Last month I was at the Citizen Cyberscience Summit in London. This is a yearly event that brings together scientists and IT experts from different areas in order to discuss and advance citizen science (public participation in scientific research).
Citizen science is something that’s really taken off in the last few years. The natural sciences seem to have benefited most from it so far, through wildlife reporting projects. One area where mass public participation (via the internet) has proven very useful is in areas where large volumes of data need to be eyeball-checked. An example would be Snapshot Serengeti. Plankton Portal is a similar project in the marine sciences. One of the most successful mass participation projects involved classifying astronomical data.
If the research doesn’t involve animals or outer space, researchers need other strategies to get the public involved. Gamification is a very popular approach – neuroscientists mapping the human brain and researchers developing quantum computing have both had success using online games as a way to get the public to participate.
Other talks discussed: citizen science in environmental activism; the importance of building and keeping a user base; the creation of citizen science apps for (Android) mobile phones; the difficulties of citizen science in extreme environments and areas of low literacy and connectivity.
Some of the more evangelical citizen science boosters believe future developments will involve greater public involvement – giving the citizen scientists more say in the research objectives and outcomes (as one person put it, “if it’s just collecting data, it’s not citizen science, it’s just science”), rather than just crowdsourcing data.
One negative was that there was almost no mention of *metadata* during the two days.