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.



  1. Thanks for posting about the Association. And for making these great suggestions!

    One of the efforts of the Association is to not recreate and/or compete with services that already exist, but rather to try to identify those services and build partnerships. There's a great organization called the Citizen Scientists' League, led by Dr. Sheldon Greaves, that has done great work to serve the non-professional community of citizen scientists and makers - among other things negotiating journal access for a nominal subscription fee. Dr. Greaves has just expressed his interest in helping support the efforts of the Association.

    There are other organizations that serve the community of researchers, makers, DIY scientists, hakers, and others who work relatively independently, and it would be great to know of and connect with those organizations. The efforts to support citizen science across the board can be most effectively achieved by working together.

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