Capacity Crowd for Citizen Science 2015 Conference

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SAN JOSE, CA – A global audience is gathering this week, intent on changing the way science is done. Over 600 people from 25 countries will convene February 11 and 12, 2015, at the San Jose Convention Center for “Citizen Science 2015,” the inaugural conference of the Citizen Science Association (CSA).

In citizen science, members of the public participate in real scientific research. To date, participants in this rapidly expanding field have made significant contributions to the study of neurobiology, astronomy, ornithology, genetics, psychology, linguistics, and many other disciplines. At the same time, public knowledge and insights have helped bridge research and action in arenas such as environmental justice, public health, conservation, and engineering.

Dr. Alan Leshner, CEO of AAAS, comments: “AAAS is pleased that the Citizen Science Association is hosting their first conference near the 2015 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Jose. Our meeting offers scientist-citizens many ways to engage with public audiences; the Citizen Science Association offers additional strategies for scientist-citizens and citizen-scientists to connect in meaningful ways.”

In brief, citizen science stands to transform scientific research. To ensure integrity as it does, Citizen Science 2015 brings together scientists, volunteers, data managers, educators, and many others to addresses the frontiers, innovations, and challenges that are common across the diverse disciplines using this research approach. Over 350 talks and posters will address, among other things, data management and visualization, STEM education, novel technologies, industry partnerships, and strategies for addressing issues of ethics and inclusivity in participation. Sessions include:

KEYNOTE: A Place in the World–Science, Society, and Reframing the Questions We Ask. (Dr. Chris Filardi – Director, Pacific Programs, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History)

KEYNOTE: EyeWire: Why Do Gamers Enjoy Mapping the Brain? (Amy Robinson – Executive Director, EyeWire)

WORKSHOP AND OPEN SESSION: Developing a Framework for Citizen Science in STEM Education (Citizen Science Association Education Working Group, supported by the National Science Foundation; Session Chair Sarah Kirn, Gulf of Maine Research Institute)

PANEL: Biomedical Citizen Science: Emerging Opportunities and Unique Challenges (National Institutes of Health Citizen Science Working Group; Session Chair Dr. Jennifer Couch, National Cancer Institute)

SYMPOSIUM: Using a Citizen Science Approach to Change the Face of Environmental Public Health Research (Session Chair: Dr. Monica Ramirez-Andreotta, University of Arizona)

PANEL: Creating a Welcoming, Inclusive, Diverse, and Just Citizen Science Association (Session Chair: Tim Vargo, Urban Ecology Center)

SYMPOSIUM: Supporting Multi-Scale Citizen Science: Leveraging the Local, Addressing the Global (Session Chair: Mark Chandler, Earthwatch Institute)

Additional conference activities include a poster session and reception, a hackfest, and a BioBlitz of downtown San Jose.

This event is an official pre-conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting. Conference supporters include the National Science Foundation, National Geographic, and others.

For more information: please visit

Conference blog:

Follow us on Twitter: @CitSciAssoc and #CitSci2015

Additional contacts from the CSA Board of Directors:

Rick Bonney, Cornell Lab of Ornithology,
Darlene Cavalier, Arizona State University,
Mary Ford, National Geographic,
Muki Haklay, University College London,
Greg Newman, Colorado State University,

Contact: Jennifer Shirk, CSA Communications Coordinator (additional contacts below)
Phone: 607-342-0995

– See more at:

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And the winners of the #spacemicrobes Microbial Playoffs are…

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bacteria plate

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by David Coil a Project Scientist in the lab of Jonathan Eisen at UC Davis and a member of the Project MERCURRI team. 


We’ve finished analyzing all the data from the “Microbial Playoffs” part of Project MERCCURI(described here).   Each microbe that was chosen to fly to the International Space Station (list of candidate microbes here) was plated out 6 times on the plates that were analyzed in space.   We looked at three categories; Best Huddle, Best Tip-Off, and Best Sprint.    Here are the winners for each of the three categories:


Best Huddle (The microbe that grew to the highest density, really packing into their space)

best huddle

Yuri’s Night, Los Angeles: The microbe “Kocuria rhizophila” was collected on a camera at a Yuri’s Night Party with Buzz Aldrin in Los Angeles. Here are some photos of the team swabbing Buzz Aldrin’s shoe. For an image of the microbe and more information, see the trading card at the Space Microbes web site.

