Sunday, August 10, 2014

Five Best Cities for a Citizen Scientist to Live

Last month I wrote a post on where the best places are for a citizen scientist to live.  In case any of you out there are planning to move, these are things to look for indicating many opportunities to participate in citizen science.  After hearing your feedback and doing some research on my own, I narrowed them to five general indicators:
  1. Access to Universities and Community Colleges
  2. Proximity to Museums and Science Centers
  3. Access to National, State, and Local Parks
  4. Dark Skies
  5. Environmental Consciousness
After hearing your comments and looking more closely a sixth criterion has revealed itself. This has also been added as an update to the previous post.

  • Entrepreneurship: Many of the key traits of citizen scientists are shared by successful entrepreneurs. Both are highly independent, dedicated, intellectual, and comfortable with risk. They are also willing to question authority and defy conventions.  These traits help you build a business from scratch or offer your data to tenured researchers as an equal. So citizen scientists will look for areas that welcome similar personalities as themselves and they fit right in.  As an added bonus, in an entrepreneurial city any scientific discoveries can be more easily turned into profitable businesses or used in other ways to make money.  A perfect way to motivate, and support, the citizen science community.

With these key traits in place we can start identifying the best U.S. cities for citizen science.  Admittedly one could argue over the relative merits of each city and their ranking.  But this is the sense I have from my years watching the field and it should move this interesting conversation forward.

5) Portland, OR
Portland has long enjoyed an independent streak among it's citizens, as well as a strong environmental awareness.  This has created a town with a larger-than-normal size of existing nature and animal tracking citizen science projects, and these are expected to just increase.  So it's the perfect place for new and experience citizen scientists to join existing projects or find people for new ones. It was even the site of the first Public Participation in Scientific Research Conference back in 2012; just another way it supports the citizen science community.

4) Phoenix, AZ
Picking just one city in the U.S. Southwest as best for citizen scientists was a difficult job.  All are in desert areas with the abundant life (if you know where to look), and many need scientific help to preserve the fragile environment.  The desert also holds many important archaeological finds as dinosaur bones and remains of ancient cultures lie just below the surface.  Just a few miles outside many of these cities find low populations and crystal clear skies at night...perfect for star-gazing.  But ultimately Phoenix rises above it's other desert counterparts.  It's high concentration of world-class research universities and concentration of PhD scientists make it a great spot for public participation in science.

3) San Francisco, CA
The San Francisco Bay area is known as the heart of Silicon Valley and the innovative technical culture that thrives there.  The University of California Schools, along with local Stanford University, provide a wealth of highly educated researchers ready to be involved in citizen science or guide the public in their citizen science endeavors.  Currently it is a great place to find new citizen science tools being made, from a thriving DIYBio community to programmers creating many of the citizen science apps we use today.  Even the old Xerox PARC center laid a building block for the 1970's amateur computer clubs that Apple eventually sprouted from.  Again citizen science and entrepreneurship show their close link and make San Francisco a worthy choice at number three.

2) Washington, DC
Free access to a treasure trove of information and activities are at the heart of DC's citizen science appeal. Start with the Smithsonian Institution Museums...the Air and Space and Natural History museums are free to the public and host world class treasures -- from the Hope Diamond to the Space Shuttle Discovery and everything in between.  The city also attracts leading experts to speak at free or low-cost events, either at the museums or at the many scientific associations around town (such as a American Academy of Sciences and National Geographic Society) hoping to lend a scientific voice to our politics.  Even the headquarters of major Federal agencies (such as the National Science Foundation) offer access to cutting-edge discoveries to the public.  Of course, you can learn all about happenings in the DC area at our sister site ScienceinDC.

1) Honolulu, HI
What doesn't Hawaii top the charts in?  Ifthe beautiful beaches and tropical climate aren't enough to lure you over the Pacific, hopefully the scientific opportunities will!  The Hawaiian islands in general are a nature-lovers paradise with bountiful tropical forests to hike through, as well as an ocean filled with coral reefs and abundant sea life. There are active volcanoes for understanding the Earth's interior, and for experiencing completely different ecosystems at high elevation.  Finally there's Honolulu, with its high tech industry and world class university.  What more does a citizen scientist want?

So what do you think of this list?  Did I miss your favorite city?  Do you think Boston (MA), Ithaca (NY), or Oak Ridge (TN) were wrongly overlooked?  Let me know in the comments below and keep the conversation going.