully the scientific opportunities will!  The Hawaiian islands in general are a nature-lovers paradise with bountiful tropical forests to hike through, as well as an ocean filled with coral reefs and abundant sea life. There are active volcanoes for understanding the Earth's interior, and for experiencing completely different ecosystems at high elevation.  Finally there's Honolulu, with its high tech industry and world class university.  What more does a citizen scientist want?


So what do you think of this list?  Did I miss your favorite city?  Do you think Boston (MA), Ithaca (NY), or Oak Ridge (TN) were wrongly overlooked?  Let me know in the comments below and keep the conversation going.