The true potential of citizen science comes through in this article –  the power to change the world when combining “traditional” scientific methods with data generated through citizen science. This is a call to arm the farmers of Africa with a citizen science network that would help them learn about and maintain the health of soils. – LFF

 

To harness the potential of soil microbes Africa must move quickly. As soil degrades, so too does microbial life.

Understanding the microbial diversity of Africa’s soils is important for another reason as well. At least some portion of this diversity is indigenous to particular soils, crops and ecosystems developed over thousands of years of farming.

At a time when multinational corporations are investing to identify, develop and patent soil microbial uses and inventions, Africa needs to understand the value of microbes.

The commercial value of its diversity should be realised.

At the same time, many of the agronomic products developed are based on soil microbes. This will benefit farmers elsewhere who face similar challenges, whether arid soils or crop diseases.

Creative solutions

Africa’s soil crisis calls for quick and creative action. In addition to a citizen soil knowledge initiative, we need to use all the techniques already available to protect and restore soil, particularly through applying integrated soil fertility management.

This is the approach widely promoted by organisations such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

The alliance invests in agriculture as a way in which to help tackle poverty. It combines farming methods and materials available to farmers to improve soil health, whether manure, fertilisers or crop residue left in the field.

Promotion of integrated soil fertility management can go hand in hand with engaging farmers in citizen science networks. It will connect them to agricultural universities, research institutions and agricultural enterprises.

Featured image: Tens of millions of smallholder farmers across sub-Saharan Africa have a stake in improving the health of the soil their cattle graze on. (Photo credit: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic)

Source: How understanding microbes can help farmers manage Africa’s soil crisis.

If you enjoy turkey this Thanksgiving, take a moment to think not about the bird on your plate but rather the birds outside your home. With increasing urbanization taking away more natural habitat, local wildlife is having difficulty finding food. Bird feeders have become a popular way for homeowners to help local wildlife and contribute to conservation efforts. But are these feeders, borne of good intentions, actually helping or hurting wild birds? A recent study has enlisted the help of Canadian citizens to find out.

Feeding the Birds, Helping or Hurting?

Conventional environmental wisdom says that feeders in suburban or urban yards help wild birds find food and improve their reproductive success. Recent research has even recommended expanding bird feeder use from just the winter months, when finding food is especially tough, to year-round to help sustain these wild populations.

Feeders may seem helpful, but their benefits have never been scientifically tested against their list of potential dangers. Bird feeders attract predators, create a concentrated wildlife population that enhances the spread of disease, and bring birds dangerously close to collisions with our glass windows. With almost 50% of US households feeding birds, understanding this balance of benefits and dangers is necessary to protect ecosystems that are increasingly integrated with our neighborhoods.

Source: Citizen Science Informs Bird Feeder Dilemma

Abstract:

Citizen science is becoming more valuable as a potential source of environmental data. Involving citizens in data collection has the added educational benefits of increased scientific awareness and local ownership of environmental concerns. However, a common concern among domain experts is the presumed lower quality of data submitted by volunteers. In this paper, we explore data quality assurance practices in River Watch, a community-based monitoring program in the Red River basin. We investigate how the participants in River Watch understand and prioritize data quality concerns. We found that data quality in River Watch is primarily maintained through universal adherence to standard operating procedures, but there remain areas where technological intervention may help. We also found that rigorous data quality assurance practices appear to enhance rather than hinder the educational goals of the program. We draw implications for the design of quality assurance mechanisms for River Watch and other citizen science projects.

 

Source: Quality is a verb: the operationalization of data quality in a citizen science community

This week we are proud to be joined by guest blogger “Best in Latest”. With the recent popular interest in wearable technologies the potential for a dancing citizen science grows. So today she looks at many of these exciting possibilities for us.Wearables for Citizen Science – What Does it Mean to Us?

The rise in the demand for more portable assistive technologies means that wearable devices are currently in high demand, especially in the world of citizen science.

How can wearables change and revolutionize our industry?

Wearable devices have plenty of potential in citizen science. It will only be a matter of time before these technologies will develop and become a main component in the science and technology industries. How do you think wearables can shape the citizen science sector?

 

Source: Citizen Science You Can Wear

Besides describing some pretty cool science, this article touches on distributed computing as a mode of citizen science but also points to the difficulties of keeping a good citizen science project funded. –LFF

 

 

Milkyway@Home is in trouble. The citizen science-powered search for our galaxy’s dark matter lost all of its federal funding last year. It only survived thanks to support from its volunteer community – and personal sacrifice by its science team. But US funding for basic science hasn’t improved. Once more Milkyway@Home is calling for help.

Following up on my 2014 article “Milkyway@Home volunteers rescue the crowdsourced search for dark matter”, I interviewed principal investigator Dr. Heidi Newberg, graduate student Jake Weiss, and community moderator Pete Boulay about Milkyway@Home’s struggles and how public participation has kept this amazing project alive.

