Archive for the ‘Science Policy’ Category
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (U.S. GAO) is the investigative arm of Congress charged with examining matters relating to the receipt and payment of public funds.
Today, the GAO published a new report to advise how the federal government can better engage citizens. Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology (ECAST) is cited as one of seven effective practices.
ECAST was cofounded by the following institutional partners: Arizona State University, Loka Institute, Museum of Science, Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, SciStarter and Science Cheerleader.
Federal agencies are using “open innovation” tools to leverage the knowledge and skills of people outside government. Using dedicated websites and in-person outreach, agencies have worked with the public to rebuild communities after Hurricane Sandy, improve methods to find asteroids that could threaten the Earth, and reduce the amount of time required for highway construction projects.
We identified 7 practices that agencies can use to effectively engage the public when using open innovation tools. Example of Open Innovation Tools: NASA’s Asteroid Initiative In-Person Forum and Online Platform
Citizen Science: Empowering a Robust National Effort
Tuesday, June 7, 2016 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM EDT
with Honorary Co-Hosts
Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE)
June 7, 2016, Noon – 1:30 p.m., Russell Senate Office Building, SR-385
Anyone can learn how to use the scientific method in ways that contribute to investigations of how nature works and applying that understanding to develop new technologies. As professional scientists explore the universe, they find instances and places where more hands, eyes, and voices are needed to collect, analyze, and report data: Examples include documenting the biology and chemistry around rivers and lakes, monitoring the weather in sparsely populated regions, or logging the daily course of a disease or exercise regimen. Citizen scientists are increasingly answering the call, be it as enthusiastic hobbyists, STEM students augmenting their learning, or empowered friends and family of medical patients. This panel will discuss how various citizens are enhancing the nation’s scientific enterprise as well as ensuring that the government maximizes its benefits while avoiding any negative impact on the progress of science.
Jamie L. Vernon, Sigma Xi and American Scientist
Darlene Cavalier, Arizona State University, SciStarter
Sophia Liu, United States Geological Survey
David Rabkin, Museum of Science, Boston
Andrew “Andy” Torelli, Bowling Green State University
Earlier this month, I had the immense honor of sharing the stage with Bill Nye and some fascinating thought leaders in space exploration from academia and industry, thanks to the leaders at Arizona State University’s New Space. We talked about colonizing Mars, mining asteroids, women in STEM and more. Amid all the exciting, forward-looking discussions, bolstered by the super-pumped-up audience of 3500 ASU students, I couldn’t help but think about the voice we needed to hear as we imagined YOUR place in space: YOUR voice. A decade ago, YOUR voice (and your tax dollars, your values, your informed opinions) would have been represented by your elected officials, or the noisiest advocacy groups, or industry.
I know this because exactly 10 years ago, I was wrapping up my master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania where I spent a lot of time learning about people like me, like us: people who are interested in science, who want to be part of science–of discovery, of shaping the future–but who don’t hold formal science degrees.
The degree from Penn wasn’t what motivated me. I went back to school after a decade of working at Discover Magazine (and, believe or not, after a few years as an NBA cheerleader!) so I could learn more about my role in science and society. Where does someone without a formal science degree fit in? For all the investment in time and money we give to K-12 STEM education, what are we doing to support the majority of those kids who don’t go to college or, if they do, who choose non-STEM careers?
What are we doing to take seriously the fact that, while our nation’s students rank low on international STEM exams, year after year, our nation’s adults (US) fair exceptionally well when compared to our peers in other countries? This must seem impossible. How can that be when our country has resisted scientifically sound issues such as climate change, vaccines, GMOs and stem cell research? Because the resistance stems from all the factors that shape science and science policy: values, economics, personal benefits, etc. Teaching people more science via the all-too-common deficit approach does not work.
How do we start real conversations with–and tap the talents and interests of–adults who have demonstrated that they/we like science? Did you know that more Americans visit science museums, zoos and aquariums than sports events? I didn’t…read more about this here. What are we doing to support us and enable us to be part of these conversations we are absolutely every bit entitled to be part of, NOW?
