The gathering momentum of *citizen science*. Google searches for the phrase spiked in 2011 (scaled to the average worldwide traffic for the phrase). Credit, Google Trends.
CITIZEN science is not an entirely new concept. The Audubon Society’s popular Christmas Bird Count has run continuously for over a hundred years. When the society founded the program in 1900, the concept of the professional scientist may still have been less familiar than the image of the amateur naturalist. The following century institutionalized scientific endeavors, advanced scientific knowledge tremendously, and moved the frontiers of research far from the causally interested public in the process.
But public participation in science has been gathering steam over the past decade, rallying enthusiastic volunteers to record ecological and astronomical observations, and dedicated gamers to puzzle out protein molecular structures (in the University of Washington’s astonishingly successful Foldit collaboration). Community science has earned popularity pulling double-duty: building bridges between the public and the ivory tower and getting science done.
Internet lore has it that Rick Bonney of Cornell’s Laboratory of Ornithology coined the term “citizen science” in a 1996 NSF grant proposal. Under the piquant citizen science brand, the public involvement has gained ground ever since, helped along by the connective powers of the internet, and a scientific culture grown more welcoming to extramural activities.
Every Tuesday starting this month, EcoTone will feature science-inspired community projects and opportunities for non-specialists to jump into scientific research.
Do you have a citizen science project that you would like to see covered on EcoTone? Pitch it to llester [at] esa [dot] org.