April 23, 2013
Every day, across the country, ordinary Americans known as “citizen scientists” make critical contributions to the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by collecting, analyzing, and sharing a wide range of data—from weather phenomena, to sightings of migrating birds, to the timing of flower blooms at different latitudes. Now, the White House is preparing to honor some of the Nation’s most effective contributors to these important but sometimes-overlooked public servants.
Public participation in scientific research, also known as citizen science, is not a new phenomenon. In fact, before the establishment of discipline-specific training programs in the 18th and 19th centuries, most scientific research was carried out by amateurs. Many of our country’s most prominent scientists got their first taste of science by participating in citizen-science projects, and even today—despite the ascendance of a professional scientific corps—society has much to gain by including non-experts in the scientific enterprise. Among other benefits, public engagement in science can help citizens critically consider science-related public policy questions, make more informed decisions regarding the pros and cons of new technologies, and provide knowledgeable input about how tax dollars should be spent.
Today, advances such as Internet-based social media platforms and other information technology resources are increasingly allowing individuals to share information over large distances, enabling like-minded citizens to participate in research projects at unprecedented levels. Many practicing scientists today are discovering that citizen scientists play an indispensable role, by helping to collect and analyze data at unparalleled rates and over wide geographical distances.
To recognize the substantial contributions and achievements of citizen scientists across the Nation, the White House will host a Champions of Change event on Citizen Science on June 4, 2013. The White House Champions of Change program highlights the stories and examples of ordinary citizens who are doing extraordinary things for their communities, their country, and their fellow citizens. This event will focus on individuals or organizations that have demonstrated exemplary leadership in engaging the broader, non-expert community in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) research. Of particular interest are efforts by individuals or organizations to include women, the economically disadvantaged, persons with disabilities, and racial and ethnic minorities underrepresented in STEM.
Do you know a citizen science leader who is using citizen science to help catalyze positive change in his or her community? Members of the public are invited to nominate candidates for consideration.
Click here to nominate a Citizen Science Champion of Change before April 30, 2013 (under “Theme of Service,” choose “Citizen Science”).
Joan M. Frye is a Senior Policy Analyst at OSTP
We’re taking citizen science to the National Science Teachers Association and the San Antonio Spurs game. Join us!
|Dionn, MBA, Former Warriors cheerleader||Regina, Medical Doctor, Former Redskins Cheerleader||Laura, I.T.,Former Spurs Cheerleader|
Meet Science Cheerleaders Dionn, Laura and Regina on April 11 at the National Science Teachers Association in San Antonio from 2-3 pm and join them at the San Antonio Spurs game on 4/12 to collect microbes to send to space!
Project MERCCURI (Microbial Ecology Research Combining Citizen and University Researchers on ISS),a new research project from Science Cheerleader, SciStarter and UC Davis, is being made possible by Space Florida and NanoRacks LLC. Both organizations partnered in late 2012 to sponsor the “International Space Station Research Competition” and support innovative research payloads getting to space.
Project MERCCURI was selected as a winning project for the competition, and will facilitate the study of how microbes in buildings on Earth compare to those found on the International Space Station. Through December 31, 2013, the public can join the research team to collect swabs of surfaces at sporting events, in classrooms and at other venues. The microbes collected on the swabs will be characterized by analysis of their DNA; this will allow comparison of microbial distributions across the country. Some living microbes from the swabs will be grown in the laboratory and then sent to the International Space Station for growth rate comparisons and microbial playoffs! All results will be shared with the public.
Join the Science Cheerleaders and our partners at the National Science Teachers Association conference in San Antonio on April 11 from 2-3 pm, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, 215.
Then, come to the San Antonio Spurs game on April 12 where we will collect microbes from the stadium, court and game ball. The Spurs are offering discount tickets in addition to providing access to their court!
If you can’t make it to San Antonio, have no fear! We’re in the process of confirming similar events across the country and WE NEED YOU! If you’re interested in hearing from us as we build out our Project MERCCURI event calendar and/or as we analyze results, please sign up here.
PSSST: Every participant will earn a MERCCURI mission patch, too!
From the AAAS website:
Have a research project that requires large data collection and analysis? Working on a tight budget and an even tighter timeline? Ever thought about outsourcing some of this work to the public? Using the power of the crowd, via the Internet and social media, citizens scientists can help get the job done on time and on budget.
This webinar brings together three experts in crowdsoucing. They will show you how it works, where to find citizens scientists, and how to insure you get the best data possible.
Join us April 5 at 12 noon ET for this hour-long webinar, brought to you by AAAS MemberCentral.
