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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