Citizen Science Overview
Citizen science, research work completed by non-credentialed scientists, has been an extremely useful tool for expanding available data sets and completing ambitious research projects. With the rise of the internet and smart phones, followed then by AI, citizen science will continue to be an important resource across numerous scientific disciplines. By inviting the public in to the scientific process, citizen science encourages greater social, political, and economic participation at the local, national, and global level.
- Citizen Science is defined as "scientific work undertaken by members of the public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions"
- Public citizens' contributions come in 3 basic forms: contributive (gathering data); (2) collaborative (analyzing or interpreting data); or (3) co-created (citizen participation in all levels of a project, from the initial question to data analysis).
- Using citizen scientists as data collectors, trained scientists are able to take on ambitious projects whose data is either too prohibitively expensive to collect or not collectible at all by available research means.
- In the United States, there are currently 448 active and federally approved crowd source and citizen science projects.
- The citizen science movement has been growing as more citizens become not only comfortable with but interested in data collection, are able to use the internet to research and communicate with others, and either already possess the means of data collection (such as a camera smartphone) or can acquire them easily.
- The citizen science field has also been steadily expanding in academia and federal agencies as the numbers of participants and numbers of projects rise, as well as the creation of new data collection and analysis techniques.
- Citizen science has been an extremely useful tool for ecology and astronomy, where publicly collected images are helping expand scientific data sets, but is now gaining popularity in health and biomedical research. A wealth of citizen-produced data is available in the form of publicly reported lifestyle changes, patient histories, and DNA databases.
- By participating in citizen science, a three-way engagement is created between the public who formulate research questions and collect data, scientists who analyze and publish it, and the community leaders and public officials who use the results to change policy.
- International organizations are making use of citizen science for large scale economic and social policy planning. In 2020 a European Commission funded research project is distributing traffic sensors to 1,500 homes across 5 countries to study traffic congestion and pollution. Pursuing this citizen science approach allows the organizers access to much more data than would have been available from a classic car counting model.
- The use of citizen science is only expected to grow (both in volume of projects and number of fields using the methodology) as artificial intelligence and deep learning methods are used to fill in data gaps, analyze available data, and create models to be used for future applications.
- The use and growth of citizen science are limited by public interest (which projects citizens choose to participate in), unstructured data acquisition methods (data collected by the public "at will" is not subject to the same rigorous conditions as laboratory studies), and the complex data analysis that can be required for large amounts of unstructured data.
- Though many Citizen Science Associations exist on a national level there is no international or field level standards on the definition of the term "citizen science", how to qualify intellectual property of self-reported data, and validate the integrity of citizen science based research projects.
Since it rose to prominence in the late 1990s there has been much written and published about citizen science. From peer-reviewed scientific journals to popular magazines, these news sources comprised the basis of the necessary research. Pulling from academic work as well as public sources helped to paint a complete picture of citizen science, as it itself requires both scholarly work and the interest of the public. By using contemporary sources the current citizen science landscape is emphasized.