Wilson Center’s Science & Technology Innovation Program

NOAA on Citizen Science: It’s in America’s DNA

In Governance, Guest Blogger, Commons Lab, Citizen Science on January 26, 2015 at 2:51 pm

This is a cross post from NOAA’s blog at the Office of Education: The article is drawn from a keynote by NOAA Chief Scientist, Dr. Richard Spinrad, at a forum hosted by the U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program and the Wilson Center Commons Lab. With a focus on the vital role of citizen science, the forum was entitled, Tracking a Changing Climate.

Citizen science is part of America’s DNA.  For centuries, citizens not trained in science have helped shaped our understanding of Earth.

Thomas Jefferson turned Lewis and Clark into citizen scientists when he asked them to explore the landscape, wildlife and weather during their journeys of the West. They investigated plants, animals and geography, and came back with maps, sketches and journals.  These new data were some of the first pieces of environmental intelligence defining our young nation.  President Jefferson instilled citizen science in my own agency’s DNA by creating the Survey of the Coast, a NOAA legacy agency focused on charting  and protecting the entire coast of our Nation.

2014-11-18 02 48 07The National Weather Service’s Cooperative Observer Program, begun in 1890, is an outstanding example of citizen science. Last year, NOAA honored an observer who has provided weather observations every day for 80 years. Volunteer citizen scientists have transcribed more than 68,000 pages of Arctic ship logs, adding to the long-term climate record by populating a database with historic weather and sea ice observations. Also, citizen scientists are providing new estimates of cyclone intensity by interpreting satellite images.

Journal for citizen science to launch in 2015

In Citizen Science, Crowdsourcing, News and Events, Reports and Publications, Uncategorized on January 20, 2015 at 3:21 pm

 A new peer-reviewed journal focusing on advancing the field of citiheader_leftzen science will be making its debut later this year. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice will bring together citizen scientist practitioners, researchers, educators, evaluators and many more in an open-access forum to discuss and share best practices for conceiving, developing, implementing, evaluating and sustaining projects that facilitate public participation in science. The journal is to be published by Ubiquity Press on behalf of the Citizen Science Association.

The journal aims to support citizen science by creating a centralized venue for the exchange of citizen science scholarship across disciplines. The hope is that citizen science will gain greater visibility and that key ideas can be included in the growing organization of academia rather than being shared narrowly among dispersed groups of citizen scientists and their networks.


Researchers who are conducting projects using citizen science are encouraged to submit their findings to the appropriate discipline-specific journal and to use the keyword “citizen science”.  Through publication scientific findings resulting from citizen science can then reach the scientific audiences in relevant disciplines and help to advance the field.

Try it, you might like it

In Citizen Science, Guest Blogger on January 13, 2015 at 10:47 am

It is the trying, rather than the quitting, that is newsworthy

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.


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