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.


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