San Antonio Spurs: The microbe “Kocuria kristinae” was collected on the court after a San Antonio Spurs game. Here are some photos of the team swabbing the court and a blog post about the experience. For an image of the microbe and more information, see the trading card at the Space Microbes web site.

Davis, CA: The microbe “Leucobacter chironomi” was collected in a residential toilet in Davis, CA. For an image of the microbe and more information, see the trading card at the Space Microbes web site.


Best Tip-Off (The microbe that got off to the fastest growing start straight out of the freezer)

best tip off

Pop Warner Chittenango: The microbe “Bacillus pumilus” was collected on a Porta-Potty handle by Pop Warner Chittenango Bears cheerleaders. For an image of the microbe and more information, see the trading card at the Space Microbes web site.

Academy of Natural Sciences, PhiladelphiaBacillus stratosphericus: found in a butterfly water dish at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Here is a photo of the kids that participated in the swabbing. For an image of the microbe and more information, see the trading card at the Space Microbes web site.

Smithsonian Air & Space Museum: The microbe “Pantoea eucrina” was collected on the Mercury Orbitor at the Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space. Here are some photos of the team swabbing at the Museum. For an image of the microbe and more information, see the trading card at the Space Microbes web site.


Best Sprint (The microbe that grew the fastest in any single 24-hour period in space)

best sprint

Parkway Middle School: The microbe “Bacillus horikoshii” was collected on a lobby banister at Parkway Middle School as part of a Broward County STEM teacher’s event. For an image of the microbe and more information, see the trading card at the Space Microbes web site.

Pop Warner Chittenango: The microbe “Bacillus pumilus” was collected on a Porta-Potty handle by Pop Warner Chittenango Bears cheerleaders. For an image of the microbe and more information, see the trading card at the Space Microbes web site.

Mars Exploration Rover (JPL): Paenibacillus elgii: On a Mars Exploration Rover before launch (2004) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL- NASA, Pasadena, CA) For an image of the microbe and more information, see the trading card at the Space Microbes web site.


Shown here are the top three microbes from each category, a full ranking of all the candidates will soon be published at

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Declining monarch population means increased need for citizen scientists

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(Wendy Caldwell) adult monarchWith its striking orange and black coloring and transcontinental range, the monarch butterfly is probably the most recognizable insect in North America.  All pollinators are important to maintaining our food supply, but monarchs also have a key role in education; for decades schoolchildren across North America have been raising and releasing monarchs as part of their science lessons.  Unfortunately, while monarchs were once one of the most commonly seen pollinators in gardens and fields, in the past decade there has been a precipitous drop in the monarch population.  Just last week the World Wildlife Fund, in conjunction with the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, released the latest monarch population estimate- a number that was the second lowest on record for the population1.

The annual estimates of the monarch population are taken at the monarch’s overwintering site in central Mexico.  Most of the monarchs in North America live east of the Rocky Mountains, and each fall they migrate thousands of miles south to their overwintering location in Mexico, where they cluster together on oyamel fir trees.  In the spring those same monarchs fly north, where they produce new generations that spread throughout the United States and Canada.  Their vast summer range can make it difficult to get precise estimates of the population size, but in winter the monarchs are bunched tightly together, making population estimates more feasible.  Instead of counting individual monarchs, scientists record the amount of land that the overwintering monarch population covers.

eastern_pop_graph_2015This year, the monarchs covered 1.13 hectares; that’s a little more than two football fields’ worth of land.  That might sound like a staggeringly small size, but it’s actually a 69 percent increase over last year’s population, which was the smallest on record (see graph). This increase offers some hope to counterbalance the fact that the current population size is the second smallest on record, but there is still much concern about the monarch.  In fact, the US Fish & Wildlife Service is currently evaluating the monarch for listing as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

A listing would provide the monarch with legal protections, but a decision is not expected for at least a year, and in the meantime, there are many things that the public can do right now to help monarchs!

Planting native nectar plants and native milkweed, the only plant on which monarchs will lay eggs, is an easy way to help, but people who want to get more involved will find a whole host of monarch citizen science projects in need of volunteers.  These projects study monarchs as they migrate and reproduce in the United States and Canada, and provide insight into how disease, climate change, and habitat loss are affecting the monarch population.  Citizen science is so important to monarch research that since 2000, almost two-thirds of the published results on monarch field research have used citizen science data2.  University of Minnesota Professor Karen Oberhauser, who heads the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, emphasizes the need for continued participation in monarch citizen science projects.

