Citizen Scientists: Disrupting Science... In A Good Way! - Darlene Cavalier - H+ Summit @ Harvard


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Darlene Cavalier
Science Cheerleader
Citizen Scientists: Disrupting Science... In A Good Way!

The field of citizen science is experiencing an unprecedented boom in popularity. Impressive numbers of people are inclined to “get their hands dirty” with science, either through recreational activities or full-fledged research projects. To take just a few examples, in the U.S. alone there are 48 million birders, half a million amateur astronomers, and another half a million volunteers who monitor the quality of our waterways. A few years ago when a citizen science project known as “Galaxy Zoo” put out a call for volunteers to analyze telescopic images online, nearly 150,000 people signed up. Not to mention the 90 million Americans who like to work on do-it-yourself projects and the newly christened “Generation Jones,” that sizable hunk of Baby Boomers who yearn to participate and be active.

And there's no shortage of opportunities awaiting them now that many--but not all--scientists are taking citizen scientists seriously. “Snow Tweets” enables participants to use Twitter to add their current snow depth measurements to a real-time global map. “Firefly Watch” enlists citizen scientists of all ages to monitor the presence of backyard fireflies; their data is passed along to entomologists studying the insects’ habits. In “Project Gravestone,” volunteers gauge the weathering of tomb stones as an indicator of the acidity of rainwater. And “Solar Stormwatch,” a cousin to “Galaxy Zoo,” asks participants to help track explosions on the sun and track them across space to provide warnings for astronauts and data for solar scientists.

So who are these so-called Citizen Scientists and how are they both aiding and disrupting traditional scientific research? Cavalier, aka The Science Cheerleader, and cofounder of, will address the scientific and societal implications of Citizen Science. Highlights of her talk will include, but not be limited to:

Demographics: Citizen scientists are, literally, everywhere, and they come in all different stripes. What defines them are their particular fields of interest. Star-gazers and water quality monitors, for example, are two different breeds.

Motivations: Why would anyone volunteer to spend weekends knee-deep in cold water to track sea turtle eggs, for example? There are three common motivators almost all citizen scientists share.

Data: How are scientists using this wealth of data? Fragmentation is still a challenge but some institutions have banded together to collaborate and share data.

Future implications:We will likely see an entire academic discipline devoted to the field of Citizen Science or Participatory Research. While practitioners define and refine "best practices" the citizen scientists themselves are beginning to migrate from "data collectors" to policy advocates. Can/should their collective powers be harnessed to shape public policies?

Darlene Cavalier is the founder of Science, a blog that promotes the involvement of citizens in science and science-related policy. She is also the cofounder of, a major multi-functional Web site that encourages and enables lay people to learn about, participate in, and contribute to science through recreational activities as well as formal research. Cavalier held executive positions at Walt Disney Publishing and worked at Discover Magazine for more than a decade. She was the principal investigator of a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant applied to promote basic research through partnerships with Disney and ABC TV.

Cavalier is a former Philadelphia 76ers cheerleader and holds a Masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied the role of the citizen in science. She is a writer and senior advisor to Discover Magazine, on the Steering Committee for Science Debate and is organizing an effort to launch the first-

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Citizen Scientists: Disrupting Science... In A Good Way! - Darlene Cavalier - H+ Summit @ Harvard

  1. 1. Disrup'ng  Science! (in  a  good  way) Humanity  +  Summit  @  Harvard: Rise  of  the  Ci8zen  Scien8st Darlene  Cavalier Science  For  Ci8zens h>p://
  2. 2. Common Misconception (among scientists)
  3. 3. Who  are  Ci8zen  Scien8sts? •50  million+  worldwide •46%  surveyed*,  hold  graduate  degrees  (na8onal   avg  is  9.9%**) •Highly  educated,  affluent,  ac8ve  users  of  the   Internet. *2009 Brownstein/Science Cheerleader survey of 150 active citizen scientists
  4. 4. Who  are  Ci8zen  Scien8sts? MOST CITIZEN SCIENTISTS ARE GEN JONERS: who have an “aching to act.”  
  5. 5. Why  volunteer  for  science? 1. To help safeguard or improve the environment. 2. To learn more about a subject I’m interested in. 3. To generally expand my knowledge, broaden my mind. 4. To help improve my community. 5. To help advance science. Citizen scientists donʼt do scientific research for a living; they practice science for personal satisfaction.
  6. 6. Online data analysis citizen scientists Demographics: avg age 43 yrs old; 80/20 men/ women; 28% hold Masters degree+; 29% hold Bachelors #1 reason these 250,000+ people volunteer to sort through images of galaxies? “To contribute to research.” Source: Jordan Raddick (JHU), Galaxy Zoo survey: “Why do people become citizen scientists?”
  7. 7. Why now? Internet makes it easy to obtain and share information Instrumentation is cheaper, more accessible Mobile smart phones: GPS, digital photography, microscopes, sensors Open data
  8. 8. Impact? Peer reviewed papers Discoveries:   Amateur  astronomer,  Anthony  Wesley,  discovered  a  hole  in  Jupiter’s  atmosphere,  the   size  of  the  Earth!   At  least  three  ci'zen  scien'sts  played  key  roles  in  what  has  become  known  as   Climategate.        Six-­‐year-­‐old  Alyson  Yates  and  her  mom,  Kate,  discovered  a  rare  nine-­‐spoKed  ladybug   while  taking  part  in  Cornell  University’s  Lost  Ladybug  ci'zen  science  project.           By  running  DNA  tests,  teenagers  in  NYC  found  a  new  breed  of  cockroach  and   discovered  food  labels  lie.  
  9. 9. Impact? White House Increasing number of published papers Field of academic study Policy: Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology Public Understanding of Science
  10. 10. Buzz The NY Academy of Sciences: The Growth of Citizen Science The New York Times: A New Kind of Big Science O’Reilly Report: Citizen Science and Urban Sensing TreeHugger: The Big Deal with Citizen Science Citizen Science benefits to children Seed Magazine: Creating Citizen Scientists CNN Citizen Science and Climate Change   And  many  more.
  11. 11. What  we  do We  enable  regular  folks  to  tap  their  inner   scien8sts  and  improve  the  world.
  12. 12. The  problem Millions  of  people  eager  to  explore  science   and  nature  can’t  find  the  thousands  of   research  ac8vi8es  they  could  be   par8cipa8ng  in.
  13. 13. Our  solu'on:   the  Project  Finder Fireflies,  oil  spills,  the   moon,  your  local   river… Yup,  our  database  has   a  project  for  that.
  14. 14. Harnessing  the  power  of  America’s  greatest  resource,  to  improve  our  world.