Founder of SciStarter and Science Cheerleader
Darlene Cavalier is the founder of SciStarter.com, an online citizen science community. The site is a one-stop-shop for potential citizen scientists and a share space where researchers recruit participants. She is also the founder of ScienceCheerleader.com, a site that creates mechanisms for public engagement in scientific research and policy discussions, but is far better known for giving rise to the “Science Cheerleaders” comprised of more than 250 current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders who are also scientists and engineers. Cavalier herself was a cheerleader for the Philadelphia 76ers. These so-called Science Cheerleaders playfully challenge stereotypes, inspire young women to consider science careers, and involve people from all walks of life in citizen science. Cavalier is the Director of Special Projects at Discover Magazine. She holds a Masters Degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where she resides with her husband and four children.
Bowes Fellow at UC Berkeley
Cofounder of uBiome
Will Ludington, PhD, is Bowes faculty fellow in the Immunology and Pathogenesis Division of the Molecular Cell Biology Department at UC Berkeley, where he studies the interactions between endogenous gut microbes, the host immune system, and host behavior using metagenomics and experimental model systems. Coming from a background in both large scale ecology and cell biology, the microbiome was a natural research direction. Will cofounded the citizen science startup, uBiome, in order to put metagenomic research into the hands of the public.
Associate Professor & Head Computing & Information Science, Masdar Institute
Coauthor of Balloon Challenge and Tag Challenge
Iyad Rahwan is Associate Professor at Masdar Institute, a research institute established in cooperation with MIT. He is an Honorary Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, and was previously a visiting scholar at the MIT Media Lab. He holds a PhD from the University of Melbourne. Dr. Rahwan’s research on crowdsourcing and social mobilization appeared in major academic journals, including Science, PNAS, and IEEE Computer, and was featured in popular media, such as The Economist, MSNBC, New Scientist, and Popular Science. Dr. Rahwan led the winning team in the 2012 US State Department’s Tag Challenge, in which he used crowdsourcing to successfully locate 3 people in remote cities in less than 12 hours.
Adam Ruben is a writer, comedian, storyteller, and molecular biologist in Washington, DC who has performed stand-up comedy for over 10 years at clubs, colleges, and private venues. Adam is the author of the book Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School (Broadway Books, 2010) and the monthly humor column “Experimental Error” in Science Careers. He has appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” the Food Network’s “Food Detectives,” and the Science Channel’s “Head Rush,” and currently co-hosts “You Have Been Warned” on the Discovery Channel. Learn more at adamruben.net.
Recently, someone asked us why we require a log-in before we send people off to other websites where they can get involved in a citizen science project. Although we haven’t heard this question from our community members, we thought we’d share our perspective with you. Perhaps you’ve wondered but never asked.
When we started SciStarter, then named Science For Citizens, we wanted to simply provide a database of curated, searchable citizen science projects. A simple aggregator would do (we thought!). Our goal was, and still is, to make it easier for people to learn about and get involved in citizen science projects. Back then, we didn’t require a log-in. If you found a project you liked, you’d click on a URL and you were sent directly to that project’s website.
We started to hear from visitors that they didn’t want us to point them away from the project database, never to be heard from again. And that’s exactly what would happen. Once they left, it wasn’t easy for them to find their way back to learn about different projects. They had a “one and done” experience which wasn’t helping anyone.
At the same time, we started hearing from project organizers that, while the field of citizen science appeared to be growing, recruiting and retaining participants was still a major uphill battle. Some of the more popular projects have their own communities to tap (particularly projects done exclusively online), but most new projects have to start from ground zero to develop new communities of participants.
Our long term vision is to create and support a large, shared, vibrant community to help match and recruit people for all types of citizen science projects. There’s no shortage of opportunities available but we need to be able to reach people in order to share these opportunities.
When we spiffed up SciStarter about 1.5 years ago we made an effort to quickly build and support a dedicated, engaged community by offering a free service for project organizers and potential participants. We still curate and aggregate projects but we do a lot more than that now. Through partnerships with the National Science Teachers Association, Discover Magazine, Public Library of Science, Instructables and others, we help researchers share their projects with audiences they might not otherwise reach while providing people a one-stop-shop for projects that suite them. Bringing this community together in one, shared space, helps the researchers and the participants.
To build a community, we implemented a log-in process requiring a user name, email and password OR a sign in via Facebook. During your first visit, before we direct you away from SciStarter to a project’s website, we ask you to log in. After you log in once, you can return to our site anytime in the future and be directly connected to project websites without logging in again, unless you opt to log out, of course.