“As the monarch population becomes smaller, it is important that we continue these efforts, even if it’s not as much fun to monitor something that we don’t see as often,” said Oberhauser. “We need to understand what’s driving the declines, and, hopefully, what drives future increases.”

If you’d like to help with the ongoing research into monarch conservation, check out these projects:

Monarch Larva Monitoring Project- Volunteers from across North America regularly monitor milkweed plants for monarch eggs and larvae, in order to understand variations in the monarch population.  Some volunteers rear wild caught monarchs and record rates of parasitism.

Project Monarch Health- Participants carefully take scale samples from adult monarchs to test for the presence of a widespread parasite called OE.  Sampling doesn’t hurt the monarchs, and it’s easy to do.

Journey North- People from across North America help track the monarch’s spring and fall migrations by entering observations online.  Anyone who sees a monarch is encouraged to log the sighting with Journey North, which then creates interactive maps of the migration.

Monarch Watch- Volunteers with this project place small, lightweight tags on monarch wings.  When monarchs with those tags are recovered, Monarch Watch can track how far monarchs travel.

Western Monarch Count- Most monarchs along the West Coast don’t migrate to Mexico; instead, they overwinter in California. Every November and December, volunteers are needed to count overwintering monarchs.

1Monarch Joint Venture.

2 Ries, L., and K. S. Oberhauser. In press. A citizen-army for science:  Quantifying the contributions of citizen scientists to our understanding of monarch butterfly biology. Bioscience.

Graph courtesy of Monarch Joint Venture.  Photo courtesy of Wendy Caldwell.

Eva Lewandowski is a PhD candidate in the Conservation Biology Graduate Program at the University of Minnesota.  She is part of the Monarch Lab, where she studies citizen science and conservation education.

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Coop’s Citizen Sci Scoop: Crowdsourced Hopes for the 1st Citizen Science Association Conference

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The inaugural conference of the Citizen Science Association (CSA) is next week, just prior to the meeting of the AAAS (American Academy for the Advancement of Science). Both conferences will be held in San Jose, California. The CSA conference reached its attendance limit quickly and had to turn people away. The line-up of presentations shows attendees from a high diversity of disciplines, countries, and perspectives coming together, making this is a milestone event for citizen science as a discipline.

In last week’s #CitSciChat, the citizen science community had a face-paced discussion on Twitter. As moderator, I asked several questions, including “Q8. What are hoped for outcomes of the upcoming conference of the Citizen Science Association?” Here is a brief summary.

Answers covered several themes. One important theme focused on building an equitable and inclusive community. Encouraging the CSA to walk the walk reflects the desire of citizen science practitioners to have their Association embody the same values they promote in their citizen science projects. It appears that the membership of the CSA is committed, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, to ensuring that science of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.

Another theme was related to networking and Tweeters mentioned their hopes to find synergies, connect local and global projects, talk across disciplines, and form new partnerships that will advance the field of citizen science.

Another theme was innovation and action! There was a call to not only talk and share, but to catalyze and create. These are optimistic hopes because, as Michelle Neil from the Citizen Science Network Australia tweeted it, “the best science enquiry happens when you get people together.”

Some Tweeters had specific ideas about the types of directions they hope the CSA conference will spark, including bridging a perceived divide between life and environmental sciences, understanding how to measure project outcomes, and developing projects that engage people in more than data collection.

A final theme was related to having fun, making friends, and meeting people in person that they only knew via Twitter or email.

In further preparation for the Citizen Science Association’s conference next week, @johannavarner of the @CitSciAssoc Conference Communications Working Group started a hashtag #WhyICitSci.  Use the hashtag and share why YOU love citizen science and what motivates you to be a part of citizen science. The #WhyICitSci campaign is a great Twitter pre-conference icebreaker to help us get to know each other before we gather in San Jose!

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In True Citizen Science Fashion, Crowdsourcing a Bibliography

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Books on a library shelf (CC0 Public Domain)

Books on a library shelf (CC0 Public Domain)

Record of the first bibliography can be traced back to the Ancient Library of Alexandria. The former Macedonian general Ptolemy I Soter, who was a successor to Alexander the Great, founded the library. The library itself would go on to become a renowned center of scholarship.

