Citizen science and environmental justice: exploring contradictory outcomes through a case study of air quality monitoring in Dublin

Paper by Fiadh Tubridy et al: “Citizen science is advocated as a response to a broad range of contemporary societal and ecological challenges. However, there are widely varying models of citizen science which may either challenge or reinforce existing knowledge paradigms and associated power dynamics. This paper explores different approaches to citizen science in the context of air quality monitoring in terms of their implications for environmental justice. This is achieved through a case study of air quality management in Dublin which focuses on the role of citizen science in this context. The evidence shows that the dominant interpretation of citizen science in Dublin is that it provides a means to promote awareness and behaviour change rather than to generate knowledge and inform new regulations or policies. This is linked to an overall context of technocratic governance and the exclusion of non-experts from decision-making. It is further closely linked to neoliberal governance imperatives to individualise responsibility and promote market-based solutions to environmental challenges. Last, the evidence highlights that this model of citizen science risks compounding inequalities by transferring responsibility and blame for air pollution to those who have limited resources to address it. Overall, the paper highlights the need for critical analysis of the implications of citizen science in different instances and for alternative models of citizen science whereby communities would contribute to setting objectives and determining how their data is used…(More)”.

Measuring costs and benefits of citizen science

Article by Kathy Tzilivakis: “It’s never been easy to accurately measure the impact of any scientific research, but it’s even harder for citizen science projects, which don’t follow traditional methods. Public involvement places citizen science in a new era of data collection, one that requires a new measurement plan.

As you read this, thousands of ordinary people across Europe are busy tagging, categorizing and counting in the name of science. They may be reporting crop yields, analyzing plastic waste found in nature or monitoring the populations of wildlife. This relatively new method of public participation in scientific enquiry is experiencing a considerable upswing in both quality and scale of projects.

Of course, people have been sharing observations about the natural world for millennia—way before the term “citizen science” appeared on the cover of sociologist Alan Irwin‘s 1995 book “Citizen Science: A Study of People, Expertise, and Sustainable Development. “

Today, citizen science is on the rise with bigger projects that are more ambitious and better networked than ever before. And while collecting seawater samples and photographing wild birds are two well-known examples of citizen science, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Citizen science is evolving thanks to new data collection techniques enabled by the internet, smartphones and social media. Increased connectivity is encouraging a wide range of observations that can be easily recorded and shared. The reams of crowd-sourced data from members of the public are a boon for researchers working on large-scale and geographically diverse projects. Often it would be too difficult and expensive to obtain this data otherwise.

Both sides win because scientists are helped to collect much better data and an enthusiastic public gets to engage with the fascinating world of science.

But success has been difficult to define, let alone to translate into indicators for assessment. Until now.

A group of EU researchers has taken on the challenge of building the first integrated and interactive platform to measure costs and benefits of citizen science….

“The platform will be very complex but able to capture the characteristics and the results of projects, and measure their impact on several domains like society, economy, environment, science and technology and governance,” said Dr. Luigi Ceccaroni, who is coordinating the Measuring Impact of Citizen Science (MICS) project behind the platform. Currently at the testing stage, the platform is slated to go live before the end of this year….(More)”

Repeat photos show change in southern African landscapes: a citizen science project

Paper by Timm Hoffman and Hana Petersen: “Every place in the world has a history. To understand it in the present you need some knowledge of its past. The history of the earth can be read from its rocks; the history of life, from the evolutionary histories and relationships of its species. But what of the history of modern landscapes and the many benefits we derive from them, such as water and food? What are their histories – and how are they shifting in response to the intense pressures they face from climate change and from people?

Historical landscape photographs provide one way of measuring this. They capture the way things were at a moment in time. By standing at the same place and re-photographing the same scene, it is possible to document the nature of change. Sometimes researchers can even measure the extent and rate of change for different elements in the landscape.

Reasons for the change can also sometimes be observed from this and other historical information, such as the climate or fire record. All of these data can then be related to what has been written about environmental change using other approaches and models. Researchers can ascertain whether the environment has reached a critical threshold and consider how to respond to the changes.

This is what repeat photography is all about…

The rePhotoSA project was launched in August 2015. The idea is to involve interested members of the public in re-photographing historical locations. This has two benefits. First, participants add to the number of repeated images. Second, public awareness of landscape change is raised.