We don’t “harvest” emails, sell or share your email address, etc. So what do we do with your email address? Well, once every couple of weeks, we email you with information about new projects we think you’d enjoy. That’s it. The log-in also enables us to begin to help you keep track of projects you are interested in or have contributed to, activities you’ve performed and accomplishments you’ve made. We have more plans to help make it easier for you to get involved in multiple projects, without signing into a bunch of different project websites to create a bunch of different user accounts. This will take time, but this is our vision.
A recent development has made us more determined than ever to build and support a sustained community. In partnership with Azavea, SciStarter is wrapping up an Alfred P. Sloan-funded study to better understand the landscape of tools and platforms available to power citizen science projects. We’ll have that report to share in the coming month or two. In the process, it has become crystal clear that no matter what awesome technological tool or platform powers a project, no matter how cool the project itself is, without a sustainable community of active participants, the project will suffer.
This is a critical gap and one SciStarter hopes to fill. We are seeing some success in this area and it’s led to hundreds of project organizers adding their projects to the SciStarter Project Finder in an effort to promote their projects and recruit participants. More and more, we receive unsolicited feedback from project organizers thanking us for our work while citing success stories of how, after we featured their project, participant rates doubled and even tripled.
But we recognize our log-in process isn’t a perfect system and we’ve been looking at ways to improve it (keep it, ditch it, make it optional, test other ways to help people navigate back to the project finder, etc?). Coincidentally, this week, we received the first results of a two-part SciStarter user study conducted by a graduate class at the University of Michigan. Interestingly, the users surveyed cite our emails as added value. Here’s the report if you’d like to read it. SI 622 A4 Interviews Personas Scenarios report
The students just rolled out this related online survey. In it, they ask questions specific to the log-in process. This presents a perfect opportunity for us to invite you to weigh in. You might even win a $50 Amazon gift card. Thanks for your consideration and we look forward to hearing from you!
Here’s a link to a television news segment that aired this week on Minneapolis/St.Paul NBC affiliate Kare11’s. http://www.kare11.com/news/article/1013296/16/Scientists-call-for-your-good-germs-to-send-to-space
Nice shout out to the SciStarter, Science Cheerleader, UCDavis citizen science project we are launching. It’s called Project MERCCURI! Sign up to get involved and send us microbes from your touchscreen device so we can compare patterns to other locations and to what the astronauts find on the International Space Station! We’ll send 40 samples to the ISS in September!
By Carolyn Graybeal
Hummingbirds are mesmerizing. Their iridescent feathers. How they hover in the air. But these tiny birds are not just eye candy. Hummingbirds play a critical role in the ecosystem. They help keep insect populations in check. They pollinate flowers as they roam for nectar.
Unfortunately scientists are observing that migration patterns are changing, a presumed result of global climate change. A study released last month reports the migration patterns of the ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris), the most common hummingbird in North America, has shifted by about two weeks earlier than usual. This is bad news for both the birds and ecosystem in general. These birds are arriving at their northern breeding grounds while food may be scarce.
Recognizing the critical nature of these birds, the National Audubon Society has launched Hummingbirds@Home. Starting March 15th, the Audubon Society invites you to help track and report hummingbirds you see using their free app. Learn more about Hummingbirds@Home and how to join here.
If you need a little help spotting these birds, Cornell University published this handy how-to guide for attracting hummingbirds to your property and learning more about hummingbird behavior such as nesting, feeding, and migration patterns.
Be sure to check SciStarter for more hummingbird-related projects and for opportunities to help other feathered friends. Until then, happy (humming)bird watching!
This is a guest post from Sandra Henderson, Director for Citizen Science at the National Ecological Observatory Network.
When I first became involved in online professional development (PD) courses about 10 years ago, the casual approach to participation in terms of time and attire were often noted as desirable features. An often-touted advantage to online PD was that individuals could participate at 3 a.m. wearing pajamas and bunny slippers. Over the years, as the boon in online PD has expanded, I sometimes wonder if the sale of bunny slippers has kept pace with the expansion of online PD opportunities for educators.
Online education has gone mainstream, as evidenced by the large number of colleges and universities providing accredited online courses as part of their degree programs. Powerhouse universities like Stanford and Yale helped lead the way a few years back by offering their courses online and attracting hundreds of thousands of students. The widespread acceptance of top-notch universities provided an endorsement of sorts for the effectiveness of online education. The demand for online education continues to grow and this includes PD opportunities for educators.
Traditionally, PD for educators was synonymous with face-to-face classes, workshops, and seminars. Face-to-face PD, while valuable, is generally location- and time-limited which can exclude many educators who have other obligations or do not have flexible schedules outside of teaching due to family, extracurricular obligations, or other time constraints. Online PD courses that are self-paced are very appealing because individuals can chose when to participate based on their unique situation. One of the most appealing aspects of online PD is that it can be a great equalizer, providing PD for educators at all stages of their lives and careers.
