CCI32 - Citizen Participation in the Biological Sciences: A Literature Review of Citizen Science
Citizen Participation in the Biological Sciences: A Literature Review of
• Data growth and data management: the amount of information needed to
monitor large geographic or temporal scales is limited by cost. Citizen science
offers one alternative to manage these costs.
• Connect science to the public: participation by the public in science helps to
increase the awareness and understanding of scientific process and policy.
• Fourth paradigm science: data intensive scientific discovery depends upon
distributed sensors and distributed analysts. Citizen science can fulfill both
(Bonney et al., 2009; Gray, 2009; Trumbull et al., 2000)
Todd Suomela and Erica Johns
School of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee
"Citizen science [is the participation] of the general public in scientific research" (Couvet
et al., 2008) Two trends, the growth of data and the availability of the internet, have
enabled professional scientists to recruit amateur scientists to collect and analyze data.
Recruiting citizens to do science may improve science communication and
Biological sciences have been rapid adopters of citizen science, especially areas of
study that require field observations from large geographic and temporal scales. The
current study is a literature review of scientific papers and projects that have focused on
the biological sciences. Major scholarly databases, Web of Science and Google
Scholar, were searched for terms related to citizen science and biology. The results
show the growth of citizen science as a term to refer to scientific projects and the
concentration of many of these projects in environmental biology.
Growth of Citizen Science
A search of Web of Science for the phrase “citizen science” in December 2011 returned
the following results which show the growth of citizen science over the past decade.
Results and Comparisons
Growth of citizen science: the results from Web of Science show a growing
interest in the term citizen science over the last decade.
Primary adoption is happening in the environmental sciences before other
biological sciences. The reasons for this are unclear at the moment but may
be due to the cost of participation, the ability of work to be divided among a
citizen participants, the institutional structures of different disciplines, or other
unknown factors. Further research is needed to resolve this question.
The primary concern for most scientists is assuring the quality of data
collected by citizen scientists. A majority of the papers reviewed addressed
this issue or raised it as a serious concern. So far citizen scientists appear to
be able to collect reliable data given the appropriate training and support.
Bonney, R., Cooper, C. B., Dickinson, J., Kelling, S., Phillips, T., Rosenberg, K.
V., & Shirk, J. (2009). Citizen Science: A Developing Tool for Expanding
Science Knowledge and Scientific Literacy. Bioscience, 59(11), 977–984.
Couvet, D., Jiguet, F., Julliard, R., Levrel, H., & Teyssedre, A. (2008). Enhancing
citizen contributions to biodiversity science and public policy.
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 33(1), 95–103.
Gray, J. (2009). Jim Gray on eScience: A transformed scientific method. In T.
Hey, S. Tansley, & K. Tolle (Eds.), The Fourth Paradigm: Data-Intensive
Scientific Discovery. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Research. Retrieved from
National Science Foundation (2012). Organizational Chart, Directorate of
Biological Sciences. http://www.nsf.gov/bio/about.jsp. Retrieved on February
Trumbull, D. J., Bonney, R., Bascom, D., & Cabral, A. (2000). Thinking
scientifically during participation in a citizen-science project. Science
Education, 84(2), 265–275.
Complete References Available Upon Request
Future research should focus on the benefits of citizen science to both
researchers and participants; investigate the differences between lab and field
sciences; correlate different terminologies across disciplines in order to
compare citizen participation.
Insects and pollinators
Population and Community Ecology
Systematics and Biodiversity Science
Physiological and Structural Systems
Biomolecular Dynamics, Structure and
Networks and Regulation
We would like to thank Dr. Suzie Allard, and Dr. Carol Tenopir for their guidance
and support. Funding for ScienceLinks2 and DCERC (Digital Curation Education
in Research Centers) is provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services
(National Science Foundation, 2012)