Saturday, September 28, 2013

An Association for Amateur Scientists AND Citizen Science Professionals

Last week we learned a new Citizen Science Association was launched.  It took twelve months and the hard work of many smart people.  It also holds huge promise for advancing citizen science.  But there is one piece missing...the amateur scientists themselves.

At first glance the emphasis on communications, governance, conferences, and a peer-reviewed journal are just what the field needs.  They build the standing of citizen science as a research discipline and will let designers of research projects share best practices and develop new techniques. But it's very much focused on an academic audience.

To borrow a phrase from the association's planning documents, "Citizen science is a field based on partnering of scientists and members of the public."  But many citizen scientists don't attend national conferences and aren't able to publish in peer-reviewed journals.  Instead these initiatives are more focused on so-called "Citizen Science Professionals".  While amateur citizen scientists may benefit from improvements to the field made possible by those efforts and can take advantage of some new opportunities because of it, they won't benefit directly.

To be clear...I'm extremely thankful for all the work that's been put into it so   It's only because of their efforts that we are even having this discussion.  We also need to promote the activities of "Citizen Science Professionals" and not create a new, harmful divide.  Instead, it's our job as amateur scientists to think of what we need and work to help the association provide it.
So what do everyday citizen scientists need that could be met by a new association?  I've added some initial ideas below.  A few are things I always wished the Society for Amateur Scientists would have done back when it was active, and many of them probably still apply.  But I bet you have some good ones too.
  • Organizational Assistance: Creating "Maker Workshops" or "DIYScience Labs".  Even though they are populated by amateurs performing their own research, an association can help set them up, organize fundraising, and identify sources for equipment.
  • Promulgate Standards for Citizen Scientists:  Expectations for scientific rigor, codes of ethics, and citation requirements are well established in the professional scientific community.  And amateur scientists should be held high standards.  But amateurs will need help understanding the rules in a non-academic environment.  There may also be a need to modify those rules for amateur scientists with limited resources.
  • Amateur Conference Tracks:  Amateur scientists at all levels need different things from a conference than others would.  For example, how to get their work published in a scientific journal or meeting other amateurs looking for collaborators.  This can be done at a large national conference but there need to be unique offerings for them to make it worthwhile.
  • Tool Access: Providing amateurs access to the specialized computer and diagnostic tools typically available only to university researchers (e.g., low rates for high-end software licenses, access to specialized journals).
  • Open Data Access:  Open data exists in many places but nobody has access to all of it.  A central place listing where people can go for data could be very useful.
  • Educational Resources:  Offer training devoted to specific needs of citizen scientists (e.g., special biology or astronomy lessons aimed at lay-people with an existing knowledge of those fields and focused on helping them participate)

As always I encourage you to keep the discussion going in the comments below.  But also let the Citizen Science Association know your thoughts as well.  They are genuinely eager to hear your ideas.  And they want to do everything in their power to make the association work for everyone.  But we need to tell them what we want.

One final thing...if you have an idea and are willing to make it a reality, let them know that as well.  That's the only way we can make this thing work and build a successful organization.  We can't make them do all the work...we need to pitch in too.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Announcing a New Citizen Science Association

Last year a who's who of citizen science experts met in Portland, Oregon to discuss the current state of the field.  We've discussed many of the highlights from that meeting previously on this blog.  Now it is time for one more highlight...unveiling the just launched "Citizen Science Association".

Last week the association launched their web site ( and hosted an hour-long presentation describing the new organization.  Although a small group has gotten the ball rolling for everyone, and they've started the hard work of building an infrastructure, they can't do it alone.  They now need our ideas, comments and criticisms to ensure it meets all the needs that are out there.

Among other things, the new association looks to promote and advocate for the citizen science field, identify best practices, and foster professional development.  As a first step in accomplishing these goals four working groups have been put together in the following areas:

  • Creating a governance structure to support the new organization.
  • Setting up conferences. Initially they hope for a large national conference every two years with the next in early 2015. But they are also thinking of more frequent "virtual conferences" online as well as the potential for local or regional conferences in various areas.
  • Launching a peer-reviewed journal focused on citizen science as it's own discipline. Since citizen science is highly interdisciplinary the journal would not focus on research in other fields that just used citizen science as a tool...that would be more appropriate in the field the research was performed. Instead the journal would take articles on how different projects use citizen science, how it can be improved, and where citizen science is headed.  This was one of the most popular ideas and provoked much discussion during the presentation. 
  • Developing a communications strategy. This group will not just communicate to citizen scientists and fellow researchers, but also the public.  They can promote the citizen science concept and give the media a trusted source of information on citizen science issues. 
Obviously these are just the cliff notes of a much more detailed discussion. So go straight to the source.  Just download a copy of the original presentation and review the short (but sweet) background reports.  Of course, if you are like me you will also need a copy of the free WebEx player (available here) to successfully view the presentation.  But otherwise it's completely simple.

What they need now is your input. I've been thinking about it myself and am composing some of my own thoughts.  But what do you think?  Let them know by joining the discussion at and by providing feedback at  Or even in the comments below.  Whichever way you choose let's keep this important conversation moving.