The prospect of newly-emerging, technology-enabled, unregulated citizen science health research poses a substantial challenge for traditional research ethics. Unquestionably, a significant amount of research ethics study is needed to prepare for the inevitable, widespread introduction of citizen science health research. Using the case study of mobile health research, this article provides an ethical, legal, and social implications research agenda for citizen science health research conducted outside conventional research institutions. The issues for detailed analysis include the role of IRBs, recruitment, inclusion and exclusion criteria, informed consent, confidentiality and security, vulnerable participants, incidental findings, and publication and data sharing.

Source: Citizen Science on Your Smartphone

I was on a call with Teresa Murphy-Skorzova, Community Growth Manager for OpenSignal, an app that uses crowd-sourcing to aggregate cell phone signals and WiFi strength data throughout the world. Teresa began to explain how OpenSignal maps signal strength and how this process contrasts the way cell phone networks map it. “We aren’t following a pre-determined route like they are; we measure the amount of time a user has coverage, not the …” The connection becomes fuzzy. “Can you repeat that?” I ask.

Teresa wonders if my latency connection (a metric used to measure mobile data connection quality) is poor. She explains that while cell phone networks like Verizon and AT&T measure the percent of the population that usually has coverage, OpenSignal is “measuring the experience of the user,” mapping signals from the devices themselves in real time. Individuals record their connection as they go about their day. The app recognizes that people and their cell phone devices are, well… mobile.

Source: How Fast is Your Carrier? Crowdsourcing Mobile Network Quality with OpenSignal

Recent infrared observations of a star that once showed a pattern of weird dimming have turned up no anomalous readings, astronomers say – and that supports the view that a comet blitz rather than the construction of an alien megastructure was behind the earlier observations.

The latest evidence, laid out in a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, isn’t exactly surprising. The passing of a shattered comet was seen as the leading orthodox explanation for the star KIC 8462852’s strange behavior.

But there was also the unorthodox explanation. The readings from the star, gathered by NASA’s Kepler space telescope and analyzed by a citizen-science project known as the Planet Hunters, created a stir because of a potential alien connection.

The starlight from KIC 8462852 dimmed dramatically – by as much as 22 percent – on an erratic schedule during the 2011-2013 time frame. Last month, Penn State astronomer Jason Wright said that pattern matched what might be expected if an advanced extraterrestrial civilization were to start building an enormous energy-harvesting structure around a star. Such structures, known as Dyson spheres, have been the subject of speculation for decades.

Source: Alien megastructure? Nothing to see around formerly weird star, scientists say

New research led by ecologists at the University of York shows that certain species of moths and butterflies are becoming more common, and others rarer, as species differ in how they respond to climate change.

Collaborating with the Natural Environment Research Council’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the charity Butterfly Conservation, the University of Reading and Rothamsted Research, scientists analysed how the abundance and distribution of 155 species of British butterflies and moths have changed since the 1970s.

Using data collected by thousands of volunteers through ‘citizen science’ schemes, responses to recent climate change were seen to vary greatly from species to species.

Source: Some like it hot: Moth and butterfly species respond differently to climate change

In honor of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference; the critical role that citizen science can play in understanding and mitigating the effects of climate change. – LFF 


Climate change is a very real problem facing our planet. The term “climate change” can cover a great many things, some natural and some man made, including global warming and loss of wildlife habitat. Each of these brings its own challenges but, increasingly, big data and analytics are being put to use to come up with new solutions and research methods.

Climate scientists have been gathering a great deal of data for a long time, but analytics technology’s catching up is comparatively recent. Now that cloud, distributed storage, and massive amounts of processing power are affordable for almost everyone, those data sets are being put to use. On top of that, the growing number of Internet of Things devices we are carrying around are adding to the amount of data we are collecting. And the rise of social media means more and more people are reporting environmental data and uploading photos and videos of their environment, which also can be analyzed for clues.

Perhaps one of the most ambitious projects that employ big data to study the environment is Microsoft’s Madingley, which is being developed with the intention of creating a simulation of all life on Earth. The project already provides a working simulation of the global carbon cycle, and it is hoped that, eventually, everything from deforestation to animal migration, pollution, and overfishing will be modeled in a real-time “virtual biosphere.” Just a few years ago, the idea of a simulation of the entire planet’s ecosphere would have seemed like ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky thinking. But today it’s something into which one of the world’s biggest companies is pouring serious money. Microsoft is doing this because it believes that analytical technology has finally caught up with the ability to collect and store data.

Featured image: A smart city showcase in China in May. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Source: How Big Data is Helping to Tackle Climate Change

We’re all used to citizen science projects that aim at education, or at producing scientific value, but the combination – especially involving groups of young children – remains incredibly difficult to pull off. The ‘Blackawton Bees’ study is a touchstone for much of my thinking, but hasn’t been replicated in the UK and required a huge investment of effort. Credit then, to the authors of the study cited in this piece who not only attempted something ambitious but also wrote clearly about both what did and what didn’t work. –CJL

Citizen scientists have helped researchers track everything from endangered plants to monarch butterfly eggs. But these amateur observers are usually adults. Could kids help out too?

