Citizen Science is a Shore Thing!

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Share jellyfish sightings, track stars during evening beach strolls, count fireflies, or report dragonfly swarms while you’re at the beach this summer. Or participate in dozens of other summertime citizen science projects and advance fields of research in the process! Why not do them all?

Hey! If you’re involved in more than one project, we’d like to hear from you. Email to find out why.


Globe at Night

Because of light pollution, six out of 10 people in the US have never seen our Milky Way Galaxy arch across their night sky from where they live. Now you can measure the night sky from the beach and contribute to important research. Get started!


Dragonfly Swarm Project
Ever see a dragonfly swarm? Magical, aren’t they? Share your observations to help researchers understand where and how these aerial predators swarm. Get started!


Have you seen a jellyfish? Report it to Jellywatch — a public database documenting ocean conditions. They are especially interested in jellyfish washing up, but also track red tides, squid and mammal strandings, as indicators of ocean health. Get started!


Marine Metre Squared
MM2 is an easy way to survey the intertidal community in New Zealand. Monitor a 1m x 1m square patch of your local rocky shore once every season by recording the animals and plants that live there. Get started!


Monitor marine resources and ecosystem health at 300 beaches across northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. Survey your beach every month and COASST will put the data together and decipher the patterns across the entire survey range. Get started!


Seabird Ecological Assessment Network (SEANET) volunteers conduct beached bird surveys along the east coast of the United States in order to identify and record information about bird deaths. Help identify where bird carcass are found, and how this varies across time. Get started!


The Beach Environmental Assessment, Communication, and Health project participants monitor high-risk Washington state beaches for the bacteria called “enterococci” to reduce the risk of disease for people who play in saltwater. Get started!

This originally appeared on the SciStarter blog.

Check out “Exploring a Culture of Health,” a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

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Exploring a Culture of Health: Creating a Roadmap to Community Health

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Creating roadmaps to healthy communities with County Health Rankings(Image redit:  Flickr/Don Debold)

Creating roadmaps to healthy communities with County Health Rankings(Image credit: Flickr/Don Debold CC BY 2.0)

This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

At first glance, Gem County in Idaho seems like it has everything made. Its county seat, Emmett was named “the best small city in Idaho,” and it will soon be launching a $53 million hydroelectric project destined to expand capacity to power 9,359 homes a year. But health data told another story when the community placed last in Idaho for healthy behaviors in the 2010 County Health Rankings.

News of the Rankings was a wake-up call for Bill Butticci, the mayor of Emmett, and many of the county’s citizens. They formed the Community Health Connection group with the goal of improving the county’s ranking.

The group began by conducting a community exercise from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called CHANGE (Community Health Assessment and Group Evaluation ), a process that identified tobacco use, obesity, and chronic disease as areas on which to focus their health change efforts.

With no significant budget, the group began by offering free or low-cost programs—educating the community about tobacco use, establishing walking trails, and more. They also established a community garden along with a learning garden to teach youth healthier eating alternatives, and how to grow their own healthy food. And Gem County became the first in the state to ban smoking in certain buildings and park space.

Now Mayor Butticci uses the Rankings as a way to monitor the county’s health, “The Rankings give us a score card to keep us on track,” he says.

Gem County, Idaho used the County Health Rankings as a wake up call to build a culture of health (Image Credit: County Health Rankings)

Gem County, Idaho used the County Health Rankings as a wake up call to build a culture of health (Image Credit: County Health Rankings)

The County Health Rankings, an annual look at how counties compare within all 50 states on key factors that impact health, helps counties understand what influences the health of residents and how long they will live.

“The major appeal of the Rankings is that they simplify complex data into an easily understood number or rank that can be used to generate attention toward specific issues, such as obesity, children in poverty, high school graduation rates, housing and teen pregnancy,” says Dr. Bridget Booske Catlin, a senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Population Health Institute, and the director of the County Health Rankings. “They prompt action by community leaders, politicians, funders, and community residents to improve their health and the health of others in their community.”

The Rankings have their origins in America’s Health Rankings, state-level rankings that have been published since 1990.

