Citizen Scientists Take Over

Students collect data on sword ferns as part of our citizen science program Fern Watch.
Students collect data on sword ferns as part of our citizen science program Fern Watch.

Last week, I participated in the first-ever citizen science conference put on by the Citizen Science Association. This major event attracted over 600 people from 26 different countries! Science buzz was in the air, and the talks covered a range of programs — from engaging students in water-quality testing, to collecting data on precipitation, to identifying and tracking whale sharks using their skin patterns (that one was my favorite!) . The range and depth of programs was vast, but they all shared the common thread of connecting regular people to the wonderful world of science.

What struck me was how quickly community science programs have spread throughout the world. More and more scientists and institutions are recognizing the value both in engaging the public in science and nature and in getting a wide audience to help collect data to answer research questions. And, community-collected data is actually being used in research.

Participants use our Redwood Watch app to document redwood species at Muir Woods.
Participants use our Redwood Watch app to document redwood species at Muir Woods.

Throughout the conference, a few common themes started to emerge. Everyone agreed that community science programs are increasingly popular, and that the general public loves collecting data and contributing to science. But there are some important questions to answer: How do we make sure the data we collect is being used? How do we engage scientists to take an interest in our data? How do we energize and maintain a diverse group of amazing volunteers?

As with any emerging field, there are always going to be some growing pains — but as community science continues to increase in popularity, I see endless possibilities for what can be accomplished when we all work together for the good of nature.

Make sure to check out our community science programs, Redwood Watch and Fern Watch, and check back here for new opportunities available in the next few months. The redwood forest needs you!

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About the author

Deborah joined the League's staff in 2013 as the Education & Interpretation Manager. She brings with her extensive experience teaching science, developing curriculum and connecting kids to the natural world.

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