The website History of Information records that in approximately 200 BCE, Callimachus, the highly respected head of the library compiled a catalogue of its entire holdings. Called the Pinakes, which translates to tables or lists, he divided the authors into classes; arranged the authors in the classes or subdivisions alphabetically; added biographical information to the name of each author and listed titles of each authors work under their names etc.

With recent developments in citizen science the world over, a Pinakes for the field was inevitable.  In a piece posted on the Extreme Citizen Science blog, Diana Mastracci writes that the team at Extreme Citizen Science, the UCL Interaction Center, and the University of Geneva, com Citizen Cyberlab,” says Cindy Regalado, a PhD candidate in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering at the University College London, referring to piled a list of scholarly resources (journals articles, books, web pages, magazine articles, etc.) considered to be most important to the study of “citizen science, creativity, learning and education in citizen science, and the evaluation of citizen science projects.”

“It was originally conceived as an idea for our project EU-FP7 an initiative which is exploring technology enhanced creative learning in the field of citizen cyberscience. “We knew that a large group of researchers and practitioners coming together would draw from various sources, both external and their own, so a shareable repository of articles made sense—shareable not only with the project team, but as a valuable resource for anyone interested in citizen science,” she says. As part of the project with Cyberlab the group proposed publishing an online annotated bibliography of relevant literature from citizen science, creativity and education at the end of the first year of the project.

They brainstormed the most important topics and themes in order to categorize the resources and create a series of tags that reflect the work, understanding and development of Citizen Cyberlab.

The main tags are: disciplinary domain (within e.g. science, humanities, etc.), methods (the procedures, approach, techniques, plan or arrangements used in the article/book) and purpose (review, critique, reflection, ethical considerations, evaluation, etc.). Regalado says the original intention was twofold, “Considering that there is a great number of papers and articles written on citizen science, we wanted to select the ones that were relevant for our project, have them in one searchable place, and share them with ourselves and world online.” It also serves as a way to categorize the vast number of papers, based on different categories relevant to the project. The main theme categories are citizen science, education, and creativity. The sub-themes in citizen science include typology, design, and evaluation of citizen science projects. The sub-themes in education and creativity include learning (informal, accidental, and online, etc.), games (serious games, leisure, gamification, etc.), definitions, and design (in, of and for citizen science).

Regalado adds, “When we published the bibliography we categorized the publications (including peer-reviewed, magazine articles, videos, etc.) according to the tags above, relevant to our project. Since then, more than 50 people, not associated with Cyberlab, have joined the collection titled Citizen Cyberlab: Learning & Creativity Aided by ICT on Mendeley, a popular bibliography management program and have uploaded articles they think are relevant.” And if the keywords and categories they created are not relevant to your project, you can create your own.

“Seeing how it has grown on its own since we published it is really exciting,” says Regalado. “It was publicized when it first came out but we haven’t promoted it since, which means that people have just found it through their own searches. People are adding articles to it, which means they value it and want to contribute to it, and by doing so they also make it their own.”

This being citizen science, the group is interested to learn what topics are important to you as a citizen scientist! Anyone can join the group, and add to the bibliography—which is quickly earning praise—so please, read up on how to join here! The bibliography can be found here.

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Coop’s Citizen Sci Scoop: Recap of Jan 28 #CitSciChat

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A few days ago was the first #CitSciChat, sponsored by SciStarter and my lab (The Counter Culture). The #CitSciChat was a fast-paced and exhilarating hour of citizen science discussion. Guest panelist and many others carried out a lively conversation structured around questions that I posed over the hour. Twitter chats have a hilarious side because so many people can chime in at once, which creates a kind of crazy that we rarely do in person. It is near impossible to follow all the discussion, especially in the moment, but in the calm after the Twitter storm, it is easy to go back to the #CitSciChat stream or read a capture of the majority of tweets created in Storify. I’ll summarize a little here.

In some ways, the #CitSciChat was like instant crowdsourcing. What are other names for citizen science, I asked. Within minutes we generated this list: Citizen Observatories, Responsible Research Innovation, Science 2.0, Smart Citizens, Fablabs, livinglabs, crowdsciences, crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, volunteered geographic information, civic science, public participation, Public participation in Scientific Research (PPSR), Amateur Science, Popular Science, Amateur naturalists, birdwatcher, butterfly collector, amateur astronomer, volunteer monitoring, volunteered science.