“Curious about why the state rankings rose and fell over time, my colleagues at the university’s Population Health Institute (UWPHI) began to wonder if, just as Tip O’Neill maintained that ‘politics are local’, that perhaps ‘health is local’ too. They delved into the task of measuring the health of Wisconsin’s counties and released the first Wisconsin County Health Rankings in 2003,” explains Catlin.

Over the next few years, other states became interested in using UWPHI’s approach to understand the health of their counties, and the work came to the attention of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) which decided to collaborate with UWPHI to expand the Rankings to every state. In 2010, RWJF and UWPHI released the first national County Health Rankings.

Communities in Action

Communities have used the Rankings data to help them identify problems to solve, shift expectations to a longer view, and evaluate success over time.

In 2013, RWJF introduced the RWJF Culture of Health Prize to honor communities that have placed a priority on the health of their citizens. The prize winning communities vary in size and type – some are larger urban cities and some are small rural areas. But they all have one thing in common: In each of these places community leaders, individuals, business, government and educators have forged powerful partnerships to inspire people to live healthier lives.

Winners of the 2014 RWJF Culture of Health Prize (Image Credit: RWJF)

Winners of the 2014 RWJF Culture of Health Prize (Image Credit: RWJF)

“Our goal is to use this award to bring national attention to the prize winners’ strategies and solutions, and inspire other communities to learn from their experience and set their own course for better health,” says Joe Marx, senior communications officer at RWJF.

In the first year of the prize, about 160 communities applied and in the second year, that number increased to over 250 places who are working to make their communities healthier places to live, learn, work, and play. For 2014, the RWJF Culture of Health Prize winning communities are Brownsville (TX), Buncombe (NC), Durham (NC), Spokane (WA), Taos Pueblo (NM) and Williamson (WV).

“We also have worked closely with national partners—United Way Worldwide, National Association of Counties, and the National Business Coalition on Health, and their affiliates in hundreds of additional communities who are looking at data from the Rankings and then developing partnerships with people from many different sectors to build a Culture of Health,” explains Abbey Cofsky, a senior program officer at RWJF.

Get Involved

Check out your county’s ranking at the County Health Rankings  (There is a really helpful little toggle switch on the right of the page, which allows you to identify low-scoring areas). As a citizen scientist, are there data could you collect to help improve health in your county? For example, could you lead a charge to catalog the number of bike paths or parks in the area and their condition? Share your ideas below.

Think your community is doing a good job at improving health? RWJF recently released the Call for Applications for the 2015 RWJF Culture of Health Prize.


Interested in health related citizen science? There are a number of other projects that are seeking your input as a citizen scientist. The projects below are part of a database of more than 800 citizen science projects created and managed by SciStarter, an online citizen science hotspot.

Home Microbiome Study

Sound Around You

The Human Memome Project



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Coop’s Citizen Sci Scoop: Patients who were research subjects and the doctors who listened – the citizen science of HIV/AIDS research

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Many prominent people involved in HIV/AIDS research lost their lives when Malaysian plane MH17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine. HIV/AIDS researchers exemplify how scientists serve the public good. A key to HIV/AIDS research has involved embracing a certain type of citizen science.

The rapid advances in HIV/AIDS treatment in the late 1980s and early 1990s occurred because of major changes in medical research brought about by the lay public. In part, AIDS activists were eager to reform clinical trials in the United States. But equally important, the biomedical research community was (ultimately) receptive to this change.

The term citizen science in this blog is used to describe projects where the public engages in scientific research. It is usually through collecting and sharing observations or by coding data online. Citizen science can also be used more broadly to describe ways that the lay public participates in and influences the practice of science. (Indeed, the term “citizen science” was initially coined by Alan Irwin in 1995 to mean just that).


Oraquick HIV test, photo by Marcello Casal Jr

A colleague recently sent me a 1995 journal article by Steven Epstein. Now a prominent sociologist, his article is a condensed version of Epstein’s dissertation research about the social movement of AIDS activists. (For further reading, see his book).

I summarize Epstein’s research in this post. He examined how AIDS activists became seen as credible agents of the scientific community and developed into important partners to AIDS researchers and government officials in the United States.

In 1981, AIDS was recognized as an epidemic. In 1985, the HIV antibody test became available to the public. People, mostly in their twenties and thirties, were learning that they were infected long before they showed any symptoms. But this was long before any effective treatments were discovered. A positive test result was a like a death prophecy. Some accepted their fate; many others became activists searching for a cure.

