Science lovers are everywhere! You don’t need a degree in science to know that you love learning, looking at data, and contributing to our collective knowledge about the natural world. Whether your interest in science stems from your desire to know more about the world around you, the intellectual challenges it provides, or educating the children around you, there are ways that you can be a part of scientific research!
It is not uncommon for individuals to believe that there is no space for ordinary citizens when it comes to scientific research. This is not the case! The truth is that you -don’t- have to have a PhD in order to participate in scientific research. Whether you are interested in learning about the ecosystem function of a specific species or the impacts of pollution on water bodies, there is a way that you can collaborate with scientists and researchers in order to gather important data and make a difference in the scientific community! Through citizen science projects that individuals are able to contribute to scientific research around the world.
What is citizen science?
According to National Geographic, citizen science can be described as “the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research to increase scientific knowledge.” Scientists and researchers often work with citizen volunteers in order to gain data and new perspectives related to their research. While many citizen science projects require volunteers to gather data through methods such as taking photographs, documenting changes seen in nature, or measuring certain variables, a citizen science project might also require volunteers to analyze or report on the data acquired.
The importance of involving everyday citizens in scientific research increases in light of the global environmental challenges we are currently facing. While we have many talented scientists and researchers tackling issues such as climate change, endangered species, pollution, and more, there is still a need for citizens to get involved.
More interest, knowledge, and perspectives are required in order to find solutions to the environmental issues at hand. Think of it this way – you’d be much more likely to care about an environmental issue if you were informed about and involved in documenting the issue!
Who are citizen scientists?
Citizen scientists can come from a variety of different backgrounds, educations, occupations, ages, and interests, as there is a citizen science project out there for everyone! While a bird-watching enthusiast may be an ideal candidate for one citizen science project, a child documenting local flora in their backyard can be a perfect fit for a different research project. The next citizen scientist could be you! Websites like SciStarter’s Project Finder and Zooniverse can help you find a project that aligns with your interests, location, and abilities!
One of the most popular citizen science databases is called iNaturalist. iNaturalist is an online community that allows you to connect with scientists and naturalists who can help you learn more about nature! This website allows you to record and share your observations about the world around you by submitting photographs of the flora and fauna you encounter.
Scientists are able to use the data you submit in order to help them with their research projects. Since iNaturalist was launched in 2008, over 52 million observations have been made and submitted to the website, and over 150 research papers have cited iNaturalist as the source of their data! These numbers will only continue to grow!
Is an intense usually day long biological assessment or inventory of a particular area that is used to document the biological diversity and engage community members, children, school groups and community organizations in the collection of biological data. Of course, one of the benefits of engaging community participants is the active learning about the biological community that occurs as people take part in the collection of data.
Started in 1900 in North America and has become an important early winter bird census contributing to our understanding of the state of bird populations. This is a great family tradition to consider for your holidays, and another example of citizen science playing an important role in large scale data collection.
Check out some of these popular citizen science communities and find a way to contribute to science! Not only are these projects fun and rewarding, but they will help you get better acquainted with your environment and expand your scientific knowledge. You get to learn as you contribute. It is a great activity to do as a family and helps to get us all outside as we help with the research.
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