Editor’s Choice: This is a rather provocative essay whose arguments are completely specious in many instances, and completely wrong in others, but has enough seeds of truth that it is worth pondering and acknowledging, and then considering much-needed rebuttals. –LFF–

Excerpt: The very label ‘citizen science’ (as opposed to, say, ‘amateur’ or ‘extramural’) carries the unsubtle suggestion that science should be a participatory democracy, not an unpalatable, autocratic regime. Proponents claim that it has all manner of salutary side-effects.

Every year young and old alike gather to observe a flurry of activity brought to lighted sheet under a night sky in the dunes. NPS Photo

Source: Mirowski, P., 2017. Is ‘grassroots’ citizen science a front for big business?, 20 November 2017. Available at Aeon: https://aeon.co/essays/is-grassroots-citizen-science-a-front-for-big-business [Last accessed 4 December 2017].

Editor’s Choice: What resonated for me with this article is the conclusion that embedding data collection activities within a virtual citizen science application not only supported improved data collection for marine science but also provided better opportunities for volunteers to engage in a larger community that contributed to social learning. –LFF–

Methods (excerpt): In this paper using Redmap as a case study (Box 1), we investigated in what ways marine virtual citizen science (VCS) is developing platforms for citizen participation in conservation management. To what extent are such programs making a tangible contribution to environmental management? We explore this question, via analysis of a survey about the VCS program Redmap against Reed’s best practice for stakeholder participation in environmental management (Reed, 2008).

Fig. 1. Participants in the Redmap Australia project pictured with the ‘out-of-range’ observations they logged online. Top: Tom Srodzinski with his first Yellowtail kingfish (Seriola lalandi) caught from the Tasman Peninsula, off Tasmania (photo credit: Jonah Yick), and bottom: a red emperor (Lutjanus sebae) caught off Green Head, Western Australia (photo credit: James Florisson).

Source: Nursey-Bray, M., Palmer, R., Pecl, G., 2017. Spot, log, map: Assessing a marine virtual citizen science program against Reed’s best practice for stakeholder participation in environmental management. Ocean Coastal Management, 151: 1-9. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2017.10.031

Abstract: Citizen science – the active participation of lay people in research – may yield crucial local knowledge and increase research capacity. Recently, there is growing interest to understand benefits for citizen scientists themselves. We studied the perceived impacts of participation in a public health citizen science project on citizen scientists in a disadvantaged neighbourhood in the Netherlands. Local citizen scientists, characterised by low income and low educational level – many of whom were of migrant origin – were trained to interview fellow residents about health-enhancing and health-damaging neighbourhood features. Experiences of these citizen scientists were collected through focus groups and interviews and analysed using a theoretical model of potential citizen science benefits. The results show that the citizen scientists perceived participation in the project as a positive experience. They acquired a broader understanding of health and its determinants and knowledge about healthy lifestyles, and took action to change their own health behaviour. They reported improved self confidence and social skills, and expanded their network across cultural boundaries. Health was perceived as a topic that helped people with different backgrounds to relate to one another. The project also induced joint action to improve the neighbourhood’s health. We conclude that citizen science benefits participants with low educational or literacy level. Moreover, it seems to be a promising approach that can help promote health in underprivileged communities by strengthening personal skills and social capital. However, embedding projects in broader health promotion strategies and long-term engagement of citizen scientists should be pursued to accomplish this.

Source: Broeder, L.D., et al., 2017. Public Health Citizen Science; Perceived Impacts on Citizen Scientists: A Case Study in a Low-Income Neighbourhood in the Netherlands. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, 2(1), p.7. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/cstp.89

Excerpt: Some 95% of the ocean is completely unexplored, unseen by human eyes. That naturally means that there are many marine environments that we don’t know much about, but that we’re still putting at risk from damaging activities such as bottom trawling. Meadows of seagrass – flowering plants that live in shallow, sheltered areas – are a prime example of such a habitat. Knowing the location and value of environments such as seagrass meadows, which are a nursery for fish, is key if we are to tackle our biodiversity crisis. With 70% of the Earth covered by ocean, exploring it all presents an enormous challenge. Thankfully, seagrass meadows are restricted to the shallow waters (less than 90 metres deep), but finding them still isn’t easy. From charismatic and endangered species like seahorse, turtle and dugong to important food fishes like cod and herring, seagrass meadows support rich biodiversity. Importantly, 22% of the world’s most landed fish species (including the Atlantic cod) use seagrass as a home at some stage in their life.

Source: Unsworth, R.K.F., Jones, B.L., Cullen-Unsworth, L., 2017. Why saving our blue planet may lie in the hands of citizen scientists, 23 November 2017. Available at The Conversation: http://theconversation.com/why-saving-our-blue-planet-may-lie-in-the-hands-of-citizen-scientists-74868 [Last accessed 4 December 2017].

Editor’s Choice: Peering into the pits of rotted stumps, poring over craggy tree bark, and most importantly, pausing. Patient and still, awaiting subtle movements that betray the presence of tiny, cryptic, eight-legged predators. A mantra in the nature museum field is “connect with nature,” an aspiration conjuring up images of vast landscapes or charismatic megafauna. In this story, we flip the size scale to consider the ubiquitous, understated, and ever-fascinating spider. — AWA —

Excerpt: When more than 3,000 entomologists descend on Denver at the end of next week, they’ll arrive in the territory of at least one army of bug collectors already on the ground—only a scant few of whom call themselves entomologists. They’re the amateur scientists and entomology enthusiasts that drive the Colorado Spider Survey, a citizen science program run by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS). With nearly 38,000 fully curated vials of arachnid specimens collected since 1999 (and more still to be processed), it is the largest spider collection in the state. Entomology Today spoke with Paula Cushing, Ph.D., curator of invertebrate zoology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS), to learn about how she built the program and about the ups and downs of running a volunteer-driven collection.

