Thanks to technological advances in sensing technologies our urban environment is equipped with tiny but powerful sensors that generate a vast amount of data. This data is being used by companies, governments, and research institutions to monitor, analyze, and optimize our everyday life. Following the OpenData movement, this data is often available for the broader public. Even though “open”, the data and more precisely the insights hidden in the data are not “accessible” for most citizens, due to the data’s level of abstraction and complexity.

We therefore need to make data accessible and understandable for the public. In an attempt of fostering enablement and participation, we want to provide visualizations of urban data. In order to increase the engagement factor, we don’t want to use standard visualization methods which detach data from its origin, but take the data back to the field, where it comes from. By using methods of “Location based visual analytics” we want to help citizens understand their urban environment. Understand how the urban metabolism works and thereby enable an informed discussion for a better future.

Source: Citizen Science & Urban Planning


Citizen science has a long history in the ecological sciences and has made substantial contributions to science, education, and society. Developments in information technology during the last few decades have created new opportunities for citizen science to engage ever larger audiences of volunteers to help address some of ecology’s most pressing issues, such as global environmental change. Using online tools, volunteers can find projects that match their interests and learn the skills and protocols required to develop questions, collect data, submit data, and help process and analyze data online. Citizen science has become increasingly important for its ability to engage large numbers of volunteers to generate observations at scales or resolutions unattainable by individual researchers. As a coupled natural and human approach, citizen science can also help researchers access local knowledge and implement conservation projects that might be impossible otherwise. In Japan, however, the value of citizen science to science and society is still under-appreciated. Here we present case studies of citizen science in Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom, and describe how citizen science is used to tackle key questions in ecology and conservation, including spatial and macro-ecology, management of threatened and invasive species, and monitoring of biodiversity. We also discuss the importance of data quality, volunteer recruitment, program evaluation, and the integration of science and human systems in citizen science projects. Finally, we outline some of the primary challenges facing citizen science and its future.

Source: Citizen science: a new approach to advance ecology, education, and conservation

This is what I love about citizen science. Because of its distributed nature, the sorts of questions that can be tackled are as varied as the multitude of ways in which humans commonly interact with the world around them. So it shouldn’t be surprising that we can use citizen science to gather data on the behavior of dogs – after all, they’ve been a part of our lives for millennia. — LFF


Family dogs and dog owners offer a potentially powerful way to conduct citizen science to answer questions about animal behavior that are difficult to answer with more conventional approaches. Here we evaluate the quality of the first data on dog cognition collected by citizen scientists using the website. We conducted analyses to understand if data generated by over 500 citizen scientists replicates internally and in comparison to previously published findings. Half of participants participated for free while the other half paid for access. The website provided each participant a temperament questionnaire and instructions on how to conduct a series of ten cognitive tests. Participation required internet access, a dog and some common household items. Participants could record their responses on any PC, tablet or smartphone from anywhere in the world and data were retained on servers. Results from citizen scientists and their dogs replicated a number of previously described phenomena from conventional lab-based research. There was little evidence that citizen scientists manipulated their results. To illustrate the potential uses of relatively large samples of citizen science data, we then used factor analysis to examine individual differences across the cognitive tasks. The data were best explained by multiple factors in support of the hypothesis that nonhumans, including dogs, can evolve multiple cognitive domains that vary independently. This analysis suggests that in the future, citizen scientists will generate useful datasets that test hypotheses and answer questions as a complement to conventional laboratory techniques used to study dog psychology.

Photo Credit: An Awesome Girl Wiki (CC-BY)

Source: Citizen Science as a New Tool in Dog Cognition Research


Nature’s best kept secret is a wonder molecule called RNA. It is central to the origin of life, evolution, and the cellular machinery that keeps us alive.

In this Lab you’ll play the role of a molecular engineer by solving RNA folding puzzles. Then take your skills to Eterna, where you can design RNAs that could be at the heart of future life-saving therapies.

Source: The NOVA RNA Lab

The Practical Farmers of Iowa have released their latest study on the effects of apple cider vinegar supplementation in feeder pigs.

Apple cider vinegar is held to being a health tonic that promotes beneficial gut bacteria, improves digestion of feedstuffs, enhances performance, and helps decrease parasite load. PFI cooperator, Tom Frantzen, supplemented three groups of pigs with apple cider vinegar and measured feed intake, average daily gain, feed efficiency and return over feed costs compared to pigs not supplemented.

Key findings

  • Pigs supplemented with apple cider vinegar were observed to have a sleeker coat, improved vitality and looked healthier than those not receiving apple cider vinegar.
  • Pigs supplemented with apple cider vinegar tended towards increased feed intake and average daily gains, higher carcass yields, better feed efficiency, and higher profits.

Source: Good example of citizen science


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

In 2011, the New York Public Library (NYPL) released 9,000 digitized restaurant menus with “delicious data” that had been “frozen as pixels,” making the menus difficult to search, index, and discover online. Along with the menus, the NYPL launched an interface that asked the public to help transcribe the thousands of menus and the hundreds of thousands of dishes. In only three months, the menus (and dishes) were fully transcribed.

The success of NYPL’s crowdsourced What’s on the Menu? demonstrates how enthusiastically public audiences respond to a well-defined project to which they can contribute through an expertly designed interface. While crowdsourcing has been used in the corporate world as a way to outsource tasks to nonemployees, it is increasingly being used in cultural and academic institutions for projects that seek to harness the energy and brainpower of the masses to complete specific tasks more quickly and inexpensively than would otherwise be possible.

Source: Crowdsourcing and Community Engagement | EDUCAUSE

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

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

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