What disciplines are involved in citizen science? Within a few more minutes, we had this list: economics, deciphering handwriting, ecology, biology, social science, GIS, fisheries, education, arts, linguistics, geography, biochemistry, genetics, oceanography, physics, biotechnology, humanities, environmental monitoring, policy making, ethics, weather monitoring, ecology, environmental sciences, astronomy, geology, medical science, marine science, water quality, human-computer interactions, human health, seismology — Transdisciplinary!
And it was noted – not chemistry.

We discussed the goals of associations,  best practices, differences among countries, and activities of participants. There were provocative comments, including campaigning for tenure points for scientists who use best practices in citizen science.  We discussed resources practitioners need, and responses included ethics, evaluation, computing and other tech.

I asked the Chatters about the pros and cons of associations. The quickly listed the following pros: democracy, visibility, efficiency, pervasive sci literacy, global, share, collaborate, network, respect and promoting citizen science, resources, collective learning, transparency, sustainable long-term communities. And the following cons: top-down, self-interest, hard to be global, echo chamber, me toos, can exclude volunteers, no longer novel to funders, over-professionalizing, don’t silo citizen science from science. (Elsewhere, I’ll summarize the Chatters hoped for outcomes of the upcoming CSA conference).

My favorite part was to learn what Chatters thought were the promising frontiers, and these included wearable citizen science, digital arts, collective intelligence, neurodata gathering, new societal values, the internet of things to generate data, dedicated funding lines for citizen science, projects sharing platforms and technologies and protocols, mobile tech, greater access globally, connecting silo’ed and distributed but related data, neurosynapitc processors, improved policy making, and sensor networks for biodiversity.

Thanks to researchers in Sweden, we know that there were just under 200 participants in the first #CitSciChat. This group created 867 interactions. They made this visualizations of the online network, with Twitter handles and avatars. Visit their blog post for more details and if you want to zoom in on the visualizations.

Thanks again to all who were involved. Try to find your profile picture below. I hope you’ll jump into the February #CitSciChat too!


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Propose or Join a Citizen Science Hackfest Project!

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Propose or join a project or activity for the SciStarter Hackfest at the Citizen Science Association Conference!

A hackfest to make citizen science easier for project managers and participants. Join us in San Jose!

Be a part of SciStarter’s hackfest at CitSci 2015 in San Jose, California!

What: A hands-on and discussion-driven meet-up where everyone participates in dreaming up AND building creative tools to improve the field of citizen science!

Where: Citizen Science 2015 Conference, San Jose, CA

Who: The SciStarter team and YOU!

Why: To capitalize on the collective wisdom (and desire to act!) at the Citizen Science Association Conference

The inaugural conference of the Citizen Science Association will take place February 11-12 in San Jose, California and the SciStarter team is looking forward to soaking up new information during the scheduled sessions and talks!

We’ll also contribute to these conversations through a few presentations and an interactive, “roll-up-your-sleeves!” hackfest designed for everyone.

Will you join us? Learn more about SciStarter’s past Hackfests here.

First, make sure you have registered for the Citizen Science 2015 Conference if you want to participate in person. You can join us remotely, too. Just let us know how you plan to participate when you sign up.

Then, fill out this form to let us know you’re coming so we know how many people to expect. Remember, ALL contributions are valuable, and some projects may be discussion-based (no programming skills required). All projects should spark the start of something great! Just bring your creativity, enthusiasm and talents and we’ll make sure you’ll have fun!

Do you have a Hackfest idea or project you’d like people to know about or join at the event? Great!

Use this form to propose a project for the Hackfest at the Citizen Science Association meeting, February 11, 2015, 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm at the San Jose Convention Center!

Here’s the running list of proposed projects! Just click on the image to learn more about the proposed project.

scistarter robot

Agile Citizen Science: Join this group to participate in a brainstorm session to generate ideas and examples of possible agile citizen science projects and of the design features for a digital platform that would support those projects. Click to learn more.

scistarter robot

Locating Citizen Science Activity: Having a simple, accurate representation of a project’s geographic area of interest is important not only for validating the contributed data, but also for finding and recruiting potential participants who live or visit the area of interest and may be able to contribute. Click to learn more.

