Introduction to Citizen Science

What is Citizen Science and how you can get involved.

1. What is Citizen Science

Citizen science is the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research. Involvement in citizen science projects allows people to share and contribute data to monitoring and collection programs, which increases our scientific knowledge and benefits society.

Although citizen science is a relatively new term (coined in the 1990s), people have been participating and contributing to scientific research for many years. You’re probably aware of the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch, a very successful citizen science project that’s been running since 1979.  Even Charles Darwin started out as a ‘citizen scientist’, collecting his own data as an amateur scientist and combining them with observations from over 1000 members of the public to provide evidence to support his theory of evolution by natural selection!

Citizen science isn’t all about bugs, birds and the environment though. The Galaxy Zoo citizen science project asks volunteers to help explore and classify galaxies across the observable universe.  They’ve been doing this for over a decade and the many citizen scientists involved have helped to classify the hundreds of thousands of new galaxies and objects in space that are discovered every day. Classifying galaxies is very addictive!

The reason citizen scientists are needed is because professional scientists simply don’t have the manpower or time to collect all the data needed for big projects on their own. Luckily, the involvement of citizen scientists in projects has become much easier with the rapid advancement of computing technologies – especially smartphones and the Internet.  Now there are a huge range of citizen science projects to suit all levels of interest and ability, from absolute beginners to amateur enthusiasts and professional scientists.

Fortunately, for projects that rely on vast networks of citizen-recorders, like those that monitor biodiversity in the UK, citizen science is still growing in popularity.  With the potential to incorporate new digital technologies, citizen science is set to become an even more important tool in our understanding of the natural world and citizen scientists a vital partner in large projects.