As online PD has gained popularity, citizen science (CS) has also enjoyed a time of rapid growth. In recent years, CS programs and activities have proliferated, and many are Internet-based. Examples include Project BudBurst, Project Feederwatch , and The Great Sunflower Project It is widely known that effective PD results in better implementation of programs and activities. In the case of CS, effective PD may also help with data quality.
CS programs that are entirely online — such as the NEON’ s Project BudBurst – may not have the opportunity to offer face-to-face PD or employ the old tried and true “Train the Trainer” model. We decided to test online PD using Project BudBurst and created our first course Introduction to Plants and Climate Change for Educators. In January, 2012, we informally put out the word that we had a pilot online PD course for educators hoping to register about 15 people. Within a week, we had over 200 registrants and had to close registration as we could not meet demand. That is when it became clear that online PD was needed and that NEON could fill this important niche through the development of an online academy devoted to citizen science professional development – the NEON Citizen Science Academy (CSA).
NEON’s Citizen Science Academy Mission Statement: Provide online professional development resources for educators to support effective implementation of Citizen Science projects and activities that focus on ecology and environmental sciences.
The NEON CSA is intended to be a complete online PD resource for educators and will include online courses, modules, tutorials, and a virtual community of practice. Initially, I had been concerned that sharing and communication, a hallmark of face-to-face PD, would be sacrificed for the convenience of online courses. I have been pleasantly surprised to observe the exchange of ideas and thoughts in our virtual classrooms via discussion forums. Perhaps wearing bunny slippers encourages these informal exchanges.
As CSA develops, we intend to partner with other online CS programs and partner to offer a full suite of online courses and resources that support all aspects of CS for educators. Further, through a partnership with the National Geographic FieldScope program, CSA will also include innovative, free online mapping, analysis and data visualization tools that facilitate data analysis.
In the case of Project BudBurst, we now offer several courses for a wide variety of educators. One of our educators used her online PD participation to write a successful grant to engage her students in making observations of trees in their schoolyard. Another educator shared her efforts to have students in her art class take photos of plants as the seasons change. Several informal educators have designed exhibits and displays that feature Project BudBurst.
We hope you will join the growing CSA community by signing up for one of our online courses (citizenscienceacademy.org). Bunny slippers optional.
From Carnegie Mellon University
Research could ensure that crowd work becomes a career option, not a dead end Carnegie Mellon scientists and other crowd work researchers issue call to action.
PITTSBURGH—Crowdsourcing is an effective way to mobilize people to accomplish tasks on a global scale, but some researchers fear that crowd work for pay could easily become the high-tech equivalent of a sweat shop. Trivial work for rock bottom pay isn’t inevitable, however, and they’ve outlined a research agenda to make crowd work both intellectually and monetarily rewarding.
Leading researchers in crowd work from Carnegie Mellon University and other institutions will present their plan, hashed out in a special workshop last spring, at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, CSCW 2013, Feb. 27 in San Antonio, Texas.
Finding ways to enhance collaboration, incorporate artificial intelligence and create ways for workers to build reputations are among the research challenges ahead.
“When my baby daughter was born I asked myself, ‘would I be proud to see her grow up to be a crowd worker?’” said Aniket Kittur, assistant professor in Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute.
Co-authors with Kittur of the research strategy include Jeffrey Nickerson, director of the Center for Decision Technologies at Stevens Institute of Technology, and Michael Bernstein, assistant professor of computer science at Stanford University. Other leading crowd work researchers from Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern University and the University of Texas, Austin also contributed to the report, which is available for download.
The crowd work industry has expanded rapidly in recent years, with a number of vendors now offering work for people who get paid per task or who compete for prizes. A prominent vendor is Amazon Mechanical Turk, which claims more than 500,000 workers in more than 190 countries who complete tasks that, in some cases, may take only seconds to perform. Another, CrowdFlower, says it can access more than 2 million contributors worldwide. Others, such as oDesk, provide skilled labor, including web developers, designers and translators. Platforms such as Innocentive invite people to invent solutions to problems in hopes of winning a prize.
The still-young industry could grow very large because portions of almost any job — perhaps as much as 20 percent — potentially can be sent “down the wire,” Kittur said. Many crowd workers are paid substantially less than U.S. minimum wage, however, and, left to market forces, the crowd workforce could remain stigmatized and exploited.
