A unified field theory for public participation in scientific research
Jul26

A unified field theory for public participation in scientific research

Disparate citizen science disciplines come together at the Public Participation in Scientific Research conference by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer The idea of a big, cross-disciplinary meeting had been floating around citizen science circles for a while. Though public participation in scientific research has deep roots in the history of science, in the last few years it has taken off spectacularly from launch pads across the disciplines of science and education, fueled by advances in communications technology and a sea change in a scientific culture now eager to welcome outsiders as collaborators. There was a feeling that the time had come to muster the leadership from their independent community science fiefdoms for an intellectual potlatch. Citizen science, crowd-sourced science, DIY research, volunteer monitoring, community participatory action research – the variety of banners flying over participatory science projects reflects the diversity of their origins, from astronomy to zoology. Workshops had been organized before, notably by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, but they were small, field-oriented, and unable to meet growing demand. “The participatory science field has been growing, but in isolated silos. Even within the environmental sciences, the water quality people self-organize separately from the biology people,” said Abe Miller-Rushing, a science coordinator for the National Park Service up at Acadia National Park, in Maine. “We really wanted to have an open-invite meeting that emphasized innovation, and could kick-start conversations.” So Miller-Rushing and a handful of scientists and educators hatched a plan to make their dream meeting happen. It all comes together on August 4th-5th as a conference-within-a-conference at ESA’s 2012 annual meeting in Portland, Oregon: the “Public Participation in Scientific Research Conference” (technically ESA’s “workshop #1” for organizational purposes, it starts early on Saturday morning, before ESA’s main event kicks off with the Sunday evening keynote). “Jennifer and I were talking about this at a meeting, and I think Rick was there too, and we decided – hey, let’s just do it.” [Update, 8/2/2012: Rick Bonney phoned me to correct the record: the PPSR conference was actually conceived over a large pot of chili at Jennifer’s house, out in the woods near Ithaca, NY. The three (and Jennifer’s husband Sam, famous chili artist) got to rehashing the need for an open-invite meeting. “And Abe said, you know, I really think that we could pull this off if we worked with ESA on it.” –Thanks for the update, Rick!] Miller-Rushing will open the upcoming conference with a presentation on the history of public participation in scientific research. He has a paper on the same topic, with Richard Primack of Boston University and Rick Bonney of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology,...

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