In the United States, the group primarily seen as affected by the disease were already seasoned activists in making the public aware of gay identity. The homophile movement of the 1950s was followed by the gay liberation movement of the 1970s. The gay and lesbian community had already “demedicalized” gayness. They had redefined their social status, becoming a legitimate “interest group” in the pursuit of civil rights. They had resources, people of influence, funding, a strong public relations arm, lobby groups, and community-based organizations.

This group understood that the future of their health required a close working relationship with scientists. Anything less would be group suicide. AIDS research involved all types of scientists who had strong credentials, such as immunologists, virologists, molecular biologists, epidemiologists, and physicians. How could the lay public improve their research?

The answer was speed. Initially, AIDS activism focused on the FDA and the desire for more rapid approval of experimental drugs and the ability to obtain unproven treatments from other countries. When none of the existing drugs were working, activists focused on the NIH, seeking more drugs to test. It was in this way that treatment activists influenced not only the design, conduct, and interpretation of clinical trials, but also the speed in which they were carried out. The timeframe for testing the safety and efficacy of AIDS drugs was reduced, counted in months, rather than years. 

Treatment delayed was treatment denied. By 1987, more than 46,000 Americans were infected with HIV and over 13,000 had died from AIDS.


Storm the NIH “die-in” in 1990, National Institutes of Health Library, Branson Collection


To take one example, Mark Harrington, a script writer with no scientific background, epitomizes the involvement of AIDS activists in science. Like other activists, Harrington helped ACT UP to organize demonstrations. In 1988, it was “Seize Control of the FDA.” On May 21, 1990, it was “Storm the NIH.” These protests drew attention, but a more nuanced discussion of scientific practices was needed. Activists did not want to be victims, or be powerless or oppressed. They wanted to help discover treatments, even if that meant trying lots of drugs that did not work. Harrington responded by learning the technical details of AIDS, until he could participate knowledgeably in scientific discussions. By 1992, Mark delivered his first plenary at the Eight International AIDS conference.  He began co-authoring peer-reviewed papers, and continued to publish for years (including, for example, a 2006 paper in PLOS Medicine).

How did Harrington go from street demonstrator to scientific collaborator? AIDS activists like Harrington took a four-pronged strategy to gain credibility and authority.


Activists learned medical language: Abacavir, now used to treat HIV and AIDS, is a nucleoside analog reverse transcriptase inhibitor; photo by Bastique

First, influencing drug testing required a working knowledge of pharmaceutical companies and government. To be successful, the activists had to learn to speak the language of the researchers and learn the culture of medical science. Activists learning about biomedical research found it similar to learning a foreign language and entering another country. Immersion was best. This meant attending scientific conferences, critiquing research projects, even being tutored by scientists. They would read a protocol, learn as much as possible about how the drug is known to work, learn about virology, immune systems, statistics, as well become familiar with the regulations just like an informed patient. Harrington prepared a 50-page dictionary of the vocabulary. Soon activists could talk about viral assays, reverse transcription, cytokine regulation, epitope mapping. Once activists spoke the language, scientists were receptive to discussions.

Second, activists presented themselves as informed, knowledgeable representatives – voices of people who were suffering with AIDS/HIV. Researchers wanted to work with activists too because then they could better ensure that enough people would enroll in their treatment trials and comply with protocols. Activists brokered the relationship between researchers and patients.

Third, activists linked arguments about scientific methodological to moral arguments. For example, early trials were of middle-class white men, but affected populations included injection drug users, people with hemophilia, women, minorities, and heterosexuals. Activists conceived of experimental treatments as a social good to which everyone should have equal access. The history of clinical trials in the United States is full of stories of abuse, lack of informed consent, and people unknowingly exposed to risk and harm. Activists shifted discourse to emphasize the right of human subjects to assume the risks of experimental therapies and to be informed partners in scientific methods. They wanted policy that was credible both morally and scientifically.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, activists were taking sides in debates about clinical trials. Before activists took sides, most researchers performed only randomized, controlled, clinical trials with particular methods that did not allow research subjects to have access to potentially helpful treatment.

