Friday, October 7, 2011

Thoughts on Reducing Poverty with Citizen Science

Photo Courtesy: AMagill
The last few weeks have had me thinking a lot about citizen science and its place in society.  On the scientific side it's doing quite well as the research community increasingly involves itself with, and takes advantage, the passion of citizen scientists.  But I'm also interested in it's larger place in society and how it can make the world better for individual people.

Much of this started with a Washington Post article about billionaire Bill Conway's desire to use his investment fortune to help the unemployed and create sustainable jobs for the poor.  He doesn't yet know the best way to accomplish the goal, so in true innovation-prize style he's turning to the public for their most creative ideas.  This prompted many budding ideas I've had of using citizen science to increase job skills, employ the unemployed, and spur entrepreneurship which I'll be building on in future posts. But I'm starting to get ahead of myself.

I also received a e-mail today from the SETI@Home group requesting donations to expand the project's scope and maintain the project's ongoing operations.  These researchers have performed first-rate science for over a decade, have spent their money very wisely, and blazed a path for the modern resurgence of citizen science.  In other words they're a group I'm happy to support.  But it continued my thinking that started with Bill Conway's challenge. What is the best way to support citizen science...both to help our fellow citizens and continue the exciting science?

So I send the question back to you.  What are your thoughts?  I've brainstormed in a number of areas myself and have been drafting some future blog posts on the topic, but want to hear your thoughts before I go too much deeper.  To get things started, here are a few key topics I'm planning to discuss:

  • Should we be supporting creation of new projects, or helping improve existing ones?
  • How can we expand the use of citizen science bounties to help the poor and unemployed?
  • How do we best use citizen science as a platform to teach technical skills to both children AND adult workers.
  • For large-scale efforts or philanthropists with deep pockets, is it best to support multiple different projects or create one larger project encompassing many different aspects of citizen science?
  • For people with smaller budgets, how do you balance investing in your own citizen science tools (such as a telescope) with donating money to a citizen science charity?
These and other questions I'll start answering with my own thoughts next week.  But the more of your ideas I can incorporate early on the better the discussion will be for all of us.

As a final note, I encourage everyone to take a look at the initial article about Bill Conway's challenge for maximizing his philanthropy and helping the most workers.  Send him your own ideas or any unique insights you may have to  If they involve citizen science let me know too...comment below or e-mail them to  I'd love to incorporate them into our public discussion too.


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