Thursday, November 29, 2012

Citizen Science Inspiration from TED

Citizen science is one of the most inspirational fields to join.  The sight of everyday people asking their own questions and finding answers without the need for advanced education or expensive equipment is a testament to human ingenuity.  But sometimes we forget that.  So today I offer selections from the TEDTalks series to fire you up and make think about citizen science in a whole new light. 

The first features Beau Lotto and Amy O'Toole, two researchers investigating whether bees can be "trained" to collect nectar from certain patterns of flowers.  While this is meaningful research published in peer-reviewed journals, the science is not the most interesting part.  The fact that the authors are almost all elementary school students is!    So not only do we learn about bee behavior, but also the most important lesson that curiosity and play are the keys to successful science. 

In the second video, Clay Shirky talks about the rise of open source computing and the lessons it holds for democracy.  If programmers from across the world can self-organize and create incredibly complex software, why can't governments tap the knowledge of it's citizens when drafting laws?  It's an interesting premise and one I think also says a lot about citizen science.  We too are encouraging large groups of people to join highly complex scientific studies, or to advance theories within a deluge of academic research.  So we could also use some of the lessons from the open-source community.

Of course these are just a few of the inspiration videos available through the TEDTalks web page or on the TEDTalks podcast station on iTunes.  Some are science and even citizen science related, though others are in completely different areas or art and philosophy.  But all are worth exploring.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dreaming Big and Learning About Citizen Science

This blog's main goals is advancing the field of citizen science.  I like to show promoting citizen science projects and highlighting their successes.  I also enjoy helping creators of new projects improve their offerings.  Previously that inspired my research on keys to successful citizen science projects.  So I'm excited to talk about the many useful tools coming from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Association of Science-Technology Centers.

The best way to learn about successful projects is getting their leaders in a room and asking about their experience.  This Spring that's exactly what happened.  The California Academy of Sciences hosted a three-day conference on the role of citizen science in ecology and conservation projects. All with the goal of improving biodiversity in the State of California.

Much can be learned by listening in on their discussions.  They are filled with descriptions of successful citizen science projects, examples of the wide variety of projects inviting public participation in scientific research, and valuable lessons learned from researchers experienced with utilizing citizen science volunteers.

For starters I recommend taking a close look at the meeting proceedings for summaries of all plenary and breakout sessions.  There is a lot to digest in here and I too have many thoughts to share on the proceedings, but take a look yourself for insights that will help your own projects.  I also recommend reading the various case studies the Cornell Ornithology Lab and the Association of Science-Technology Centers have put together.  They turn academic insights into practical tools and can help improve may type of citizen science projects.

Once you've had a chance to review these we'll also talk about the many tools recently putt together on specific aspects of developing citizen science projects.  But more on that in the future...we've got a lot of reading ahead of us right now!