Science endeavors to be a collaborative and open process. Unfortunately, it can be challenging for independent citizen scientists to share their data or publish their research findings. “Despite the quality of their work, competent amateurs and citizen scientists are not well-represented in the research literature,” explains Dr. Sheldon Greaves co-founder and Executive Director of the Citizen Scientists League, a non-profit organization dedicated to engaging non-professional scientists in all aspects of science. “It is a shame. These individuals or organizations might have years of valuable data collected but limited resources for sharing their data with the scientific community.”
Thankfully, the barriers are coming down. Online data repositories are available to both professional and non-professional scientists. Increasingly, publishers are making their primary research articles ‘open access’ (free) and are actively encouraging citizen scientists to submit articles for publication. Below is a sample of resources that can help citizen scientists share data and publish their findings.
Data archiving and repositories
Online data archiving is a mechanism for sharing large datasets. Typically, the uploaded data becomes public allowing anyone interested to access and mine the information. These repositories often allow users to update their datasets, keeping the information current. They also provide a citation mechanism so that users get credit for their work. These repositories are useful for individuals or organizations that already have a substantial collection of data.
Multidisciplinary, free, citable, searchable database.
FigShare provides unlimited data storage for a variety of data formats including datasets, filesets, photos, videos and papers. Users are welcome to upload published or unpublished data as well as negative findings where it will be freely available for others to use. FigShare also provides up to 1GB of free private storage. All open data is stored under the CC-BY attribution license, the most liberal of Creative Commons copyright licenses and is citable.
Earth and environmental science, cost may vary, citable, searchable database.
Supported by the National Science Foundation, DataONE is an online earth and environmental science data repository. It features an open geographic searchable database useful for scientists, policy makers, educators, students and the public at large. Users must submit their data through specific member nodes such as USGS Core Sciences Clearinghouse or the Ecological Society of America.
Primarily biosciences, costs vary, citable, searchable database.
Dryad archives data from peer-reviewed or reputable non-peer reviewed publications. A wide range of formats are accepted including software programs, all of which is released under public domain (CC0) licensing. Data set owners are welcome to update their datasets with are made available for other Dryad members.
Journals and Publishing
Publishers such as PLOS, Frontiers, and PNAS are making their content open access, meaning articles, including academic primary research articles are available for free to the public, no subscription fee required. In addition, government funding agencies like the National Institutes of Health require that publications supported by their agencies be made publicly available. This means interested citizens have direct access to research publications and can keep abreast of new knowledge.
Actually publishing articles can be a little trickier for non-professional scientists because of lack of funding or a formal research affiliation. However there are services aimed at facilitating the publication process and some journals are specifically seeking citizen scientist articles, see below.
Life sciences, potential publishing discounts citizen science article, seeking submissions.
F1000Research is open access publisher of life science research and is interested in collecting and publishing citizen science driven research articles. F1000Research accepts a variety of different article types that can be difficult to publish elsewhere such as replications, data articles, null or negative results as well as traditional articles. All articles are transparently peer-reviewed post publication. As part of their open access philosophy, F1000Research requires article’s underlying datasets be assessable and hosted in an appropriate data repository, such FigShare with whom they have an ongoing partnership.
Life, biomedical and environmental science, publication fee, seeking submission, May 2014 launch.
Scientific Data is an open-access online publication from the Nature Publishing Group. This peer-reviewed publication will feature ‘data descriptors’ articles, a novel content type which emphases describing how datasets are gathered and how the data might be reused. The goal is to increase visibility and reuse of experimental and observational data. Authors will be expected to make their data accessible by either FigShare or Dryad. Scientific Data is expected to launch May 2014 and is currently seeking submissions.
Multidisciplinary, free for authors and reviewers, cost for publishers and institutions.
While not a publication per se, Peerage of Science is a service aimed at facilitation of the peer review process. Authors can submit their manuscripts to Peerage of Science were it will be viewable by Peerage reviewers who can comment on the value and soundness of the research. Only previously published scientists are eligible to be Peerage reviews. After the review process, articles receive quality index scores. Authors can the provide access to their reviewed manuscript to participating Peerage of Science journals or conventionally submit the manuscript to non-participating journals with the advantage of having already been vetted.
Dr. Caren Cooper, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and an advocate for citizen science embraces this openness in research. “Open access journals ensure that knowledge is available to the public, not hidden behind pay walls. And sharing actual data sets – whether created by scientists or enthusiasts – is key part of the movement toward open knowledge,” reflects Dr. Cooper. “The development of new knowledge is no longer limited to the ivory tower but is something the public can contribute to.”
For a more extensive list of data archives and repositories visit Databib.
Dr. Carolyn Graybeal holds a PhD in neuroscience from Brown University. She is a former National Academies of Science Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow during which time she worked with the Marian Koshland Science Museum. In addition the intricacies of the human brain, she is interested in the influence of education and mass media in society’s understanding of science.