The project website has over 6,000 historical images from ten primary photographic collections of southern African landscapes, dating from the late 1800s to the early 2000s. The geographic spread of the photographs is influenced largely by the interests of the original photographers. Often these photographs are donated to the project by family members, or institutions to which the original photographers belonged – and sometimes by the photographers themselves….(More)

Citizen science and the right to research: building local knowledge of climate change impacts

Paper by Sarita Albagli & Allan Yu Iwama: “The article presents results of a research project aiming to develop theoretical and empirical contributions on participatory approaches and methods of citizen science for risk mapping and adaptation to climate change. In the first part, the paper presents a review of the literature on key concepts and perspectives related to participatory citizen science, introducing the concept of the “right to research”. It highlights the mutual fertilization with participatory mapping methods to deal with disaster situations associated to climate change. In the second part, the paper describes and presents the results and conclusions of an action-research developed on the coastline between the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2017–2018. It involved affected communities as protagonists in mapping and managing risks of natural disasters caused by extreme climate events, by combining citizen science approaches and methods with Participatory Geographic Information Systems (PGIS) and social cartography. The article concludes by pointing out the contributions and limits of the “right to research” as a relevant Social Science approach to reframe citizen science from a democratic view….(More)”.

Public Provides NASA with New Innovations through Prize Competitions, Crowdsourcing, Citizen Science Opportunities

NASA Report: “Whether problem-solving during the pandemic, establishing a long-term presence at the Moon, or advancing technology to adapt to life in space, NASA has leveraged open innovation tools to inspire solutions to some of our most timely challenges – while using the creativity of everyone from garage tinkerers to citizen scientists and students of all ages.

Open Innovation: Boosting NASA Higher, Faster, and Farther highlights some of those breakthroughs, which accelerate space technology development and discovery while giving the public a gateway to work with NASA. Open innovation initiatives include problem-focused challenges and prize competitions, data hackathons, citizen science, and crowdsourcing projects that invite the public to lend their skills, ideas, and time to support NASA research and development programs.

NASA engaged the public with 56 public prize competitions and challenges and 14 citizen science and crowdsourcing activities over fiscal years 2019 and 2020. NASA awarded $2.2 million in prize money, and members of the public submitted over 11,000 solutions during that period.

“NASA’s accomplishments have hardly been NASA’s alone. Tens of thousands more individuals from academic institutions, private companies, and other space agencies also contribute to these solutions. Open innovation expands the NASA community and broadens the agency’s capacity for innovation and discovery even further,” said Amy Kaminski, Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We harness the perspectives, expertise, and enthusiasm of ‘the crowd’ to gain diverse solutions, speed up projects, and reduce costs.”

This edition of the publication highlights:

  • How NASA used open innovation tools to accelerate the pace of problem-solving during the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling a sprint of creativity to create valuable solutions in support of this global crisis
  • How NASA invited everyone to embrace the Moon as a technological testing ground through public prize competitions and challenges, sparking development that could help prolong human stays on the Moon and lay the foundation for human exploration to Mars and beyond  
  • How citizen scientists gather, sort, and upload data, resulting in fruitful partnerships between the public and NASA scientists
  • How NASA’s student-focused challenges have changed lives and positively impacted underserved communities…(More)”.

The Attack of Zombie Science

Article by Natalia Pasternak, Carlos Orsi, Aaron F. Mertz, & Stuart Firestein: “When we think about how science is distorted, we usually think about concepts that have ample currency in public discourse, such as pseudoscience and junk science. Practices like astrology and homeopathy come wrapped in scientific concepts and jargon that can’t meet the methodological requirements of actual sciences. During the COVID-19 pandemic, pseudoscience has had a field day. Bleach, anyone? Bear bile? Yet the pandemic has brought a newer, more subtle form of distortion to light. To the philosophy of science, we humbly submit a new concept: “zombie science.”

We think of zombie science as mindless science. It goes through the motions of scientific research without a real research question to answer, it follows all the correct methodology, but it doesn’t aspire to contribute to advance knowledge in the field. Practically all the information about hydroxychloroquine during the pandemic falls into that category, including not just the living dead found in preprint repositories, but also papers published in journals that ought to have been caught by a more discerning eye. Journals, after all, invest their reputation in every piece they choose to publish. And every investment in useless science is a net loss.

From a social and historical stance, it seems almost inevitable that the penchant for productivism in the academic and scientific world would end up encouraging zombie science. If those who do not publish perish, then publishing—even nonsense or irrelevancies—is a matter of life or death. The peer-review process and the criteria for editorial importance are filters, for sure, but they are limited. Not only do they get clogged and overwhelmed due to excess submissions, they have to deal with the weaknesses of the human condition, including feelings of personal loyalty, prejudice, and vanity. Additionally, these filters fail, as the proliferation of predatory journals shows us all too well…(More)”.

Expecting the Unexpected: Effects of Data Collection Design Choices on the Quality of Crowdsourced User-Generated Content

Paper by Roman Lukyanenko: “As crowdsourced user-generated content becomes an important source of data for organizations, a pressing question is how to ensure that data contributed by ordinary people outside of traditional organizational boundaries is of suitable quality to be useful for both known and unanticipated purposes. This research examines the impact of different information quality management strategies, and corresponding data collection design choices, on key dimensions of information quality in crowdsourced user-generated content. We conceptualize a contributor-centric information quality management approach focusing on instance-based data collection. We contrast it with the traditional consumer-centric fitness-for-use conceptualization of information quality that emphasizes class-based data collection. We present laboratory and field experiments conducted in a citizen science domain that demonstrate trade-offs between the quality dimensions of accuracy, completeness (including discoveries), and precision between the two information management approaches and their corresponding data collection designs. Specifically, we show that instance-based data collection results in higher accuracy, dataset completeness and number of discoveries, but this comes at the expense of lower precision. We further validate the practical value of the instance-based approach by conducting an applicability check with potential data consumers (scientists, in our context of citizen science). In a follow-up study, we show, using human experts and supervised machine learning techniques, that substantial precision gains on instance-based data can be achieved with post-processing. We conclude by discussing the benefits and limitations of different information quality and data collection design choice for information quality in crowdsourced user-generated content…(More)”.

Open Science: the Very Idea

Book by Frank Miedema: “This open access book provides a broad context for the understanding of current problems of science and of the different movements aiming to improve the societal impact of science and research. 

The author offers insights with regard to ideas, old and new, about science, and their historical origins in philosophy and sociology of science, which is of interest to a broad readership. The book shows that scientifically grounded knowledge is required and helpful in understanding intellectual and political positions in various discussions on the grand challenges of our time and how science makes impact on society. The book reveals why interventions that look good or even obvious, are often met with resistance and are hard to realize in practice. 

Based on a thorough analysis, as well as personal experiences in aids research, university administration and as a science observer, the author provides – while being totally open regarding science’s limitations- a realistic narrative about how research is conducted, and how reliable ‘objective’ knowledge is produced. His idea of science, which draws heavily on American pragmatism, fits in with the global Open Science movement. It is argued that Open Science is a truly and historically unique movement in that it translates the analysis of the problems of science into major institutional actions of system change in order to improve academic culture and the impact of science, engaging all actors in the field of science and academia…(More)”.

Citizen Science Project Builder 2.0

About by Citizen Science Center Zurich: “The Citizen Science Project Builder allows the implementation of Citizen Science projects, specifically in the area of data analysis. In such projects volunteers (“citizens”) collaborate with researchers in different kinds of scientific endeavors, from labeling images of snakes to transcribing handwritten Swiss German dialect, or classifying insects and plants. The Project Builder facilitates the implementation of such projects, supporting the collaborative analysis of large sets of digital data, including images and texts (i.e. satellite pictures, social media posts, etc.), as well as videos, audios, and scanned documents.

What makes the tool so special?

The Citizen Science Project Builder features a web interface that requires limited technical knowledge, and ideally little or no coding skills. It is a simple modular “step-by-step” system where a project can be created in just a few clicks. Once the project is set up, many people can easily be involved and start contributing to the analysis of data as well as providing feedback that will help you to improve your project!

What is new?

The new release of the Citizen Science Project Builder allows the building of full-fledged questionnaires for media analysis (including conditions and multiple formats for questions). A brand new functionality allows the geolocation of content on Open Street Map (e.g. mark the location of the content of an image) and also the delimitation of an area of interest (e.g. delimitate green areas). The interface still includes an “expert path” for developers, so if you can code (vue.js) the sky is the limit!…(More)”

Volunteers Sped Up Alzheimer’s Research

Article by SciStarter: “Across the United States, 5.7 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the seventh leading cause of death in America. But there is still no treatment or cure. Alzheimer’s hits close to home for many of us who have seen loved ones suffer and who feel hopeless in the face of this disease. With Stall Catchers, an online citizen science project, joining the fight against Alzheimer’s is as easy as playing an online computer game…

Scientists at Cornell University found a link between “stalled” blood vessels in the brain and the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These stalled vessels limit blood flow to the brain by up to 30 percent. In experiments with laboratory mice, when the blood cells causing the stalls were removed, the mice performed better on memory tests.about:blankabout:blank

The researchers are working to develop Alzheimer’s treatments that remove the stalls in mice in the hope they can apply these methods to humans. But analyzing the brain images to find the stalled capillaries is hard and time consuming. It could take a trained laboratory technician six to 12 months to analyze each week’s worth of data collection.

So, Cornell researchers created Stall Catchers to make finding the stalled blood vessels into a game that anyone can play. The game relies on the power of the crowd — multiple confirmed answers — before determining whether a vessel is stalled or flowing…

Since its inception is 2016, he project has grown steadily, addressing various datasets and uncovering new insights about Alzheimer’s disease. Citizen scientists who play the game identify blood vessels as “flowing” or “stalled,” earning points for their classifications.

One way Stall Catchers makes this research fun is by allowing volunteers to form teams and engage in friendly competition…(More)”.