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Coop’s Citizen Sci Scoop: Hash Out Citizen Science in Twitter Chat Sessions

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Starting this month, you can tune in and take part in monthly discussion sessions about citizen science. The discussions take place on Twitter and anyone is welcome to join with questions, answers, comments, and ideas. You can follow the discussion at the hashtag #CitSciChat.

The monthly #CitSciChat are sponsored by SciStarter and The Counter Culture, which is my new research lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. These Twitter chats are designed to bring citizen scientists, project managers, students, and scientists together to share ideas, knowledge, and resources. We’ll discuss news, policies, discoveries, papers, and projects. The chats are opportunities for people around the world to meet and share their experiences with citizen science.

Whether you are experienced with Twitter or not, I hope you will find it easy to take part. Here’s how it works. I’m the moderator (@CoopSciScoop) and for each session I will invite a few guests with varied expertise and who enjoy lively discussions. I’ll pose question (Q1, Q2, etc.) and guest panelists and others will answer (prefaced with A1, A2, etc). Others can answer too, and pose related questions (label them, e.g., Q1a, Q1b, etc). There are no expectations that everyone will agree, but there are expectations that everyone will be courteous, polite, and respectful. Know that it’s okay to simply follow along, but I hope you will join the conversation. If you do, be sure to remember to include the hashtag #CitSciChat so that others in the conversation don’t miss your Tweets. I will Storify each session and post the recap on this blog.

The #CitSciChat follows in the footsteps of many other Twitter chats. For example, there are Twitter journal clubs, such as #microtwjc for discussions of microbiology papers (initiated by @_zoonotica_). There are chat sessions like #StuSciChat that connects high school students and scientists (moderated by Adam Taylor @2footgiraffe) and #STEMchat that connects parents, educators, and STEM professionals (moderated by Kim Moldofsky @MakerMom).  A very popular #Edchat, founded by Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell), hosts conversations among educators.

Citizen science chats take place on Twitter at #CitSciChat the last Wednesday (Thursday in Australia) of every month, unless otherwise noted. Join us January 28 (29th in Australia). We’ll increase in their frequency if interest levels are high. To involve people across the globe, chats take place 7-8pm GMT, which is 2-3pm ET in USA and Thursday 7-8 6-7am ET in Australia. Each session will focus on a different theme. To suggest a project or theme for an upcoming chat, send me a tweet @CoopSciScoop!

January theme:

Building A Community of Practice: Organizing the Organizers in Citizen Science

I’ve invited guests among the leadership of the Citizen Science Association, the European Citizen Science Association, and Citizen Science Network Australia. These panelists will discuss how these organizations are helping coordinate practitioners across the many disciplines that engage the public in research.

Panelists to follow:

From US:

  • Darlene Cavalier @Scicheer – CSA
  • Mary Ford @maryeford – CSA
  • Jennifer Shirk @ShirkSci – CSA (tentative)
  • Martin Storksdieck @Storksdieck – CSA

From Europe:

  • Muki Haklay @mhaklay – CSA & ESCA
  • Fermin Serrano @Ibercivis
  • Joseph Perello @OpenSystemsUB

From Australia:

  • @CitSciOz – CSNA
  • Michelle Neil @Michelle_Neil – CSNA
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Coop’s Citizen Sci Scoop: Try it, you might like it

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Margaret Mead, the world-famous anthropologist said, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

The sentiment rings true for citizen science.

Yet, recent news in the citizen science world has been headlined “Most participants in citizen science projects give up almost immediately.” This was based on a study of participation in seven different projects within the crowdsourcing hub called Zooniverse. Most participants tried a project once, very briefly, and never returned.


What’s unusual about Zooniverse projects is not the high turnover of quitters. Rather, it’s unusual that even early quitters do some important work. That’s a cleverly designed project. An ethical principle of Zooniverse is to not waste people’s time. The crowdsourcing tasks are pivotal to advancing research. They cannot be accomplished by computer algorithms or machines. They require crowds of people, each chipping in a tiny bit. What is remarkable is that the quitters matter at all.

My grandfather used to cajole me into trying new food when I was a finicky youngster. “How do you know that you don’t like brussels sprouts? Try it, you might like it,” was his mantra. I would try it. I would hate it. Even though I quit brussels sprouts immediately, giving them a taste was important. Now I cook and eat them, and I while I don’t serve them to company, I can talk about how to cook them with other brussels sprout aficionados.

