Monday, June 3, 2013

Three-Pronged Citizen Science Test and Other Discussions

One benefit to writing OpenScientist is getting to talk about citizen science with many impressive leaders in the field.  They've been involved with the field for years but still find interest in talking to an amateur blogger posting from home every week.  Not only is it flattering, but it was also a lot of fun to discuss citizen science and think about it from a variety of new perspectives.   So when the good people at Socientize called wanting to discuss ways to advance citizen science in the European Union I jumped at the chance.

One of the issues we discussed was whether Distributed Computing projects should be considered citizen science.  Personally I believe it does and proceeded to provide a detailed (and hopefully not too rambling!) answer based thoughts I'd previously expressed in this blog (Is Distributed Computing Really Citizen Science?).  But I realized there needs to be a better answer.

Looking back on my response, my previous "citizen science" definition, and my initial approach for defining "citizen science" based on the activities of people involved in it, I thought we needed some sort of easy-to-use checklist to find the answer.  It must be in plain English and not bog down in overly long lists of potential activities.  Just short and to the point.  In no particular order, here is my 3-pronged Citizen Science test:

Are you a Citizen Scientist?
  • Are you doing this as your main job or is it a hobby?
  • Do you have advanced education in this field?
  • Are you helping to our understanding of nature or technology?
That's all there is to it.  It certainly is not a technical definition and there are always problems with over-simplifying.  But I think this could be useful.

Looking again at the Distributed Computing question it seems pretty clear that it is Citizen Science.  It is being done as a hobby, by people without advanced science education, which helps us understand nature and technology.  It doesn't matter if there is low engagement or thoughtfulness after the project is downloaded and begun.  There is still an everyday citizen performing science.

This leads to the continuing question of how to best understand all the various activities falling under the concept of Citizen Science.  Interestingly Socientize is working on this too.   They have set up an "All Our Ideas" site at to get everyone's input on the topic.  As you may remember from my previous post about All Our Ideas, this tool allows users to vote on a series of questions to gauge the popularity of each answer against the others.  It also let's people add their own suggestions and have others vote on those too.  This provides researchers with both structured user data as well as free-form input.  All important parts of any good citizen science project.

Do the good people at Socientize a favor and take the survey.  It will help them understand the field and find ways to improve it.  It let's us have a say in the future of citizen science.  And it let's you play with a fun new type of citizen science tool.  So what are you waiting for...check it out!


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