People who already tried one treatment would be excluded from tests of a new treatment in the name of “clean data.” But not all researchers believed in clean data. The world, after all, is messy and many researchers thought drugs should be tested in real-world situations.  Activists favored the pragmatic “messy” practice. They feared the “fastidious” practice of clean data from homogenous groups because it prevented terminally-ill patients from trying new treatments.  Activists argued that the only way to obtain clean data in a messy world was to unfairly manipulate and control people. But you could, they and scientist-allies argued, get reliable answers quickly in the real-world if there was a change in clinical trials.

Underlying the four-prong strategy is the basic premise that AIDS clinical trials function simultaneously as research and medical care.

After constant efforts, AIDS activists gained authority, which usually only comes from academic degrees and institutional affiliations. They went from diseased victims to activist-experts. They became citizen scientists.

Today such activists are voting members of NIH committees that oversee drug development.

They are representatives at FDA advisory committee meetings where drugs are considered for approval.

They serve on institutional review boards of hospitals and research centers.

And, like many of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines flight 17, they fly to global conventions on AIDS research.


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Exploring a Culture of Health: How Can We Visualize Health Data for Better Communication?

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From Data to Story: Visualizing Health Data for Better Communication (Image Source: Modified from / CC BY)

This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

There is a seemingly endless stream of health data. Visit the doctor and you get a report listing various bits of data such as your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Listen to the news and you hear statistics on risk factors, medication side effects or mortality rates. All potentially useful information, but without background or context, the numbers are likely confusing, meaningless and eventually forgotten. “For health data to be meaningful, the person needs to see themselves in that data. To make this happen, we need to understand how to present data so that it conveys a complete message, not just a number,” says Andrea Ducas, program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

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Coop’s Citizen Sci Scoop: Does citizen science get lost in translation?

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I spent this week in Fiesole, Italy at the Vespucci Institute held at Fattoria di Maiano. I was vacationing helping facilitate a summer course about citizen science and VGI (which stands for Volunteered Geographic Information). With colleagues in all career stages from around the world, we explored the foundations and frontiers of these overlapping disciplines.

I toss any sort of public engagement in data collection into the hat of citizen science. If new knowledge is created and it would not have been possible (or feasible) without public contributions of data, then it is citizen science.  The term has caught on in the media. It is a short, simple, and provocative term for a complex phenomenon. This phenomenon actually occurs in different disciplines often under different names, like within VGI, community science, civic science, community-based natural resource management, crowdsourcing, volunteer monitoring, participatory sensing, and the list goes on.

The different terms make it tricky to communicate clearly about citizen science across disciplines, even when we are using one language.  At Vespucci this week, there are colleagues from a dozen countries. Another facilitator, Andrea Wiggins, wondered how citizen science translates into other languages. Using Twitter, she posted the question under #citizenscience.


In some languages, the term citizen science translates directly and retains the same meaning. In other languages, a slightly altered translation is necessary to convey the meaning. In other languages, the English version is inserted. And in some languages, there is no phrase to describe the phenomenon captured by the phrase citizen science (even though it occurs where the language is spoken). Here is a summary:

Español: “ciencia ciudadana” (click for example) or or “ciencia participative” (click for example) and “colaboración ciudadana en investigación” (citizens collaborating on science)

Catalan: “ciència ciutadana”

French: “Science citoyenne” (click for example)

Italian: no translation (In Italy, they use the English term)

German: “Bürgerwissenschaft” (click for example)

Turkish “Vatandaş Bilim”  (click for example)

Gaeilge (Irish): “Eolaíocht Saoránach” (this term hasn’t been used yet and is not a direct translation; the words translate directly as “science” and “freedom of the citizen”)

Egyptian Arabic: no translation

Hebrew: Mada Ezrachi (this translation uses the word civil instead of citizen, similar to civil engineering)

Chinese: 公民科学  (click for example)

Do you know of the use of the term citizen science in other languages? In which languages does it translate? Where does it not translate? Please share in the comments below.

July 15 Update: Portuguese: Ciência Cidadã (thanks @ferminserrano, @ibercivis)

photo credit: view from classroom at Fattoria di Maiano by Derya Akkaynak


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Aflutter for Moths and Butterflies

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With National Moth Week worldwide AND the Big Butterfly Count in the UK launching on July 19, we’re all aflutter! SciStarter’s editors netted a list of seven other Moth and Butterfly research projects.