Well, almost immediately upon starting graduate school, I learned about citizen science. This is often described as crowdsourcing, community science, or public participation in scientific research. It usually takes the form of a scientist asking the public to share observations or analyze data to help advance areas of research.
I couldn’t wait to jump in and participate in formal and informal research projects in need of my help! Back then, it was difficult to find these opportunities. This is how SciStarter emerged. It was a very simple, searchable database embedded in a blog called Science Cheerleader, created to help me organize projects I was going to write about in my Capstone paper. I invited people to add projects or find projects. Before too long, this database spawned its own start up, featuring 1100 projects and a community of more than 50,000 citizen scientists.
Today, SciStarter’s database is shared with Discover Magazine, Astronomy Magazine, the National Science Teachers Association, the U.N., PBS, AllForGood, and many other partners. Thanks to support from the Simons Foundation, anyone can add citizen science to their website via simple to use, embeddable widgets. We are coPIs of research projects; universities and agencies hire us to organize and manage projects and participants; we have a syndicated blog network and a series on an NPR radio station. We’re really happy with developments at SciStarter.
BUT, most of these projects either invite people to share observations about the natural world or analyze big data. Very few offer people the opportunity to impart their local knowledge, values, insights, etc, directly to inform science policy.
Things are starting to change a bit thanks to the efforts of a LOT of people spanning many fields, motives, and generations.
Ten years ago, I started pushing to reopen the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which I thought had the most potential to bring together the public and scientists in shaping science policy. While interviewing experts to learn more about the rise and fall of the OTA, I found some soulmates-of-sorts and five years later our merry band of renegades officially organized.
Dr. Richard Sclove (left of me, pictured here with the cofounders of ECAST) wrote in Issues in Science and Technology, why it was high-time to formalize a mechanism to invite non-experts to both learn about and weigh in on the societal implications of emerging technologies and their related policies. Check out his essay:Reinventing_Tech_Assessment_-_Sclove_in_Issues_in_S&T_-_Fall_2010-1
Earlier that same year, Dr. Sclove, the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, Boston Museum of Science, Arizona State University, and I (as the Science Cheerleader and founder of what would become SciStarter), joined forces to launch the first-of-its-kind effort in the U.S. to realize this vision: ECAST, Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology. Read more on this, here. ECAST is taking the best of the defunct OTA and spicing things up by borrowing best practices from successful participatory technology assessment activities in the European Union.
Last year, ECAST worked with NASA to inform and then solicit input from people from all walks of life, to better understand what important questions were missing from science policy considerations. People involved in those deliberations sure had a lot to add to the conversations. I encourage you to read more about the effort and outcomes of Informing NASA’s Asteroid Initiative. You’ll see that space exploration-the future- is complex and absolutely needs your perspective. Thanks to forward-thinking Federal agencies, like NASA, NOAA and others with an authentic interest in soliciting informed input from YOU, ECAST is able to experiment with mechanisms to unite the public with policymakers and scientists.
Looking ahead, the SciStarter team wants to see more opportunities spanning a wider spectrum of engagement levels, like those we organize at ECAST. We want to help more people find and get involved in all of these opportunities. We want to help you keep track of your contributions and maybe even be rewarded for your efforts. Why not? Maybe you didn’t finish high school. Maybe you earned an advanced degree in business or the arts. You connected with science later in life (like me!). You had the courage to move from spectator to participant. Why shouldn’t your contributions be validated and rewarded with college credit or career advancements or a free cup of coffee from Starbucks? 🙂
These are the types of questions we will start to address thanks to support from the National Science Foundation. The NSF awarded a $300,000 Pathways grant to Arizona State University’s Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society (of which I am a proud Professor of Practice!) for the development of SciStarter 2.0. The grant will advance the growing field of citizen and community science and help us build the capacity to be able to start to test some theories while scaling up our ability to engage and support more citizen scientists.
So, now that government and the scientific community have stepped up to the plate to welcome you with open arms and now that SciStarter (and others!) have made it very easy for you to get involved, the question is, will you accept the invitation? Make 2016 the year you accept the challenge. Do a citizen science project. Go to a science festival or science cafe. Get involved in an ECAST project.
You’ve got 300 Science Cheerleaders (including me) rooting for you and ready to support you!