Citizen scientists who have contributed specimens to the Colorado Spider Survey have helped to fill gaps in knowledge about the distribution and diversity of arachnids in Colorado. (Photo credit: Denver Museum of Nature and Science)

Source: Entomology Today, 2017. The Biggest Collection of Spiders in Colorado is Built on Citizen Science, 24 October, 2017. Available at: https://entomologytoday.org/2017/10/24/the-biggest-collection-of-spiders-in-colorado-is-built-on-citizen-science/ [Last accessed 5 December 2017].

Excerpt: Sleepy sea otters piling onto pads of pickleweed in Elkhorn Slough are causing quite a stir. A partnership between local researchers and dedicated citizen scientists is researching Elkhorn Slough’s rebounding sea otter populations and the strange behavior that might have brought them there. The results of this years-long study, published in the journal Ecology, highlight the power of citizen science.

Source: Leman, J., 2017. Citizen scientists at Elkhorn Slough aid in sea otter research. Santa Cruz Sentinel, 28 October 2017.

Excerpt: FIU deployed more than 100 citizen scientists to investigate whether flooding from the most recent King Tide in October was bringing saltwater or freshwater inland to urban areas. The findings could provide critical clues as to why such unusual flooding is occurring in South Florida, what areas are most at-risk and whether the frequency of these floods could be increasing.

Source: Florida International University, 2017. Citizen scientists bolster sea level research on King Tide. 9 November 2017. Available at https://news.fiu.edu/2017/11/citizen-scientists-bolster-sea-level-research-on-king-tide/117065 [Last accessed 4 December 2017].

Abstract: Cities are under pressure to operate their services effectively and project costs of operations across various timeframes. In high-latitude and high-altitude urban centers, snow management is one of the larger unknowns and has both operational and budgetary limitations. Snowfall and snow depth observations within urban environments are important to plan snow clearing and prepare for the effects of spring runoff on cities’ drainage systems. In-house research functions are expensive, but one way to overcome that expense and still produce effective data is through citizen science. In this paper, we examine the potential to use citizen science for snowfall data collection in urban environments. A group of volunteers measured daily snowfall and snow depth at an urban site in Saskatoon (Canada) during two winters. Reliability was assessed with a statistical consistency analysis and a comparison with other data sets collected around Saskatoon. We found that citizen-science-derived data were more reliable and relevant for many urban management stakeholders. Feedback from the participants demonstrated reflexivity about social learning and a renewed sense of community built around generating reliable and useful data. We conclude that citizen science holds great potential to improve data provision for effective and sustainable city planning and greater social learning benefits overall.

Source: Appels, W.M., et al, 2017. DIY meteorology: Use of citizen science to monitor snow dynamics in a data-sparse city. Facets 2: 734–753. DOI: 10.1139/facets-2017-0030

Excerpt: Along the jagged coast of Maine, prehistoric shell middens mark spots where Maine Indians feasted on clams, shells and other seafood, then tossed aside the remains. “Midden,” to archaeologists, means the waste left behind by long-gone humans. In practice, though, these ancient garbage heaps contain a treasure trove of data that can shed light on Maine’s early environment and long-ago residents. But the 2,000 known middens in Maine are seriously threatened by pressures, including rising sea levels, beach erosion and real estate development. In order to protect the state’s cultural heritage despite those pressures, a University of Maine project is aiming to define the current extent of the middens and develop a network of citizen scientists to monitor and protect them now and in the years to come.

“The paleo information is priceless,” Alice Kelley, an associate research professor at the University of Maine Climate Change Institute, said. “The bones and the things that are there are basically our only record of what was living in the western Gulf of Maine from 4,000 years ago to the present.”

Source: Curtis, A., 2017. Citizen scientists may help save ancient Maine shell heaps. Bangor Daily News, 15 November 2017.

Abstract: A survey of 345 volunteer water monitoring programs in the United States was conducted to document their characteristics, and perceived level of support for data to inform natural resource management or policy decisions. The response rate of 86% provided information from 46 states. Programs represented a range of ages, budgets, objectives, scopes, and level of quality assurance, which influenced data uses and perceived support by sponsoring agency administrators and external decision makers. Most programs focused on rivers, streams, and lakes. Programs had not made substantial progress to develop EPA or state-approved quality assurance plans since 1998, with only 48% reporting such plans. Program coordinators reported feeling slightly more support for data to be used for management as compared to policy decisions. Programs with smaller budgets may be at particular risk of being perceived to lack credibility due to failure to develop quality assurance plans. Over half of programs identified as collaborative, in that volunteers assisted scientists in program design, data analysis and/or dissemination of results. Just under a third were contributory, in which volunteers primarily collected data in a scientist-defined program. Recommendations to improve perceived data credibility, and to augment limited budgets include developing quality assurance plans and gaining agency approval, and developing partnerships with other organizations conducting monitoring in the area to share resources and knowledge. Funding agencies should support development of quality assurance plans to help ensure data credibility. Service providers can aid in plan development by providing training to program staff over time to address high staff turnover rates.

Source: Stepenuck, K.F., and Genskow, K.D.. 2017. Characterizing the Breadth and Depth of Volunteer Water Monitoring Programs in the United States. Environmental Management (2017):1-12. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-017-0956-7