 

Source: Funding the search for dark matter with citizen science — Small Steps to Space.

 

Dr Geoffrey Belknap explores ways in which members of the public can produce knowledge and participate in research

The questions of how, by whom and where science was done in the Victorian period – the century which brought us ‘modern’ science – is never going to offer straightforward answers. Science, and scientific authority was produced and reproduced everywhere – the lab, the home, the field, and institutions big and small. It was recorded in notebooks, developed on photographic plates, and published in letters, books and newspapers. With a widespread culture of collecting, experimentation, and observation – mediated through sources such as the 19th century periodical – who counted as a scientist in the Victorian period was up for grabs.

These are the questions that historians working in the English departments here at Leicester and Oxford University – and partnered with the Natural History Museum, Royal College of Surgeons and Royal Society on the AHRC funded project Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries (ConSciCom) are trying to address. In order to think about who exactly could do Victorian science – and what the boundaries of their participation were – we are looking at the single most important site of production and reproduction of debate, observation and experimentation in the period: the scientific periodical.

 

Source: From Citizen Science to Citizen Humanities – 19th Century history in the digital age — University of Leicester

This interview is with Shah Selbe. Shah is a National Geographic Explorer and, with colleagues at Nat Geo and elsewhere, is helping to shape the fields of open ecology and open conservation. As he says, he’s an engineer developing technologies to help with our greatest conservation challenges.

In this interview, Adam Terlson and I interview Shah Selbe, a National Geographic Explorer.

Source: Episode #24 – Open Ecology and Conservation with Shah Selbe – The Open Knowledge Cast

Republished from the open access peer-reviewed journal PLOS One.

Abstract:

Volunteers are increasingly being recruited into citizen science projects to collect observations for scientific studies. An additional goal of these projects is to engage and educate these volunteers. Thus, there are few barriers to participation resulting in volunteer observers with varying ability to complete the project’s tasks. To improve the quality of a citizen science project’s outcomes it would be useful to account for inter-observer variation, and to assess the rarely tested presumption that participating in a citizen science projects results in volunteers becoming better observers. Here we present a method for indexing observer variability based on the data routinely submitted by observers participating in the citizen science project eBird, a broad-scale monitoring project in which observers collect and submit lists of the bird species observed while birding. Our method for indexing observer variability uses species accumulation curves, lines that describe how the total number of species reported increase with increasing time spent in collecting observations. We find that differences in species accumulation curves among observers equates to higher rates of species accumulation, particularly for harder-to-identify species, and reveals increased species accumulation rates with continued participation. We suggest that these properties of our analysis provide a measure of observer skill, and that the potential to derive post-hoc data-derived measurements of participant ability should be more widely explored by analysts of data from citizen science projects. We see the potential for inferential results from analyses of citizen science data to be improved by accounting for observer skill.

Introducing the VOLCROWE Project [Download the Infographic]

This is a reposting of a guest post on VOLCROWE to Crowdsourcing Week submitted by Dr. Eun Young Oh, a senior research associate at the University of Portsmouth Business School. –LFF  

VOLCROWE (Volunteer and Crowdsourcing Economics) is a research collaboration between the Universities of Portsmouth, Oxford, Manchester and Leeds, funded by the EPSRC and NEMODE Network+. The goal of the project is to understand better the behaviours and motivations of participants in online crowdsourcing projects while also investigating the effective management and organisation of crowds. Our research particularly focuses on the collection of sites forming part of the Zooniverse; a group of crowdsourcing projects where participants volunteer their time to help professional scientists in their analysis of big data sets. These datasets typically contain complex visual information that would be difficult or impossible to analyse using a computer algorithm, but for which the human eye is a surprisingly effective means of extracting key information. Using the information provided by citizen scientists, Zooniverse projects help research teams to address significant questions relating to the nature of the universe, modelling climate change, identifying patterns of wildlife migration and even developing treatments for cancer.

 

Source: Introducing the VOLCROWE Project

Abstract:

Citizen science provides researchers means to gather or analyse large datasets. At the same time, citizen science projects offer an opportunity for non-scientists to be part of and learn from the scientific process. In the Dutch iSPEX project, a large number of citizens turned their smartphones into actual measurement devices to measure aerosols. This study examined participants’ motivation and perceived learning impacts of this unique project. Most respondents joined iSPEX because they wanted to contribute to the scientific goals of the project or because they were interested in the project topics (health and environmental impact of aerosols). In terms of learning impact, respondents reported a gain in knowledge about citizen science and the topics of the project. However, many respondents had an incomplete understanding of the science behind the project, possibly caused by the complexity of the measurements.

Source: Citizen science on a smartphone: Participants’ motivations and learning