It is the trying, rather than the quitting, that is newsworthy. When I checked the website today, the Zooniverse had over a million participants (1,266,934 to be exact). Even if 73% are quitters (that’s the average quitter rate among the seven projects in the study), that leaves a core of 342,000 strong non-quitters.

What is even more interesting is that a core group of determined and dedicated people are the best citizen scientists. They are invaluable parts of participatory research projects. This is universally common (not only Zooniversely common). We see it spanning other styles of projects.

For example, the online project Foldit, where participants are gamers (or players), the goal is to solve three-dimensional puzzles of protein folding. Foldit encourages players to demonstrate their mental prowess by solving over 30 tutorial puzzles with known answers before they can put their minds to the real puzzles. Most gamers are weeded out before they actually enter Foldit citizen science.


At the other end of the spectrum are community-based projects. For example, Global Community Monitor assists neighborhood groups in monitoring pollution, often through the use of buckets brigade technology (that is, supplies from Home Depot for DIY monitoring). They recommend a core group of five to do the heavy lifting of the project, such as data collection, organization, and education of neighbors.

In a case that landed Mark Kamholz, Environmental Control Manager for Tonawanda Coke Corporation, with a conviction and one year in prison (currently serving), the core community was only four individuals. It began when these four citizen scientists – Jackie, Adele, Bob, and Tim – sampled the quality of air. These four could not see, but could smell, the pollutants in their Tonawanda, New York neighborhood. I don’t know whether they liked collecting data, but quitting wasn’t an option. Their own health depended on citizen science. Their data caught the attention of Al Carlacci with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.  He collected additional samples in order to triangulate on the pollution source. This was only the second time in the United States that a corporate employee was convicted in criminal, rather than civil, court for polluting (11 counts of violating the Clean Air Act, and more), and the first time the conviction resulted in jail time. (Tell me why news stories are focusing on citizen science quitters?)


Good citizen science design can mean that a core group does most of the work, while everyone benefits. It’s not like The Little Red Hen, where if you don’t help harvest the wheat, then you don’t deserve to get any bread. Participating is open to everyone, but that doesn’t mean everyone has do it. Nevertheless, the results are for everyone. Science, especially citizen science, is to improve society.

An Internet rule of thumb in that only 1% (or less) of users add new content to sites like Wikipedia. Citizen science appears to operate on this dynamic, except instead of a core group adding existing knowledge for the crowd to use, a core group is involved in making new knowledge for the crowd to use.

eBird, where the highest skilled birders contribute most of the data, is a great example, one that I’ve highlighted before. Researchers, managers, and other birdwatchers use the information which is easily accessible and visualized in maps.

“Know your audience” is the golden rule for public speaking and writing. It holds for designing a citizen science project.

Citizen science has a long tradition in the natural history fields because it is easy to tap those with existing hobbies. It is particularly helpful where hobbyists have built communities that foster their individual and collective expertise and skills. Such projects avoid many problems related to data quality and sustained participation. Good project design involves finding a good match with existing participant expertise and interest.

For example, consider distributed computing, which is another style of citizen science, in which participants donate their unused computer resources to computationally intensive research problems. In this case, fandom groups, who tend to be tech savvy, include promising communities of interest. The largest fandom group to contribute to citizen science so far are the Bronies. Bronies are typically young adult males (bros) who are fans of the animated cartoon show, My Little Pony. A herd of about 1,000 Bronies play in Brony@Home, a team frequently near the top of competitions in a suite of distributed computing projects such as Folding@Home, Rosetta@Home, and Wildlife@Home.


In citizen science, a crowd can be four or a crowd can be hundreds of thousands. A citizen scientist is not a person who will participate in any project. They are individuals – gamers, birders, stargazers, gardeners, weather bugs, hikers, naturalists, and more – with particular interests and motivations.

As my grandfather said, “Try it, you might like it.” It’s fabulous that millions are trying it. Sooner or later, when participants and projects find one another, a good match translates into a job well done.


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A Fabulous Menu of Citizen Science for Thanksgiving

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We’ve updated and reposted this Thanksgiving Day treat,  from Lily Bui!

Dig into this serving of Thanksgiving projects with your friends and family!

monarchWestern Monarch Thanksgiving Count

Help researchers take census of winter Monarch butterflies. Count Monarchs in colonies, during the mornings around Thanksgiving. Get started!

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