The Economist: “…Citizen science has been around for ages—professional astronomers, geologists and archaeologists have long had their work supplemented by enthusiastic amateurs—and new cheap instruments can usefully spread the movement’s reach. What is more striking about bGeigie and its like, though, is that citizens and communities can use such instruments to inform decisions on which science would otherwise be silent—or mistrusted. For example, getting hold of a bGeigie led some people planning to move home after Fukushima to decide they were safer staying put.
Ms Liboiron’s research at CLEAR also stresses self-determination. It is subject to “community peer review”: those who have participated in the lab’s scientific work decide whether it is valid and merits publication. In the 1980s fishermen had tried to warn government scientists that stocks were in decline. Their cries were ignored and the sudden collapse of Newfoundland’s cod stocks in 1992 had left 35,000 jobless. The people taking science into their own hands with Ms Liboiron want to make sure that in the future the findings which matter to them get heard.
Issues such as climate change, plastic waste and air pollution become more tangible to those with the tools in their hands to measure them. Those tools, in turn, encourage more people to get involved. Eymund Diegel, a South African urban planner who is also a keen canoeist, has long campaigned for the Gowanus canal, close to his home in Brooklyn, to be cleaned up. Effluent from paint manufacturers, tanneries, chemical plants and more used to flow into the canal with such profligacy that by the early 20th century the Gowanus was said to be jammed solid. The New York mob started using the waterway as a dumping ground for dead bodies. In the early part of this century it was still badly polluted.
In 2009 Mr Diegel contacted Public Lab, an NGO based in New Orleans that helps people investigate environmental concerns. They directed him to what became his most powerful weapon in the fight—a mapping rig consisting of a large helium balloon, 300 metres (1,000 feet) of string and an old digital camera. A camera or smartphone fixed to such a balloon can take more detailed photographs than the satellite imagery used by the likes of Google for its online maps, and Public Lab provides software, called MapKnitter, that can stitch these photos together into surveys.
These data—and community pressure—helped persuade the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make the canal eligible for money from a “superfund” programme which targets some of America’s most contaminated land. Mr Diegel’s photos have revealed a milky plume flowing into the canal from a concealed chemical tank which the EPA’s own surveys had somehow missed. The agency now plans to spend $500m cleaning up the canal….(More)”.