Abstract:

Citizen science and participatory sensing are two models of human computation in which participant privacy is a key concern. Technological safeguards are important but partial solutions; a full and accurate description of policies explaining privacy practices must also be present so volunteers can make informed decisions regarding participation. Our study surveyed the policies of 30 participatory research projects to establish how privacy-related policies were presented, and how they aligned with actual practices. This paper contributes a description of the privacy-related elements of policies evident in these projects. We found that while the majority of projects demonstrated some understanding of the need for policies, many hosted incomplete policies or inaccurately described their practices. We discuss the implications for project management, design, and research or operational policy, both for projects in citizen science and participatory sensing, and for the larger field of human computation. We conclude by proposing a set of Ethical Practices for Participatory Research Design as guidelines to inform the development of policies and the design of technologies supporting participatory research.

 

Source: Privacy in Participatory Research: Advancing Policy to support Human Computation | Bowser-Livermore | Human Computation

Let’s deal with the big question first. Has Planet Hunters discovered aliens?

The answer is no. But that doesn’t mean that all of the press who have written about us in the last 48 hours, sending a flood of volunteers to the site, are completely misguided. Let me backtrack…

A few weeks ago we submitted the ninth planet hunters paper to the journal, and that paper is now available on the arXiv service. Led by Tabetha Boyajian at Yale, it describes a rather unusual system (what the Atlantic called the most interesting star in the Galaxy), which was identified by Planet Hunters, four of whom (Daryll, Kian, Abe, Sam) are named on the paper*. They spotted a series of transits – which is normally what signifies the presence of a planet – but these were unusual.

Source: Comets or Aliens? | Planet Hunters

The journal Nature published today an editorial on citizen science, titled ‘Rise of the citizen scientist’. It is very good editorial that addresses, head-on, some of the concerns that are raised about citizen science, but it is also have a problematic ending.

On the positive side, the editorial recognises that citizen scientists can do more than just data collection. The writer also demonstrated an inclusive understanding of citizen science that encompass both online and offline forms of participation. It also include volunteered computing in the list (with the reference for SETI@Home) and not dismiss it as outside the scope of citizen science.

It then show that concerns about the ability of citizen scientists to produce high quality data are not supported by research findings and as Caren Cooper noted, there are many other examples across multiple fields. My own minor contribution to this literature is to demonstrate that this is true for OpenStreetMap mappers. It also recognises the important of one of the common data assurance methods – the reliance on instrument reading as a reason to trust the data.

Finally, it recognise the need to credit citizen scientists properly, and the need to deal with their personal details (and location) carefully. So far, so good. 

 

Source: ‘Nature’ Editorial on Citizen Science | Po Ve Sham – Muki Haklay’s personal blog

Public participation in scientific research has surged in popularity and prominence in recent years through the connections of the world wide web, an explosion of smartphone pocket computing power, and a slow cultural change within professional science toward a more open and welcoming research environment.

Today, the White House affirmed the potential for citizen science to engage the public directly in scientific discovery and the monitoring and management of our natural resources. In a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren mandated that all federal agencies build capacity for citizen science and crowdsourcing while facilitating cooperation across agencies and with outside organizations.

To help guide program managers in deciding if citizen science is right for their organizations and how best to design citizen science projects to meet their organization’s goals, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) has released a report today summarizing how “Investing in Citizen Science can improve natural resource management and environmental protection.” The report is number 19 in ESA’s series Issues in Ecology and is included as a resource in the Federal Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Toolkit, released this morning in conjunction with Holdren’s policy memo and a Citizen Science Forum webcast live from the White House.

Source: Citizen science in a nutshell: A guide to expanding the reach of environmental research

With its striking orange and black coloring and transcontinental range, the monarch butterfly is probably the most recognizable insect in North America.  All pollinators are important to maintaining our food supply, but monarchs also have a key role in education; for decades schoolchildren across North America have been raising and releasing monarchs as part of their science lessons.  Unfortunately, while monarchs were once one of the most commonly seen pollinators in gardens and fields, in the past decade there has been a precipitous drop in the monarch population.  Just last week the World Wildlife Fund, in conjunction with the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, released the latest monarch population estimate– a number that was the second lowest on record for the population.