Learn more about National Moth Week through the Encyclopedia of Life’s Moth Week podcast!

Take and upload photographs of moths near your porch light. You can identify them if you’d like, or these researchers we’ll help. Get started!


unnamed (1)Pieris
Catch a few cabbage white butterflies, and send ‘em in! With your help, researchers can create the world’s most comprehensive butterfly collection to learn how the cabbage white butterfly has adapted to new environments as it expanded across the globe. Get started!


Journey North
Get involved in this study of Monarch butterfly migration and seasonal change. Share your field observations with others across North America. Find free dynamic migration maps, pictures, and more! Get started!



Butterflies and Moths of North America
This web site and database shares butterfly and moth species information with the public via dynamic maps, checklists, and species pages. Data are updated in real time and come from a variety of sources, including citizen scientists. Get started!


L.A. Butterflies
The Museum of Natural History, Los Angeles County, is partnering with Butterflies and Moths of North America (above) to share data and learn more about L.A. butterflies and moths. There are 237 species recorded for L.A, County, but how many can you find? Get started!


Project Silkmoth
Help scientists learn more about silkmoths and learn more about them yourself in the process. Silkmoth accepts sightings of giant silkmoths from northern New York State. Get started!



Photograph butterflies and moths anywhere in Africa to map their distribution and help determine conservation priorities on the African continent. Get started!

This post originally appeared on the SciStarter blog

From our partners:

Discover Magazine:
We want to hear about your experiences as a citizen scientist. Tell us, in 250 words or less, your story. Discover will choose favorite essays to run in the October print issue (featuring citizen science stories!) , and five lucky winners will receive a free one-year subscription to Discover.
Enter by July 13!

Check out “Exploring a Culture of Health,” a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

This is week on The Pulse and SciStarter’s segment about citizen science, producer Kimberly Haas speaks with Dan Duran, who is running a project that monitors the elusive Elaphrus beetle to monitor stream health.  Listen and learn!

Want your project featured in our newsletter, homepage or partners’ sites? Contact

The Encyclopedia of Life’s podcast is part of the One Species at a Time series hosted by Ari Daniel and produced by Atlantic Public Media and the Encyclopedia of Life, with the support from the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.

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Coop’s Citizen Sci Scoop: Jefferson’s Legacy Cultivates a Nation of Amateurs

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On the original Independence Day, founding father Thomas Jefferson understood the connection between knowledge and freedom. Now, 238 years later, this week’s round-up of scientific papers relying on citizen science includes discoveries about migratory birds, new planets, snakes, and blackbirds – discoveries that would not have been possible without the help of amateurs, hobbyists, and enthusiasts. To be clear, “citizen” in the context of Independence Day refers to the rights and responsibilities that some have to participate in governance. In the context of citizen science, “citizen” refers to the rights and responsibilities that every person – amateur and professional – has to participate in the development of new knowledge and a shared understanding of the world.


Below is my first blog post about citizen science from Independence Day 2012 at Scientific American blogs. It is followed by a roundup of this week’s discoveries made possible thanks to citizen science.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Data

Ever since Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, we celebrate with a day of relaxation, barbecues, and the pageantry of dazzling fireworks. Little known is that in 1776, Jefferson had a second great vision that shaped the United States. Like the Declaration, his second vision also relied on citizens relishing civic duty and claiming their right to be informed and educated in order to self-govern and curb corruption, privilege, and aristocracy. The Jeffersonian plan was to provide a thermometer to a deputy in every county in Virginia with instructions to log twice-daily observations of temperature and wind direction. This founding father envisioned what is nowadays called citizen science.

In the legacy of this tradition, in every state of the union, hundreds of thousands of people will be scientifically engaged this summer: observing, measuring, analyzing, checking. Don’t be alarmed if your seemingly ordinary neighbors chronicle the sequence of flower blooms, measure gravestones, or count the pulsing of fireflies. Sharing observations is a collective scientific effort. Across all age levels and segments of society, citizen science is undergoing a revival as an American leisure-time tradition that was born with our Independence.

