What is Citizen Science?
By Geoffrey Haines-Stiles, Project Director, THE CROWD & THE CLOUD
My first science series for public television turned out to be a classic: Carl Sagan’s original 1980 COSMOS, on which I was a senior producer and series director. After that, I worked on the modestly-titled CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE and several NOVA programs on space missions and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. As the Internet grew, with support from NSF and NASA, my partner, Erna Akuginow, and I created live online experiences linking researchers in the Antarctic and the Amazon with audiences across America. Our work was with professional scientists doing the most amazing things in otherwise inaccessible places. And interacting with those brilliant minds was a blast.
But THE CROWD & THE CLOUD has a very different cast of characters from those we’ve worked with in previous PBS science series. Now our heroes and heroines are not exploring distant planets and Earth’s remotest locations. Instead they’re helping to generate new knowledge about environments much closer at hand. This is the age of “citizen science,” and we’ve been finding the work of “the crowd”, shared via “the cloud,” to be just as exciting, and the discoveries often very different but equally important.
Until the 19th Century, all science was citizen science. Charles Darwin wasn’t a tenured university professor or salaried government researcher, but an individual fascinated by the workings of the natural world. His amateur curiosity revolutionized our understanding of how life evolves.
Today more and more people are capturing images and information about the world around them, and analyzing what they see. Many are bird-watchers, or trout fishermen, or proud to be known as “weather geeks.”
Some are Makers and DIY enthusiasts, contributing to Public Lab, adapting low-cost cameras and sensors to capture data that official agencies neglect. Others are community activists concerned with the air their children breathe and the water their neighbors drink. Some seek new ways to diagnose and treat disease, and use innovative mobile technology to promote health.
In this blog and our other social media platforms we’ll be sharing stories dealing with invasive species, pollinator conservation, surfers documenting ocean acidification and Sherpas downloading climate change data from instruments buried in Himalaya snow and ice.
Our canvas is as wide and eclectic as today’s citizen science.