A new citizen science project invites volunteers to help study insect diversity in the Grand Canyon.
Every night when she’s on the water, Gibney Siemion, a river expedition guide in the Grand Canyon, crouches at the edge of the Colorado River right on the line where the sand turns from wet to dry. Her equipment is rudimentary: a jar of grain alcohol poured into a plastic Tupperware with a glowing bar of black light perched on its edge. But this is an effective insect trap. Siemion, and citizen scientists like her, are using these traps in a 240 mile experiment to understand how energy demand and dams on the Colorado River are washing away key insect species.
Public Lab announces RIFFLE, a new pilot program and open sensor tool to monitor water quality of Mystic River in Massachusetts.
By definition, a riffle is a “short, relatively shallow and coarse-bedded length of stream over which the stream flows at higher velocity and higher turbulence than it normally does in comparison to a pool.” Similarly, Public Lab is making waves in the DIY and hacker community when it comes to creating tools for environmental exploration and investigation.
Last weekend, I attended a Public Lab “toolshed raising” event in Somerville, MA, wherein local community members come to learn more about the organization, get a demo of their current tools, and work together on projects. There, the Public Lab team announced RIFFLE (Remote Independent Friendly Field-Logger Electronics) (support it here), a new pilot program and tool to monitor the water quality in Mystic River. I’m constantly impressed by the tools they develop (including a DIY spectrometry kit, balloon mapping kit, and modified infrared camera), which all follow the same credo: they are low cost, open source, and easy to build/maintain. At the event, Ben Gamari, one of the RIFFLE developers, expressed the core philosophy of making these tools accessible: “It has to just work.”
The Mystic River in Massachusetts flows from the Mystic Lakes in Winchester and Arlington, through Medford, Somerville (where I live!), Everett, Charlestown and Chelsea, and into Boston Harbor. Though it’s gorgeous to look at and take long runs next to, the Mystic faces serious water quality problems: pollution from leaky sewer pipes, waste disposal sites; excessive nutrients and discharges of raw sewage; fuel hydrocarbons; and road salt. Its Alewife Brook subwatershed is reportedly one of the most contaminated water bodies in Boston, failing to meet state bacteria standards for swimming and boating. Beyond that, the Mystic River watershed received a ‘D’ from the US EPA on its 2012 water quality report card.
Here’s the challenge. Although several organizations monitor the Mystic, the data are not widely available to the public, nor is current technology available or affordable enough for people to take part in the process.
The main focus of RIFFLE is developing open hardware alternatives–sensors that you can build at home and use to measure trends (and deviations from them) in temperature, conductivity, and water depth. Ideally, this will enable the local community near the Mystic to assess threats to water quality like industrial pollution, coliform bacteria, road salt, and agriculture runoff.
RIFFLE is still in its prototype phase, so some more testing and calibration are in its immediate future as well as a distribution strategy; some possible telemetry mods; even considerations to adapt it for STE(A)M–science, technology, engineering, art, and math.
In addition to the actual sensor, Public Lab is developing free, open-source software (accessible offline) for downloading the sensor data to a laptop, as well an open, online platform onto which citizen scientists can upload and share the water quality data that they collect. The plan is for the online platform itself to multitask as a field log, data repository, and community forum.
Imagine–if the water source that you lived by seemed dangerous, and if you and your neighbors had more awareness of the water quality trend in your backyard (whether figuratively or literally), you or they might take action, change your routines, petition for better water quality monitoring, or even move. Using RIFFLE to monitor water quality along the Mystic exemplifies how the citizen science community can rally together in reaction to a local concern. This DIY, crowdsourced approach benefits researchers, water resource managers, and citizen scientists alike.
If you’re in Massachusetts anywhere near the Mystic, get involved. If you’re not in the area, there are other ways to support the project, not mention many other opportunities to participate in water monitoring projects.
Let’s make waves–together.
Images: Public Lab (top), Lily Bui
Lily Bui is the Executive Editor of SciStarter and holds dual degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. She currently works in public media at WGBH-TV and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Boston, MA. Previously, she helped produce the radio show Re:sound for the Third Coast International Audio Festival, out of WBEZ Chicago. In past lives, she has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui.