New knowledge environments. On the possibility of a citizen social science.

Article by Joseph Perelló: “Citizen science is in a process of consolidation, with a wide variety of practices and perspectives. Social sciences and humanities occupy a small space despite the obvious social dimension of citizen science. In this sense, citizen social science can enrich the concept of citizen science both because the research objective can also be of a social nature and because it provides greater reflection on the active participation of individuals, groups, or communities in research projects. Based on different experiences, this paper proposes that citizen social science should have the capacity to empower participants and provide them with skills to promote collective actions or public policies based on a co-created knowledge.

Citizen science is commonly recognised as the participation of the public in scientific research (Vohland et al., 2021). It has been promoted as a way to collect massive amounts of data and accelerate its processing, while also raising awareness and spreading knowledge and a better understanding of both scientific methods and the social relevance of results (Parrish et al., 2019). Some researchers support the idea of maintaining the generality and vagueness of the term citizen science (Auerbach et al., 2019), due to the youth of the discipline and the different ways it can be understood (Haklay et al., 2020). Such diversity can be considered positively, as a way to enrich citizen science and, more generally, as a catalyst for the emergence of trans-disciplinary and transformative science.

The sociologist Alan Irwin, one of the authors to whom we owe the concept, already said over 25 years ago: «Citizen Science evokes a science which assists the needs and concerns of citizens» (Irwin, 1995, p. xi). The book argues that citizens can create reliable knowledge. However, decades later, the number of contributions using the term citizen science in social sciences and humanities is scarce, smaller than the number of items published in environmental sciences or biology, which predominate in the field (Kullenberg & Kasperowski, 2016). Nevertheless, there is a growing consensus that social sciences and humanities are necessary for citizen science to reach maturity, both so that the object of study can also be of a social nature, and also so that these disciplines can provide a more elaborate reflection on participation in citizen science projects (Tauginienė et al., 2020)….(More)”.

Future Directions for Citizen Science and Public Policy

Open Access Book by The Centre for Science and Policy: “…The OED tells us that citizen science is “scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions.” However, even this definition raises many questions for policy makers trying to figure out how they might make use of it: “What is the difference between a volunteer in a scientific study and a citizen scientist?” they might ask. “Are all forms of public engagement with science considered citizen science?” or “What does it look like in practice?” – or even “Why do I need to bother engaging citizen science at all?”

This collection of essays presents a range of perspectives on these questions, and we hope it will encourage greater use of citizen science by governments. The authors have been brought together by the Centre for
Science and Policy (CSaP) through a series of seminars, lectures and an online conference. Three observations were made time and again:

  • First, there has been an extraordinary flourishing of citizen science during the past two decades. Huge numbers have participated in projects ranging from spotting patterns in protein structures to monitoring local air pollution; from garden bird surveys to deciphering the handwritten notes from the archives of philosophers; and from tracing radioactive contamination to spotting new planets in distant galaxies.
  • Second, there is a growing imperative in government to find new ways to involve citizens as partners in the development and delivery of policy.
  • Third, that while public funds have supported the expansion of citizen science’s contributions to scientific research, there have been surprisingly few experiments drawing on citizen science to contribute to the business of government itself…(More)”

Are we all social scientists now? The rise of citizen social science raises more questions about social science than it answers

Blog by Alexandra Albert: “…In many instances people outside of the academy can and do, do social research even when they do not consider what they are doing to be social research, since that is perceived to be the preserve of ‘experts’. What is it about social science that makes it a skilful and expert activity, and how or why is it practiced in a way that makes it difficult to do? CSS produces tensions between the ideals of inclusion of social actors in the generation of information about the everyday, and the notion that many participants do not necessarily feel entitled, or empowered, to participate in the analysis of this information, or in the interpretation of what it means. For example, in the case of the Empty Houses project, set up to explore some of these issues discussed here in more detail, some participants suggested they did not feel comfortable reporting on empty houses because they found them hard to identify and assumed that some prior knowledge or ‘expertise’ was required. CSS is the perfect place to interrogate these tensions since it challenges the closed nature of social science.

Second, CSS blurs the roles between researchers and researched, creating new responsibilities for participants and researchers alike. A notable distinction between expert and non-expert in social science research is the critique of the approach and the interpretation or analysis of the data. However, the way that traditional social science is done, with critical analysis being the preserve of the trained expert, means that many participants do not feel that it is their role to do the analysis. Does the professionalisation of observational techniques constitute a different category of sociological data that means that people need to be trained in formal and distinct sociological ways of collecting and analysing data? This is a challenge for research design and execution in CSS, and the potentially new perspectives that participating in CSS can engender.

Third, in addressing social worlds, CSS questions whether such observations are just a regular part of people’s everyday lives, or whether they entail a more active form of practice in observing everyday life. In this sense, what does it really mean to participate? Is there a distinction between ‘active’ and ‘passive’ observation? Arguably participating in a project is never just about this – it’s more of a conscious choice, and therefore, in some respects, a burden of some sort. This further raises the issue of how to appropriately compensate participants for their time and energy, potentially as co-researchers in a project and co-authors on papers?

