Wilson Center’s Science & Technology Innovation Program

EVENT: Environmental Information – The Roles of Experts and the Public

In Citizen Science, Commons Lab, News and Events on April 21, 2014 at 2:50 pm
Muki Haklay, University College London

Muki Haklay, University College London

Access to environmental information and its use in environmental decision-making are central pillars of environmental democracy. Yet, not much attention is paid to the question of who is producing it, and for whom? By examining the history of environmental information, since passage of the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969, three eras can be identified: information produced by experts, for experts (1969-1992); information produced by experts to be shared by experts and the public (1992-2011); and information produced by experts and the public to be shared by experts and the public. At the same, there has been unprecedented change in information is accessed and shared.

Please join us for a discussion with Muki Haklay about how this information informs environmental decision-making, with special attention to the role of geographical information and citizen science. Haklay is a professor of Geographical Information Science at University College London and he co-directs the Extreme Citizen Science group. More information can be found here.


April 29, 2014
10:0-11:30 am
5th Floor Conference Room
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20004
RSVP here: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/environmental-information-the-roles-experts-and-the-public
Directions to the Wilson Center: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/directions

The event will be live webcast, for which you do not need to RSVP.  To watch during the event follow this link here: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/environmental-information-the-roles-experts-and-the-public

This event is co-hosted with the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Wilson Center.






BirdReturns: Citizen Science Data Prioritizes Conservation of Bird Migration Habitat in California

In Citizen Science, Crowdsourcing, Governance on April 21, 2014 at 11:09 am



Waterfowl arriving in California’s Central Valley in the fall. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The dry Central Valley of California seems like the last place that would be rich in wetland bird habitat, but the region is a critical part of the Pacific migratory flyway, containing critical fragmented pockets of foraging grounds. A variety of shorebird species, with their adapted long legs and beaks, poke around in flooded lands to search for their meal that will sustain them till the next stop on their journey North.

A new initiative called BirdReturns, financed by The California Nature Conservancy, uses eBird citizen science bird observation data to collect information about habitats frequented by threatened species along the migratory pathway in the Central Valley. eBird is a successful citizen science program run out of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and asks participants from all over the world to submit bird observations online or via a smartphone application.  This eBird data is overlaid with satellite imagery of existing wetlands, allowing experts to target agricultural areas that are critical habitats for bird migration.

This image is taken from eBird’s website. It displays citizen science observations for the Central Valley of California.

Using this the data the BirdReturns program asks farmers to auction off their land to the Nature Conservancy for a couple weeks, agreeing  to keep it flooded to a level suitable for bird foraging (usually a couple inches will do). This model is called, “Payments for Ecosystem Services,” a popular economic approach to valuing nature for the regulatory services it provides like clean water and air.

Eric Hallstein, an Economist with the Nature Conservancy, recently told the New York Times that the data-intensive initiative is “disrupting the conservation industry by taking a new kind of data, crunching it differently and contracting differently.”

The BirdReturns program demonstrates the incredible value that large scale citizen science datasets can provide for critical conservation programs.


‘Let Me Google That For You’ Bill Seeks to Abolish the National Technical Information Service Agency

In Commons Lab, Foresight, Governance, News and Events on April 14, 2014 at 4:30 pm

A Google search for the short title of the act, “Let Me Google That For You Act” found 440,000,000 results in 0.75 seconds.


Internet search engines have replaced the need for the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), a federal agency that collects and organizes scientific and technical information derived from government-sponsored research, according to a new Senate bill introduced in early April. The bill, called the “Let Me Google That For You” Act, would strike funding for the NTIS, which is part of the Commerce Department.

The NTIS was created more than 40 years ago as a way to disseminate knowledge from government funded research and reports. The need for NTIS before the onset of the internet age was clear, but today the introduced bill claims, “95 percent of the reports available from sources other than NTIS [are] available free of charge” from a website called, “www.google.com.” Currently the agency receives $67 million dollars in federal funding annually.




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