Citizen science is a growing trend in the United States, and generally refers to research partnerships between scientists and volunteers, expanding opportunities for scientific data collection.
By recruiting the public, citizen science projects allow scientists to collect data more feasibly than would otherwise be possible. This helps to support research done over a long-term period, or on a large-scale, since these projects require significantly more data than a single researcher or small team could compile.
Data collected by citizen scientists has provided evidence about species distribution as well as identified some impacts climate-disruption has had on wildlife. Individual or networks of volunteers—who may have no specific scientific training-perform or manage research-related tasks, like observation, measurement, and computation. Citizen science projects aim to promote public engagement with the research, and with science.
Currently, the longest running citizen science project still active is the Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count, which was started in 1900. Before the turn of the century folks would participate in a Christmas hunt—a competition where the birds were shot and killed, whomever had the most “trophies” won. And the hunt was not limited only to birds, anything that moved was fair game. It was Frank Chapman who converted the tradition to a “Christmas Bird Census” -suggesting that the birds be counted, rather than hunted.
Some other active programs are the World Water Monitoring Day, NASA's [email protected] and Clickworkers, eBird, NestWatch, Project Feeder Watch, Celebrate Urban Birds, and Galaxy Zoo. The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network in Colorado receives assistance from citizen scientists in order to accurately predict inclement weather. National Geographic has an archeology project called Field Expedition: Mongolia, in which users tag potential archaeological dig sites on GeoEye satellite images to assist explorers on the ground in Mongolia.
Over the last two decades, citizen science has evolved to place more emphasis on scientifically sound practices and measurable goals for public education than similar historical efforts. Technology can be credited as one of the driving forces of this recent explosion in citizen science activity. Thanks to the Internet scientists can create global networks of researchers, and can compile and assess their data easier, and with increasing accuracy.
America's schools are falling behind in science; much of the general public are confused and intimidated by science concepts. Our nation's leaders have made the case for science-education, but schools cannot do it alone. Parents are encouraged to take the initiative and promote science-learning at-home. There is a bounty of resources on-line to help you on your way to scientific-literacy. These citizen science projects are just one great way for families to get involved and practice science within their local communities. To participate in a program near you a simple Google search or inquiry at your local chapter of the Audubon Society should point you in the right direction.