Finally, while CSS can rearrange the power dynamics of citizenship, research and knowing, narratives of ‘duty’ to take part, and to ‘do your bit’, necessarily place a greater burden on the individual and raise questions about the supposed emancipatory potential of participatory methods such as CSS….(More)”

How volunteer observers can help protect biodiversity

The Economist: “Ecology lends itself to being helped along by the keen layperson perhaps more than any other science. For decades, birdwatchers have recorded their sightings and sent them to organisations like Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, or the Audubon society in America, contributing precious data about population size, trends, behaviour and migration. These days, any smartphone connected to the internet can be pointed at a plant to identify a species and add a record to a regional data set.

Social-media platforms have further transformed things, adding big data to weekend ecology. In 2002, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in New York created eBird, a free app available in more than 30 languages that lets twitchers upload and share pictures and recordings of birds, labelled by time, location and other criteria. More than 100m sightings are now uploaded annually, and the number is growing by 20% each year. In May the group marked its billionth observation. The Cornell group also runs an audio library with 1m bird calls, and the Merlin app, which uses eBird data to identify species from pictures and descriptions….(More)”.

Citizen science allows people to ‘really know’ their communities

UGAResearch: “Local populations understand their communities best. They’re familiar both with points of pride and with areas that could be improved. But determining the nature of those improvements from best practices, as well as achieving community consensus on implementation, can present a different set of challenges.

Jerry Shannon, associate professor of geography in the Franklin College of Arts & Sciences, worked with a team of researchers to introduce a citizen science approach in 11 communities across Georgia, from Rockmart to Monroe to Millen. This work combines local knowledge with emerging digital technologies to bolster community-driven efforts in multiple communities in rural Georgia. His research was detailed in a paper, “‘Really Knowing’ the Community: Citizen Science, VGI and Community Housing Assessments” published in December in the Journal of Planning Education and Research.

Shannon worked with the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing, managed out of the College of Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS), to create tools for communities to evaluate and launch plans to address their housing needs and revitalization. This citizen science effort resulted in a more diverse and inclusive body of data that incorporated local perspectives.

“Through this project, we hope to further support and extend these community-driven efforts to assure affordable, quality housing,” said Shannon. “Rural communities don’t have the resources internally to do this work themselves. We provide training and tools to these communities.”

As part of their participation in the GICH program, each Georgia community assembled a housing team consisting of elected officials, members of community organizations and housing professionals such as real estate agents. The team recruited volunteers from student groups and religious organizations to conduct so-called “windshield surveys,” where participants work from their vehicle or walk the neighborhoods….(More)”

To Map Billions of Cicadas, It Takes Thousands of Citizen Scientists

Article by Linda Poon and Marie Patino: “At the end of May, Dan Mozgai will spend his vacation from his day job chasing cicadas. The bugs won’t be hard to find; in about a week, billions of the beady-eyed crawlers from Brood X will start coming up from their 17-year-long underground, blanketing parts of 15 states in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest with their cacophony of shrill mating calls. 

Mozgai isn’t an entomologist — he does online marketing for DirecTV. But since2007, he’s worked closely with academic researchers to track various broods of periodical cicadas,as part of one of the oldest citizen science efforts in the U.S. 

He’ll be joined by ten of thousands of other volunteers across the Brood X territory who will use the mobile app Cicada Safari, where userscan add geotagged photos and videos onto a live map, as dozens of student researchers behind the scenes verify each submission. Videos will be especially helpful this year, as it provides audio data for the researchers, says Gene Kritsky, an entomologist at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, and the creator behind Cicada Safari. He’s been testing the new app with smaller broods for two years in anticipation for this moment.

Brood X,  is one of the largest, and mostly broadly distributed geographically, of periodical cicadas, which emerge every 13 or 17 years. They’ll stick around for just a few weeks, through June, to mate and lay eggs.

“With the smartphone technology and the GPS location services, it was just a perfect way to do citizen science,” Kritsky says. Some 87,000 people have signed up as of the beginning of May, and they’ve already documented several early risers, especially around Cincinnati and Washington, D.C. — two of the expected hotspot…(More)”.

Citizen Science Is Helping Tackle Stinky Cities

Article by Lucrezia Lozza: “Marta has lived with a bad smell lingering in her hometown in central Spain, Villanueva del Pardillo, for a long time. Fed up, in 2017 she and her neighbors decided to pursue the issue. “The smell is disgusting,” Marta says, pointing a finger at a local yeast factory.

Originally, she thought of recording the “bad smell days” on a spreadsheet. When this didn’t work out, after some research she found Odour Collect, a crowdsourced map that allows users to enter a geolocalized timestamp of bad smells in their neighborhood.

After noise, odor nuisances are the second cause of environmental complaints. Odor regulations vary among countries and there’s little legislation about how to manage smells. For instance, in Spain some municipalities regulate odors, but others do not. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate odor as a pollutant, so states and local jurisdictions are in charge of the issue.