The Revolutionary War temporarily held up Jefferson’s systematic statewide plan. But from 1776 to 1816, which includes his two terms as President, Jefferson and many of his recruits (including Lewis and Clark) kept a near complete series of weather observations. Those founding our independent nation had a friendly rivalry with Europeans about who lived on the better continent. But, as relative newcomers to the New World, they had little data to support their claims of superiority. It was Jefferson’s patriotic chip on his shoulder, in a time before meteorologists and climatologists, which caused him to enlist citizens in data collection. In particular, weather records were a key part of his efforts to dash the theory of degeneracy: the idea that the temperature and humidity of New World produced animals that were smaller, weaker, and just plain inferior to their European counterparts. Jefferson used weather data, which included his 5 years in France, to show that America had a higher sunny-to-cloudy-day ratio than Europe.

Jefferson’s plan was not formalized until 1870, when President Grant created a new federal agency and assigned it the responsibility to coordinate a volunteer weather observer program. This is today’s National Weather Service’s Cooperative Weather Observer Network which draws about one million volunteer-hours annually at 12,000 sites across all 50 states.

When poor weather forecasting led to disaster in the foothills of the Rockies in 1998, Jefferson’s tradition expanded again with the formation of the Community Collaborative Rain Snow & Hail Network (CoCoRaSH). Radar (Radio Detection and Ranging) can estimate rainfall over large areas, but precipitation is highly localized. It can rain, snow, or hail on one side of the street and not the other. Nothing high-tech in the sky can beat a gauge on the ground. Now meteorologists, claims adjusters, attorneys, construction businesses, utility companies, mosquito control experts, farmers, and urban planners use the publicly accessible, fine-scale data from CoCoRaSH.

In the 21st Century, Jefferson’s legacy intersected with the Internet and mobile phones. The result has been a proliferation far beyond what he ever conceived. Instead of hopping a stagecoach to share observations with friends, with a few keystrokes observations are shared globally and archived in perpetuity. Citizen science is now a global hobby, connecting people and their real-world leisure observations to virtual databases.

People count butterflies in abandoned fields, tally washed-up garbage on beaches, record bird species at backyard feeders, and spend hours sitting at their computers classifying galaxy after galaxy (there are hundreds of thousands of them). Stalwart science militia called Invaders of Texas scour the countryside, eyes peeled for possible invasive species that may threaten the environment or economy, be they plant, bird, or mollusk. In London, the Bronx, and San Francisco, people use smartphone apps to document noise pollution, then direct local changes in truck traffic routes. North of the Arctic Circle, Inuit measure ice thickness. In the Himalayan high peaks, Nepalese villagers record snow leopard sightings and tracks.

Scientific knowledge is now widely co-produced through collaborations between scientists and society. Citizen science, with millions of hours of volunteer work, can stretch tight budgets, and collectively reveal large-scale patterns that scientists could never discover alone.

Citizen science gives people an unselfish, guilt-free reason to take a break, go outside, and slow down enough to observe their world. In return they gain discoveries, large and small, that they never forget. These activities may alter their lives and shape how participants view themselves, their environments and communities.

Science-as-hobby builds social capital, the properties of trust, norms, and personal connections that enable communities to thrive.

Without public participation, science can appear as a quagmire of jargon and uncertainty. With public participation, science encourages people to retain the child’s pleasure of wonder and enchantment in understanding our world. Another reason that Jefferson wanted weather data was to develop a theory of climate, but his inspiration for it was a deep-seated love of the seasons. On weather collection, Jefferson wrote “Climate is one of the sources of the greatest sensual enjoyment.”

Co-producing knowledge can bring political agency. Hobbyists who engage in science have the ability to enter public discourse, with their opinions and their data, when it really matters: when too many of our kids have asthma, when our quality of water is at risk, and when we want a future with sustainable energy.

This Fourth of July, make your leisure matter. Discover a ladybug, tag whale songs online, or monitor a local stream. Collaborate and feel a newfound capacity to influence decisions. Independence means we don’t leave governing solely to career politicians; likewise, we shouldn’t leave knowledge production solely in the hands of professional scientists. We have two intertwined legacies to protect—democracy and citizen science. Celebrate Jefferson’s other enduring vision: become a citizen scientist.