The annual estimates of the monarch population are taken at the monarch’s overwintering site in central Mexico.  Most of the monarchs in North America live east of the Rocky Mountains, and each fall they migrate thousands of miles south to their overwintering location in Mexico, where they cluster together on oyamel fir trees.  In the spring those same monarchs fly north, where they produce new generations that spread throughout the United States and Canada.  Their vast summer range can make it difficult to get precise estimates of the population size, but in winter the monarchs are bunched tightly together, making population estimates more feasible.  Instead of counting individual monarchs, scientists record the amount of land that the overwintering monarch population covers.

This year, the monarchs covered 1.13 hectares; that’s a little more than two football fields’ worth of land.  That might sound like a staggeringly small size, but it’s actually a 69 percent increase over last year’s population, which was the smallest on record (see graph). This increase offers some hope to counterbalance the fact that the current population size is the second smallest on record, but there is still much concern about the monarch.  In fact, the US Fish & Wildlife Service is currently evaluating the monarch for listing as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

A listing would provide the monarch with legal protections, but a decision is not expected for at least a year, and in the meantime, there are many things that the public can do right now to help monarchs!

 

Source: Declining monarch population means increased need for citizen scientists

Abstract:

Citizen science projects can collect a wealth of scientific data, but that data is only helpful if it is actually used. While previous citizen science research has mostly focused on designing effective capture interfaces and incentive mechanisms, in this paper we explore the application of HCI methods to ensure that the data itself is useful. To provide a focus for this exploration we designed and implemented Creek Watch, an iPhone application and website that allow volunteers to report information about waterways in order to aid water management programs. Working with state and local officials and private groups involved in water monitoring, we conducted a series of contextual inquiries to uncover what data they wanted, what data they could immediately use, and how to most effectively deliver that data to them. We iteratively developed the Creek Watch application and website based on our findings and conducted evaluations of it with both contributors and consumers of water data, including scientists at the city water resources department. Our study reveals that the data collected is indeed useful for their existing practices and is already in use in water and trash management programs. Our results suggest the application of HCI methods to design the data for the end users is just as important as their use in designing the user interface.

 

Source: Creek watch: pairing usefulness and usability for successful citizen science

Reposting from the online peer-reviewed journal First Monday.

Abstract:

Citizen science has seen enormous growth in recent years, in part due to the influence of the Internet, and a corresponding growth in interest. However, the few stand-out examples that have received attention from media and researchers are not representative of the diversity of the field as a whole, and therefore may not be the best models for those seeking to study or start a citizen science project. In this work, we present the results of a survey of citizen science project leaders, identifying sub-groups of project types according to a variety of features related to project design and management, including funding sources, goals, participant activities, data quality processes, and social interaction. These combined features highlight the diversity of citizen science, providing an overview of the breadth of the phenomenon and laying a foundation for comparison between citizen science projects and to other online communities.

Source: Surveying the citizen science landscape | Wiggins | First Monday

Abstract

Online citizen science projects have the potential to engage thousands of participants with scientific research. A small number of projects such as Foldit use an online computer game format. Motivation to participate in Foldit was investigated in a group of 37 players using an online survey, semistructured interviews, and participant observation. Results suggest that contributing to scientific research and an interest in science were among the most important motivations for participation. Interaction with others within the community of participants and the intellectual challenge of the game were also key for the continuing involvement of this group of regular contributors.

 

Source: Motivation to Participate in an Online Citizen Science Game

In my last blog post, I introduced Matthew Maury, an American naval officer who began a citizen science project in the mid-1800s that transformed seafaring and drew society closer to science. Now let’s meet his British counterpart, William Whewell, an elite scholar who engaged the public to understand the tides, but in so doing helped to solidify the distinction between amateur and professional scientists.