Only after Marta started using Odour Collect to record the unpleasant smells in her town did she discover that the map was part of ‘D-NOSES’, a European project aimed at bringing citizens, industries and local authorities together to monitor and minimize odor nuisances. D-NOSES relies heavily on citizen science: Affected communities gather odor observations through two maps — Odour Collect and Community Maps — with the goal of implementing new policies in their area. D-NOSES launched several pilots in Europe — in Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, and Portugal — and two outside the continent in Uganda and in Chile.

“Citizen science promotes transparency between all the actors,” said Nora Salas Seoane, Social Sciences Researcher at Fundación Ibercivis, one of the partners of D-NOSES…(More)”.

Citizen science is booming during the pandemic

Sigal Samuel at Vox: “…The pandemic has driven a huge increase in participation in citizen science, where people without specialized training collect data out in the world or perform simple analyses of data online to help out scientists.

Stuck at home with time on their hands, millions of amateurs arouennd the world are gathering information on everything from birds to plants to Covid-19 at the request of institutional researchers. And while quarantine is mostly a nightmare for us, it’s been a great accelerant for science.

Early in the pandemic, a firehose of data started gushing forth on citizen science platforms like Zooniverse and SciStarter, where scientists ask the public to analyze their data online.It’s a form of crowdsourcing that has the added bonus of giving volunteers a real sense of community; each project has a discussion forum where participants can pose questions to each other (and often to the scientists behind the projects) and forge friendly connections.

“There’s a wonderful project called Rainfall Rescue that’s transcribing historical weather records. It’s a climate change project to understand how weather has changed over the past few centuries,” Laura Trouille, vice president of citizen science at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and co-lead of Zooniverse, told me. “They uploaded a dataset of 10,000 weather logs that needed transcribing — and that was completed in one day!”

Some Zooniverse projects, like Snapshot Safari, ask participants to classify animals in images from wildlife cameras. That project saw daily classifications go from 25,000 to 200,000 per day in the initial days of lockdown. And across all its projects, Zooniverse reported that 200,000 participants contributed more than 5 million classifications of images in one week alone — the equivalent of 48 years of research. Although participation has slowed a bit since the spring, it’s still four times what it was pre-pandemic.

Many people are particularly eager to help tackle Covid-19, and scientists have harnessed their energy. Carnegie Mellon University’s Roni Rosenfeld set up a platform where volunteers can help artificial intelligence predict the spread of the coronavirus, even if they know nothing about AI. Researchers at the University of Washington invited people to contribute to Covid-19 drug discovery using a computer game called Foldit; they experimented with designing proteins that could attach to the virus that causes Covid-19 and prevent it from entering cells….(More)”.

Using Data and Citizen Science for Gardening Success

Article by Elizabeth Waddington: “…Data can help you personally by providing information you can use. And it also allows you to play a wider role in boosting understanding of our planet and tackling the global crises we face in a collaborative way. Consider the following examples.

Grow Observatory

This is one great example of data gathering and citizen science. Grow Observatory is a European citizen’s observatory through which people work together to take action on climate change, build better soil, grow healthier food and corroborate data from the new generation of Copernicus satellites.

Twenty-four Grow communities in 13 European countries created a network of over 6,500 ground-based soil sensors and collected a lot of soil-related data. And many insights have helped people learn about and test regenerative food growing techniques.

On their website, you can explore sensor locations, or make use of dynamic soil moisture maps. With the Grow Observatory app, you can get crop and planting advice tailored to your location, and get detailed, science-based information about regenerative growing practices. Their water planner also allows small-scale growers to learn more about how much water their plants will need in their location over the coming months if they live in one of the areas which currently have available data…

Cooperative Citizen Science: iNaturalist, Bioblitzes, Bird Counts, and More

Wherever you live, there are many different ways to get involved and help build data. From submitting observations on wildlife in your garden through apps like iNaturalist to taking part in local Bioblitzes, bird counts, and more – there are plenty of ways we can collect data that will help us – and others – down the road.

Collecting data through our observations, and, crucially, sharing that data with others can help us create the future we all want to see. We, as individuals, can often feel powerless. But citizen science projects help us to see the collective power we can wield when we work together. Modern technology means we can be hyper-connected, and affect wider systems, even when we are alone in our own gardens….(More)”

Citizen social science in practice: the case of the Empty Houses Project

Paper by Alexandra Albert: “The growth of citizen science and participatory science, where non-professional scientists voluntarily participate in scientific activities, raises questions around the ownership and interpretation of data, issues of data quality and reliability, and new kinds of data literacy. Citizen social science (CSS), as an approach that bridges these fields, calls into question the way in which research is undertaken, as well as who can collect data, what data can be collected, and what such data can be used for. This article outlines a case study—the Empty Houses Project—to explore how CSS plays out in practice, and to reflect on the opportunities and challenges it presents. The Empty Houses Project was set up to investigate how citizens could be mobilised to collect data about empty houses in their local area, so as to potentially contribute towards tackling a pressing policy issue. The study shows how the possibilities of CSS exceed the dominant view of it as a new means of creating data repositories. Rather, it considers how the data produced in CSS is an epistemology, and a politics, not just a realist tool for analysis….(More)”.