Here’s a weekly round-up of some recent discoveries made possible thanks to citizen science:

(1) LaSort et al. 2014. The role of urban and agricultural areas during avian migration: an assessment of within-year temporal turnover. Global Ecology and Biogeography.

(2) Schmitt et al. 2014. Planet Hunters. VI. An independent characterization of KOI-351 and several long-period planet candidates from the Kepler Archival Data. The Astronomical Journal.

(3) Rose and Todd. 2014. Projecting invasion risk of non-native watersnakes (Nerodia fasciata and Nerodia sipedon) in the Western United States. PLoS one

(4) Thesis: Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) fall migratory habitat dynamics in Missouri. Truman State University, 2014.

photo credits: Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, Jeffersonian rain gauge by Kleran, Fireworks by Agiorgio.


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Exploring a Culture of Health: Detecting Signals of Wellbeing

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This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

Imagine if everyday technology could transform how we manage our health and wellbeing? What if your phone could alert your doctor to a change in your behavior? Or what if grandma’s stove could tell you she is already up and about in the morning? It sounds complicated but as it turns out, it might simply be a matter of tapping into the data generated from everyday devices. Two independent groups in California are doing just this.

Using Mobile Technology to Help Youths with Mental Illness

At UC Davis behavioral scientists with the Early Diagnosis and Preventive Treatment (EDAPT) Clinic are embarking on a yearlong project to study whether mobile technology can improve treatment for young people who are in the early stages of psychotic illness. The EDAPT group has teamed up with a health data start-up to assess “users’ social, physical and mental health status”[1]. Through an app, users can actively input their daily symptoms, medication adherence, mood, and how they are coping, while information on their movements and daily social contacts, such as the number of incoming telephone calls and text messages, is gathered in the background. All of this data provides a patient and his or her clinical team with a finer resolution of that patient’s health profile.

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Coop’s Citizen Sci Scoop: Roundup of recent discoveries

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weekly roundup June 27

Continuing the tradition of thanking citizen science for new understanding of the natural world, below is a list of some of the publications from the last two weeks that relied on citizen science.  The topics include beach debris, red foxes, traffic noise, and lady beetles. Also, Ornithology students are learning to use data from citizen science to address their research questions, and this roundup includes three student theses: one on Canada geese, another on Golden Eagles, and the third on feeder birds.

(1) Beach debris

Hong et al. Quantities, composition, and sources of beach debris in Korea from the results of nationwide monitoring. Marine Pollution Bulletin.

(2) Red foxes

Scott et al. Changes in the distribution of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in urban areas in Great Britain: findings and limitations of a media-driven nationwide survey. PLoSONE

(3) Traffic noise

Leao et al. 2Loud? Community mapping of exposure to traffic noise with mobile phones. Environ Monitoring & Assessment.

(4) Lady beetles

Losey et al. 2014. Lady beetles in New York: insidious invasions, erstwhile extirpations, and recent rediscoveries. Northeastern Naturalist.

(5) Canada Geese

Thesis: Ronke. Survival, abundance, and geographic distribution of temperate-nesting Canada geese (Branta Canadensis) in Arkansas.

(6) Golden Eagle

Thesis: Dennhardt. Modeling migration and citizen-science data to estimate Golden Eagle abundance in Eastern North America. West Virginia University.

(7) Feeder birds

Thesis: Sutcliffe. 2014. Insights from Project FeederWatch: Changes in the abundance and occurrence of birds in New Hampshire over the past 24 years. University of New Hampshire.

This is just a sample of citizen science contributions published this week. Help me fill in the blanks by sending links of more papers reporting the results of research that relied on citizen science. Send to me via twitter @CoopSciScoop or put in the comments below.

Researchers also published a citizen science data set on the Common Gull in Alaska:

Huettmann and Spangler. Opportunistic survey data of the Common Gull (Larus canus) and other detections in an urban environment, downtown Fairbanks, interior Alaska during mid-May 2014.

Of note, a report by the European Union about Citizen Science and Smart Cities is out.

Finally, check out this excellent peek into the history of crowdsourcing for science from an unexpected meteor storm in 1833 (with more than 72,000 meteors per hour).