Whewell pursued an exemplary career at Trinity College, Cambridge. Whewell began as a student at Trinity College in 1812, served in two professorships, first mineralogy and then philosophy, and finally rose to the top as Master at Trinity College from 1841 until his death in 1866. Although Whewell’s colleagues embraced the emerging trend of specializing in particular disciplines, Whewell remained a polymath with expertise in many subjects, including geology, astronomy, economics, theology, law, and the philosophy of science.

Where Maury mapped the oceans, Whewell mapped the coasts, where unpredictable tidal cycles caused shipwrecks and made coastal navigation dangerous. Tides are puzzling: as late as 1953, an “unexpected” high tide on the Thames drowned 300 people. Great thinkers have investigated the mystery of tides throughout history, and the influence of the moon was suspected as far back as Galileo. Advances in tide research were not stymied by a lack of great and curious minds, but by a lack of data – and Whewell figured out how to get it. Whewell took a citizen science approach to tidal research with a project known as the “great tide experiment.”

With the consent of the British Admiralty, Whewell coordinated thousands of people in nine nations and colonies on both sides of the Atlantic in the synchronized measurement of tides. At over 650 tidal stations, volunteers followed Whewell’s instructions for measuring tides every 15 minutes, around the clock, during the same two week period in June 1835. Volunteers in the “great tide experiment” included dockyard officials, sailors, harbormasters, local tide table markers, coastal surveyors, professional military men, and amateur observers. Many participants did more than measure the tides; they also tabulated, graphed, and charted the data. Whewell brought it all together into maps illustrating how the tides progressed across the Atlantic Ocean and onto shores, inlets, ports, and into rivers and estuaries. In 1837, the oldest learned society of science, the Royal Society, awarded Whewell a Royal Medal for his work on tides. The Royal Medal is one of their highest honors, and one they later bestowed on Charles Darwin.

Whewell was very different from the navy-man Maury in two important ways: writing style and academic tradition. First, Maury’s writing appealed to popular audiences; Whewell’s appealed to academics. Maury’s style was accessible, sometimes poetic , and sometimes he wrote humorous and candid political critiques using the pen name Harry Bluff. Whewell, on the other hand, fathered scientific jargon. He coined many terms, including one for his own niche in physical astronomy, tidology (it never caught on). Whewell was the go-to person when other scholars needed to describe a new concept or discovery, inventing words like ion, anode, and cathode. As early as 1833, Whewell coined the term scientist: before it caught on, such an individual was called “man of science” or “natural philosopher” and they were more likely pursuing science in their leisure, not as a profession.

The second important difference was academic tradition. Both men carried out research by quite similar citizen science methods in the mid-1800s, but they were part of very different intellectual traditions. As a professor at a college founded in 1546, Whewell was part of an academic hierarchy established long ago. Maury was a military man who later taught physics at an institution (Virginia Military Institute) barely more than a decade old. Whewell was in the prestigious Royal Society, mentioned above, which was founded in 1660; Maury was a key figure presenting at the founding meeting, in 1848, of the US counterpart, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, or AAAS.

These two differences between Maury and Whewell translate into their differing views of the relationship between science and society. Both men produced results of practical and theoretical importance, but Maury popularized science and engaged the common person in applied research, whereas Whewell involved people in supporting the work of the professional elite. In two highly regarded books on the philosophy of science, Whewell defined the social and intellectual roles of scientists. Whewell emphasized that a scientist did not only make and assemble observations, but also synthesized concepts and developed theories to explain the patterns of observations. In erudite arguments with John Stuart Mill about inductive reasoning, Whewell viewed observations as pearls, and induction as the rational mental processes by which minds can string the pearls together to form a necklace. In the context of Whewell’s citizen science project, thousands gathered the pearls (he referred to the thousands of collaborators as his “subordinate labourers”), and he, the scientist, assembled the necklace. His choice of the words “subordinate labourers” illustrates the class systems which structured his thinking.