In a study published in PLOS ONE, scientists tested the citizen science capabilities of 302 elementary school students in Germany. The children, enrolled at 10 schools in urban and rural areas, ranged from 8 to 10 years old. As part of their science curriculum, the kids carried out experiments with plant seeds in the spring and early summer of 2013.

Featured image: Elementary school students in Germany set up experiments with seeds as part of a study to test their citizen science capabilities. (Photo credit: Miczajka, V.L., A.-M. Klein, and G. Pufal. 2015. PLOS ONE doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143229.)

Source: Can kids do citizen science?

Forgotten trees from long lost orchards and 20th-century city landscaping are being rediscovered in urban areas, and their fruits are proving not only largely free of urban pollutants, but more nutritious than their retail counterparts.

Scientists at Wellesley College have joined forces with the League of Urban Canners (LUrC), based in Cambridge/Somerville and greater Boston area, to collect and eventually analyze 166 samples of apples, peaches, cherries and other urban fruits and herbs, collected from remnants of historical farms, urban parkland, and residential properties. The efforts grew out of concern for a LUrC member who was found to have high levels of lead in their blood. Members of LUrC wanted to make sure that the urban fruits they were harvesting and processing were not harboring toxic metals.

“This is a story with a good ending: not much lead in these urban harvested fruit,” said Dan Brabander, Wellesley geosciences and environmental studies professor who has previously studied lead exposure risk in urban gardens and in areas impacted by historical mining activities.

The LUrC study investigated the concentrations of lead in urban fruits when they were peeled and unpeeled as well as washed and unwashed. That was intended to distinguish whether the fruits were taking up lead internally or being contaminated by dry deposition from the air or from soil dust.

“We found there was no difference between these variables,” said Ciaran Gallagher, an undergraduate researcher, who will be presenting the research at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Baltimore. Gallagher will be co-presenting with geoscience undergraduates Hannah Oettgen and Disha Okhai.

Source: Researchers Analyze Health Benefits of Urban Fruit

The saga of house dust

The dust in our homes contains an average of 9,000 different species of microbes,
a study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder analysed the dust found in 1,200 households across the US.

They discovered that the types of bacteria and fungi varied depending on where the home was located, who lived there and whether pets were present. The research is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Dr Noah Fierer, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, who carried out the study, said: “This is really basic natural history we are investigating here. We have known for a long time that microbes live in our homes. What we are doing is now is old-fashioned science, to see how they vary across space.”

Source: The saga of house dust

This blog is a summary of a very dynamic workshop that took place at the end of the NZ Ecological Society Conference last week in Christchurch. Amazingly, around 30 scientists, students, academics, teachers, consultants and project coordinators summoned their remaining energy to discuss some key citizen science topics.

Earlier in the year, a call was put out by the organisers of NZES2015 (the annual NZ Ecological Society conference), for symposia and workshops. I thought it high time to capitalise on the gathering momentum of citizen science in New Zealand, and the initial 5 talks proposed rapidly grew to 9. Projects from NZ and Chile were presented, with Karen James and Caren Cooper beaming in from the US showcasing projects they are involved with.

The workshop was based around 4 interdependent questions that rose out of my PhD research:

  1. How can we ensure that community groups collect quality data?
  2. What can community-generated data be used for?
  3. How can community-generated data be integrated with agency data?
  4. What do we need to grow citizen science in NZ?

So when you put around 30 intelligent and inquiring people in a room after 4 long days at a conference… move them around 4 tables each facilitated by a dynamic leader (Jon Sullivan, Heidi Kikillus, Colin Meurk and Peter Handford) for some short, sharp discussions…. you get best practice for citizen science in New Zealand.

Source: Reflections on the citizen science workshop at #NZES2015

A new project called EyesOnHives has beekeepers buzzing. Developed by Santa Barbara–based Keltronix, Inc., the technology uses video to monitor hive activity in order to keep track of its health. A rapid decline in the insects’ population in recent years has concerned and at times baffled scientists and bee enthusiasts.

EyesOnHives trains a camera-like device on a beehive, collecting video, counting incoming and outgoing bees, and monitoring environmental data. The information is uploaded to a cloud-based analytics platform and analyzed by Keltronix’s software, allowing the beekeeper to monitor the hive’s activity. Owners can also check out the activity of others’ hives in order to piece together trends in bee activity and crowdsource diagnoses and solutions for colonies that begin to show signs of failure.

“Santa Barbara is a really bee-friendly city,” said Keltronix founder Kelton Temby, “and so we have local regulations here that really support the environment and support the bees.”

Source: Saving Bees with Surveillance