Today millions of people engage in citizen science projects. The popularity of citizen science among the general public has been met by a scientific community a little unsure of what to make of it. The scientific community is discussing, adapting, and debating what citizen science means for the future of scientific research.
Some focus their concern on issues of data quality (and clarifying misperceptions about it). Others get excited about the enhanced capacity for research over large geographic areas and long periods of time. Citizen science now plays a role in policy and decision making, conservation and environmental justice, education in schools, learning in informal settings like nature centers and museums, achieving broader impacts, and more. Even though citizen science has been around for a long time, in the form of solo amateurs as well as large coordinated networks, there is only recently a sense of urgency in figuring out the do’s and don’ts to get it right. Citizen science is now becoming a distinct area of inquiry with the emergence of theoretical underpinnings to guide its design.
As citizen science has become a discipline itself, communities of practitioners have formed, such as the Citizen Science Association (CSA), the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), and the Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA). Practitioners include scientists, educators, programmers, community organizers, science communicators, and others involved in the multidisciplinary practice of citizen science.
This week, citizen science practitioners hear the drum roll announcing two milestones.
First, a new peer-reviewed journal, Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, launches its first set of papers later this week by authors across the globe. This new journal is sponsored by the CSA, in cooperation with ECSA and ACSA. The journal, and the scholarly work it contains, signifies the momentum of this growing field.
Second, in Berlin later this week is the first international conference of the European Citizen Science Association. This three-day conference is packed with great symposium talks, as well as a Think Camp during which Makers and DIY Scientists will work together on innovative ideas. The conference will end with a Citizen Science Festival during which the public can learn about a myriad of projects. (Follow on Twitter at #ECSA2016).
These scholarly milestones occur at the same time that this budding field faces serious challenges. Citizen science brings people into contact with the scientific process of discovery and doing so raises all sorts of questions about the power structures of knowledge production. Most often, challenges stem from the growing pains and identity issues of a young field struggling against a reputation of being peripheral to mainstream science. Other times, the challenges are to stay true to fundamental principles despite limited capacity. For example, the second international conference of the Citizen Science Association has been scheduled to take place in Raleigh, North Carolina in February 2017. The convention center and room blocks in numerous hotels were reserved months ago, before the NC legislature passed the discriminatory law HB2, the Public Facilities & Security Act, commonly called the Bathroom Bill. Now the CSA is deliberating on how to respond to the boycotts of North Carolina, to affirm core values such as respect, inclusion, and equity for all people, while dealing with potential financial repercussions of penalties and fines. The CSA put citizen science core values into practice by crowdsourcing perspectives and suggestions from its membership. They may announce their plans later this week (I will update this post with a link to their statement when it is released).
As the field matures, one approach practitioners and participants take to pursue legitimacy is by constraining citizen science to fit into existing scientific norms. Alternatively, there are grassroots aspirations to reform science norms so that participatory methods are a legitimate and central part of mainstream science. But what is mainstream science? Science norms evolve and so too does citizen science. When it comes to reforming science, there are complementary efforts with the Open Science movement. Both citizen science and Open Science value access to scientific outputs. For this reason, the CSA journal is open access and will explore more Open Science options in the future as our capacity grows. While some citizen science practitioners have studied gamification of citizen science and other ways to motivate participants, a new study about Open Science shows that badges can motivate scientists in unexpected ways, for example, to share data. Badges function like bumper stickers as ways to communicate beliefs and values. When it comes to citizen science, practitioners and participants are two sides of the same coin, and so its worth exploring parallels between open science and citizen science and how they can drive new norms for science.
On the next #CitSciChat, we’ll examine the intersection of citizen science and open science, in principles and in practice. You can follow me, @CoopSciScoop, the founder and moderator of #CitSciChat, a Twitter conversation sponsored by SciStarter, and join the #CitSciChat conservation with our featured guest panelists. Join in this Wednesday, May 18th at 2pmET (8pm CEST) with the following guest panelists:
David Mellor (@EvoMellor) from the Center for Open Science
Christopher Kullenberg (@intensifier) from the Department of Philosophy, Linguistics & Theory of Science, University of Gothenburg
Shannon Dosemagen (@sdosemagen) executive director of the Public Lab
David Lang @davidlang from OpenROV
Citizen science is gaining in popularity and the citizen science community of practice is rapidly maturing. This week is a big leap forward for generating a unified and respected field. The changes that Open Science practices bring to science could help citizen science flourish.