Whewell’s books established a social hierarchy to science, distinguishing the hobbyist or part-time devotee from the professionals and specialists. He placed elite theorists on the top of the hierarchy. Below were those paid to help construct tide tables and make sophisticated mathematical calculations. His “subordinate labourers” were not part of the hierarchy of professional science. Today, many think of public participation in science as a way to democratize science, or at least better integrate science into society. At first it may seem ironic that Whewell – one of the first to engage a broad swath of the public in a formal, highly structured research project – led the charge to professionalize science and separate the scientist from society.

Yet, sometimes we can only define something by its antithesis. As Mark Twain pondered, “What is joy without sorrow? What is success without failure? What is a win without a loss? What is health without illness? You have to experience each if you are to appreciate the other.” Before “scientist” became a clearly defined career, discovery was commonly a collective effort by those with leisure time. Early collaborations between science and society often took the form of well-to-do natural history collectors donating specimens to museums. I view the great contributions of volunteers among the upper-crust as more representative of how science, not citizen science, was accomplished at that time. By distinguishing the profession from the leisure, Whewell defined both. Now we can’t have citizen science – defined as the public engaged in professional research – without professional research.

The continental-scale citizen science projects carried about by Maury and Whewell are a nice reminder of what was possible before our age of the Internet and mobile communications. Maury and Whewell were able to compile enormous amounts of data they received in handwritten logs carried in burlap sacks on sailing ships and notes delivered by stagecoaches. They didn’t have GPS, but they created useful maps. Nowadays it is hard to plan a simple lunch date without using a phone or email, but people used to communicate, coordinate, and plan complex events without the help of these technologies. Even before Maury and Whewell, the synchronized, worldwide observations of the 1779 transit of Venus allowed the calculation of the distance to the Sun and the size of the solar system. Fact is that the lack of speedy communication technologies did not prevent global collaboration, crowdsourcing of data, or the coordination of large-scale data collection by volunteers.

Discovery has always been possible through collaborations among curious people working in other careers across all segments of society. The most important way that advances in science and technology have fostered citizen science often goes unnoticed: thanks to science we have more leisure time than people in the 1800s. Society and scientists are reviving a fashion from a time when scientific endeavors were highly integrated into society; a time when hobbies were damn serious, meaningful, and sophisticated commitments. I think we in the citizen science field are stylish hipsters carrying out science the original way: the way that leads to big discovery and big societal change. Speed is not essential, but it is a beautiful fashion accessory: it brings unique prospects (many of which I will cover in future blog posts). We are not the first generation to understand that to answer the big questions, you have to coordinate big networks of people around the globe. Will the current technology-driven explosion of this retro science fashion bring back that time when discovery was fair game for anybody?

Victorian-Era Citizen Science: Reports of Its Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated – Guest Blog – Scientific American Blog Network.

Source: Victorian-Era Citizen Science: Reports of Its Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated – Guest Blog – Scientific American Blog Network

 Abstract:

A growing amount of scientific research is done in an open collaborative fashion, in projects sometimes referred to as “crowd science”, “citizen science”, or “networked science”. This paper seeks to gain a more systematic understanding of crowd science and to provide scholars with a conceptual framework and an agenda for future research. First, we briefly present three case examples that span different fields of science and illustrate the heterogeneity concerning what crowd science projects do and how they are organized. Second, we identify two fundamental elements that characterize crowd science projects – open participation and open sharing of intermediate inputs – and distinguish crowd science from other knowledge production regimes such as innovation contests or traditional “Mertonian” science. Third, we explore potential knowledge-related and motivational benefits that crowd science offers over alternative organizational modes, and potential challenges it is likely to face. Drawing on prior research on the organization of problem solving, we also consider for what kinds of tasks particular benefits or challenges are likely to be most pronounced. We conclude by outlining an agenda for future research and by discussing implications for funding agencies and policy makers.

 

Source: Crowd science: The organization of scientific research in open collaborative projects