Thu Dec 22 2016
“Citizen Science is the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists.”
Science is our most reliable system of gaining new knowledge and citizen science is the involvement of the public in scientific research, discovery and global investigation of new scientific knowledge. Common aliases of citizen science are crowd science, civic science, amateur science, crowdsourced science, volunteer monitoring, and public participation in scientific research. Citizen science may be performed by individuals, teams, or networks of volunteers. Hence citizen science unites volunteers, scientists, educators, environmental lawyers and students who want a more hands-on experience outside the classroom. The fields in which we can use citizen science are ecology, astronomy, medicine, computer science, statistics, psychology, genetics, engineering and much more. The data produced by citizen scientists is called Citizen Generated Data. In recent years, organizations coordinating best practices for citizen science programs have been established, e.g. the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) or the Citizen Science Association (CSA) in the United States.
The term citizen scientists were first used in mid-1990’s to describe people who don’t necessarily have a formal science background or training, but voluntarily contributed their time, effort, and resources toward scientific research in collaboration with professional scientists. A citizen science project can involve one person or millions of people collaborating towards a common goal. Citizen scientists can help experts with their research projects in different useful ways from collecting data, to analyzing them, and sometimes even collaborating to publish papers. It’s like crowdsourced research where you gain some expertise along the way. The work of citizen scientists can range from large-scale conservation projects to astronomical surveys, to work that used to be restricted in labs. Some kinds of research are ideal for citizen science because they don’t require a lot of training, just lots of enthusiasm and patience like in the field of ecology, where citizen scientists can help collect and record data about the natural world. And as the community of citizen scientists grows in all kinds of fields then research projects can become larger and wider reaching than ever.
Well known examples of citizen science include projects such as Zooniverse or Foldit. SciStarter provides a database of more than 600 active, searchable projects. The `Zooniverse` is the world’s largest platform for people-powered research. Over a million volunteers have made unexpected and scientifically significant discoveries by the superior human ability to recognize patterns, for instance in Galaxy Zoo project to understand how galaxies are formed, people classify the galaxies according to their shapes like smooth, rounded or spiral. `Foldit’ is a computer game-like tool designed to solve the longstanding problem of protein folding. It attracted thousands of dedicated players who in several cases found significantly better solutions than the elaborate computer simulations. For those who cannot go out and collect data, projects like SETI(Search For Extraterrestrial Activities) could be ideal. SETI is an internet based public volunteering computing project whose goal is to detect intelligent life outside of earth. It uses the internet to take advantage of distributed computing. The computation is done by a virtual supercomputer composed of large numbers of internet connected computers of volunteers. Thus, the inclusion of participating citizens can lead in many cases to superior research results. So, today’s opportunities to participate in citizen science are boundless. You can easily participate in a project that coincides with your interests. You can easily get started on these projects through the internet.
After the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on April 15, 2015, University of Delaware geography students used very high-resolution satellite images to update geographic maps of Kathmandu. They compared satellite images of Kathmandu from before and after the earthquake and marked buildings, roads, and major damages on the new images within areas of destruction and they updated these GIS data on the Open Street Map. A joint initiative between Kathmandu Living Labs and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap team provided offline maps for relief workers to locate places that had sustained severe damages.
Also, the volunteers from NASA used satellite data to pinpoint the locations of landslides after the earthquake and its aftershocks triggered landslides and avalanches that engulfed remote villages of Nepal. So, these volunteers around the world who analyzed satellite images and other data were successful to generate maps with crowdsourced information which helped the relief agencies provide swift aid to the affected areas.
WWF(World Wildlife Fund) Nepal is giving forest inventory training to local peoples of Bardiya district to become citizen scientist as a part of their Hariyo Ban program. They are also providing equipment like GPS to the citizen scientists. Cyber Tracker Nepal is developing a simple handheld computer system with a GPS to enable local people to monitor and record information on snow leopards, their prey, and habitat.
Pragya is an organization working to educate communities on the nature of climate change and the need for adaptation. They also seek to help the communities adapt to the ecological changes resulting from climate change, with suitable changes in the agriculture, changing weather patterns as well as farm-level experimentation with new crops and water management to suit changes in climate. The project is being implemented in 12 districts throughout the country.
Until a few years ago, crowdsourced disaster response was informal, uncoordinated and often haphazard. If the April 25th earthquake had happened 10 or even five years ago, the emergency response would have looked very different. At that time, one of the biggest hurdles the humanitarian agencies faced was a lack of information. When disaster struck, they didn’t know for days and weeks how many people had been affected, how badly or where. The situation is changing as the new communication technologies lead to growing availability of scientific results for everyone, and scientific activities become more reachable. Today, thousands of people in Nepal have mobile phones due to significant growth of the country’s telecom networks and cellular internet services. According to 2014 data from the Nepal Telecom Authority, 86 percent of the country’s 28 million population have a mobile phone, with almost 30 percent able to access the internet. So, people can use mobile phones and the Internet to help authorities and professional scientists by providing information. The involvement of citizen in the scientific process has increased and will become more prominent with the emergence of a well-informed knowledge society. Therefore, ‘citizen science’ will become an important part of research activities in future and research institutions need to prepare for it.
Citizen Scientists can reach out to places and communities that professional scientists may not be able to access easily, thereby contributing to more in-depth research at a root level. In the country like Nepal, this grassroots participation in the research of environment and nature means a more community involved conservation effort. Since the local people who are the most familiar with their surroundings, a research effort fueled by them can be more successful in producing a concrete solution for the conservation of fauna and flora available in the region. Thus, with the help of citizen science, an effective community involved conservation effort can be mounted. Furthermore, this kind of research can also help the governmental and non-governmental organizations tackling the issue of wildlife conservation by providing data on the basis of which effective action can be taken with an involvement of the public.