Littmann and Suomela. 2014. Crowdsourcing, the great meteor storm of 1833, and the founding of meteor science. Endeavor.




photo credits: Canada geese by Dcoeztee, Golden Eagle by Chuck Abbe, Feeder birds illustration by JL Hirten, Fox by Peter Trimming, and Denison Olmsted by Magnus Manske.

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See a Seahorse, Save a Seahorse

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Citizen scientists can use an iPhone app or online tool to log seahorse sightings to help seahorse conservation.

Weedy pygmy seahorse.  (Hippocampus pontohi)

Weedy pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus pontohi)

With the head of a horse, the tail of a monkey, and the belly of a kangaroo, seahorses look almost like mythical creatures, and their unique abilities make them no less fantastical. Seahorses have eyes that operate independently of one another, don skin that changes color, and exhibit a reversal of gender roles when it comes to pregnancy. Unfortunately, these interesting fish (seahorses are indeed fish!) are a threatened species as a consequence of habitat destruction and overexploitation. One of the challenges seahorses conservationists face is the lack of information on the 48 or so different varieties of seahorses, their populations and where exactly in the world’s oceans they live. Through Project iSeahorse, an online citizen science project with an accompanying iPhone app, users can turn their vacation seahorse sightings into important data for conservation efforts.

“iSeahorse sightings have already increased our understanding of where seahorses live,” says Tyler Stiem, communications manager of Project Seahorse, the marine conservation organization that runs iSeahorse. “Several species have been found by citizen scientists where they were either thought to be extremely rare or not even exist based on published literature. Knowing where a species lives is the first key to protecting its populations.” Just last month, two divers spotted a lined seahorse in Nova Scotia and used iSeahorse to report this rare occurrence in Canadian waters.

iSeahorse app

iSeahorse app

Users can create a simple account with iSeahorse and log in to add seahorse observations. The project asks for information regarding the type of seahorse encountered, when and where the sighting occurred, and the habitat it was found in. Users can also upload any photos taken to help identify the species observed. The iPhone app is also a great educational tool adorned with beautiful photos for users to learn more about the varieties of seahorses and their tell-tale characteristics. For example, the weedy pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus pontohi; top image) found in Indonesian waters is a mere half-inch in length whereas the pot-bellied seahorse (Hippocampus abdominalis) can grow up to over a foot tall and has a protruding tummy, as its name suggests.

Conservationists recognize seahorses as a flagship species–a species that incites public interest to understand and protect an ecosystem. Likely due to their cute, cartoon-like appearances and quirky lifestyles, seahorses can be used to attract attention to marine environments in jeopardy that might otherwise be ignored. ”Flagship species are also a surrogate measure of the health of their ecosystem, as a healthy ecosystem will harbor healthy populations,” Stiem explains. “If high levels of pollution or habitat degradation occur, seahorses will not survive. Therefore healthy seahorse populations mean healthy coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass beds, all of which are important components of coastal ecosystems worldwide.” In addition, scientists perceive seahorses as a lens into better understanding of reproductive biology, since males uniquely carry offspring through the gestation period, and this poses another case for protecting the oceans’ biodiversity.

Project Seahorse also hopes to raise environmental awareness through their citizen science project and encourage practices that help protect the earth’s marine ecosystems. Seahorses are often exploited for their use in traditional medicines and as souvenirs.  In addition, shrimp farming and trawling affect the seahorse population and contribute to habitat destruction. According to data from Project Seahorse, every year approximately 2.2 million seahorses are caught in trawl nets, and one pound of shrimp procured for human consumption reflects ten pounds of other marine organisms unintentionally ensnared. The more participation projects like iSeahorse gain, the better chance that legislation can be drafted to promote better harvesting practices to protect marine life.

So if you’re headed for a beach vacation this summer, consider downloading the iPhone app or creating an iSeahorse account to log seahorse sightings that you encounter!

Resources: Project Seahorse

Images: Top image courtesy of Wendy Hoevenaars/Guylian Seahorses of the World; bottom image courtesy of Sheetal R. Modi.

This post originally appeared on the SciStarter blog.

Sheetal R. Modi does research for a biotech start-up in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has a PhD in Biomedical Engineering where she focused on the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. When she’s not tinkering with microbes, she enjoys science communication and being outside.

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