“What if I want access to the best people in the world, but for only five minutes of their time?” Kittur said. As beneficial as that might be for some businesses, that possibility will not be achieved if the crowd workplace isn’t attractive for the very best workers and thinkers, he added. The call for action by Kittur and his colleagues, also discussed in a recent post on the Follow the Crowd blog, envisions three major research steps:
Create career ladders. Research is needed in how to structure teams so that skilled workers can train novices, as well as help design jobs and catch problems. Mechanisms are needed for credentialing workers. A better understanding of worker motivations could lead to better job designs.
Improve task design through better communication. Research suggests that some quality problems in crowd work have more to do with poorly designed tasks than with unskilled workers. Artificial intelligence could be used in complex tasks to identify work products that might still need improvement and assign workers accordingly. The crowd itself also may be used to train the computer programs, helping them support a broader range of tasks. Improved instructions and feedback mechanisms likewise could improve the work product.
Enable learning. Quality assurance assessments can identify skills that workers need to polish or learn to tackle new work tasks. Online tutoring, combined with tracking of work history, could support personalized instruction and feedback. The work platforms themselves will need mechanisms for learning what kinds of work requests attract talented workers, recognizing the patterns of learning and skill building among workers and determining what tasks are appropriate for which types of workers.
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, a DARPA Young Faculty Award, a Temple Fellowship, Northwestern University and the Center for the Future of Work in Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College.
Follow the School of Computer Science on Twitter @SCSatCMU.
Contact: Byron Spice
This was originally published on Huffington Post, by George Zaidan.
SciStarter asked Craig Newmark (of Craigslist fame) why he likes squirrels. He told us that it all started with a simple desire to feed birds. But the suet palaces he was using to dispense the raw, fat-based bird food were constantly getting hacked by squirrels. He tried everything; he even upgraded to “squirrel-resistant” models, to no avail.
It was then that Newmark really began to appreciate the rascally rodents. “Squirrels are smart, tough and athletic, real survivors, and that’s very impressive,” he says. “They’re a candidate to replace humanity if we don’t work things out.”
Newmark, who regularly tweets about squirrels and is a religious observer of National Squirrel Appreciation Day (Jan. 21), has his house wired with “squirrel cams” and was even able to capture — on video — a female entering his house to explore.
But most squirrel observation is low-tech, involving a pair of binoculars and a notebook. These observations eventually work their way into peer-reviewed science.
SciStarter.com, which I like to think of as the Craigslist of science, has a list of squirrel-related citizen science projects here. You can participate for free, and finding squirrels (especially the eastern grey) is about as easy as falling over. They dominate this area, and they’re not shy!
Our citizen science projects are not limited to the East Coast, or even the U.S. There’s the Black Squirrel Project in the UK and the Western Gray Squirrel Project out in the state of Washington.
If you think you’re sly enough to outsmart squirrels, we have a limited-time competition just for you! In partnership with instructables and Discover Magazine, SciStarter is looking for safe and effective ways to keep squirrels and other ravenous vegetarians and omnivores from eating sunflowers. Why? Because sunflowers play a crucial role in citizen science bee observation projects. No sunflowers, no bees. And that would… bee bad. But hurry! Not only is January 21 National Squirrel Day, it’s also the last day you can submit an entry to the Citizen Science Contest!
Some species of ground squirrels hibernate, but tree squirrels don’t. The eastern grey and other tree dwellers ride out the winter in tree hollows and holes, but you can still see them as fall turns to winter. So sign up for a squirrel project here at SciStarter, grab your coat and head out to the nearest deciduous forest, rooftop or really just about anywhere, and start observing!
Or just hang a birdfeeder outside your window.
Earlier today, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences hosted “E.O. Wilson’s Global Town Hall,” with biologist Edward Osborne Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard. In anticipation of this exciting event, the museum revamped its Citizen Science Center and added new features.
“I am especially pleased that we now offer a SciStarter kiosk in our exhibit as it will provide museum visitors access to hundreds of citizen science projects with a few clicks of the mouse,” said Chris Goforth, manager of Citizen Science at the Museum and the brains behind one of our favorite citizen science projects, the Dragonfly Swarm!
“SciStarter has an unparalleled ability to match the public with citizen science projects, regardless of their interests, and does a great job of highlighting how anyone, anywhere can become a citizen scientist. It is a most welcome addition to our citizen science exhibit.”
The SciStarter kiosk is designed to prevent random web surfing while enabling visitors to “shop” for their favorite citizen science projects from among the more than 500 curated projects featured in the SciStarter Project Finder. Visitors can simply email their “shopping cart” to themselves so they can get get started later!
If you would the SciStarter Kiosk interface in your school, science center or other public area, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.