Excerpt: At a lab inside the 2,650-acre Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, bones are stacked on shelves, centuries-old clay smoking pipes are reassembled and imported shells once used to make buttons are stashed in a drawer.

Outside the lab Wednesday, a half-dozen citizen scientists worked in the sweltering heat to uncover more artifacts and information. They’re examining how humans interacted with the environment in the past, a task that could be used to address problems we face today, according to the center.

Source: Pacella, R., 2017. At Smithsonian archaeology lab, citizen scientists work to unearth environmental history. Capital Gazette, 18 July.

Editor’s Choice: This paper attempts to disentangle the complex relationship between the folks that are “paid” to run the Zooniverse and the unpaid volunteers who provide the classifications. At what point does it become the responsibility of the paid professionals to move from a simple transactional relationship with the volunteers to a more democratized relationship where the volunteers have more say in the production of the science they are contributing to? This is indeed a difficult question.  –LFF–

Abstract: This paper explores the relationship between paid labour and unpaid users within the Zooniverse, a crowdsourced citizen science platform. The platform brings together a crowd of users to categorise data for use in scientific projects. It was initially established by a small group of academics for a single astronomy project, but has now grown into a multi-project platform that has engaged over 1.3 million users so far. The growth has introduced different dynamics to the platform as it has incorporated a greater number of scientists, developers, links with organisations, and funding arrangements—each bringing additional pressures and complications. The relationships between paid/professional and unpaid/citizen labour have become increasingly complicated with the rapid expansion of the Zooniverse. The paper draws on empirical data from an ongoing research project that has access to both users and paid professionals on the platform. There is the potential through growing peer-to-peer capacity that the boundaries between professional and citizen scientists can become significantly blurred. The findings of the paper, therefore, address important questions about the combinations of paid and unpaid labour, the involvement of a crowd in citizen science, and the contradictions this entails for an online platform. These are considered specifically from the viewpoint of the users and, therefore, form a new contribution to the theoretical understanding of crowdsourcing in practice.

Zooniverse. People-powered research

Source: Woodcock, J., et al., 2017. Crowdsourcing Citizen Science: Exploring the Tensions between Paid Professionals and Users. Peer Production and Work, Issue 10.

Editor’s Choice: For everyone who thinks they are a practitioner of Citizen Science, this article is a must read as it drives home the need for clear data management practices with Citizen Science projects especially as we see the dramatic proliferation of CS projects. Will your data obtained from volunteers be maximally useful in potentially combining with other projects or over time? –LFF–

Abstract: Powered by advances of technology, today’s Citizen Science projects cover a wide range of thematic areas and are carried out from local to global levels. This wealth of activities creates an abundance of data, for example, in the forms of observations submitted by mobile phones; readings of low-cost sensors; or more general information about peoples’ activities. The management and possible sharing of this data has become a research topic in its own right. We conducted a survey in the summer of 2015 in order to collectively analyze the state of play in Citizen Science. This paper summarizes our main findings related to data access, standardization and data preservation. We provide examples of good practices in each of these areas and outline actions to address identified challenges.

Sketch of methodology. Source: Schade and Tsinaraki (2016a).

Source: Schade, S., et al., 2017. Scientific data from and for the citizen. First Monday Vol. 22 No. 8.

At your own risk

Abstract: In this article, the author proposes that the emergence of digital, disease-tracking applications over the past ten years like HealthMap (healthmap.org) and Flu Near You (flunearyou.org) that allow non-experts to contribute information about emergent public health threats have facilitated a “do-it-yourself (DIY)” risk assessment ethic. Focusing in particular on Flu Near You (FNY), a crowdsourced, flutracking program, the author argues that some participants use the mapping feature to curate their own risk information experience in determining the preventative behaviors they may want to engage in (if any) to prevent fl u. As outbreaks of infectious diseases increase (Smith et al., 2014), mHealth technologies like disease-tracking apps are evolving as an important risk assessment tool for both public health experts as well as non-expert, public audiences. Better understanding how non-experts use such information can inform not only the design of these apps but visual risk communication strategies more generally speaking.

Source: Welhausen, C.A., 2017. At Your Own Risk: User-Contributed Flu Maps, Participatory Surveillance, and an Emergent DIY Risk Assessment Ethic. Communication Design Quarterly, Vol 5:2, 51–61. DOI: 10.1145/3131201.3131206

Excerpt: The National Environmental Monitoring Conference (NEMC) is the largest conference in North America focused on environmental measurements. NEMC 2017, held August 7th to 11th in Washington, DC, featured a half day citizen science session moderated by Jay Benforado, USEPA Office of Research and Development, and Leon Vinci, Drexel University. The session began with five talks from citizen science researchers and practitioners, which inspired a larger discussion about the limitations and possibilities for expanding the impact and scope of citizen science for environmental monitoring. This blog post summarizes and reflects on this session.

Source: Bowser, A., 2017. Citizen Science and Environmental Monitoring: Reflections on NEMC 2017, 11 August, 2017. Available at https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/citizen-science-and-environmental-monitoring-reflections-nemc-2017 [Last accessed 4 September 2017].

Editor’s Choice: What helps people connect with science on a personal level? Insights into this question may emerge in a new, compelling project coming out of Alaska. The investigators of “Winterberry” have designed this interdisciplinary project to integrate different ways of knowing and meaning-making into more familiar forms of participatory data collection. Their motivation? Making their work matter to Alaskan communities. The uncertainty of future berry harvests is not only the subject of scientific investigation, but it will also be the theme of storytelling workshops. –AWA–

Excerpt: Across Alaska, berry harvests have begun in earnest—and, this year, so has a project in which Alaskans will help track their berry patches scientifically. The new National Science Foundation project, dubbed “Winterberry,” aims not only to engage Alaskans in research on berry resources but also to find ways to make the findings more valuable to communities.
“Berries are an important resource for so many of us,” said principal investigator Katie Spellman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks International Arctic Research Center. “This work is an attempt to empower participation in scientific research and make it more accessible and useful to Alaska and Arctic communities.”

Katie Spellman, who leads a new UAF effort to engage Alaskans in wild berry research, helps a student in Venetie cut rosehips during an earlier project. Credit: Katie Spellman

Source: Bauer, N., 2017. Berry research project seeks Alaskan volunteer citizen scientists, 17 August 2017. Available at https://phys.org/news/2017-08-berry-alaskan-volunteer-citizen-scientists.html [Last accessed 5 September 2017].

Excerpt: On Aug. 21, as the moon passes in front of the sun and casts a shadow across the United States, millions are expected to gaze at the totality. Meanwhile, a smaller crowd will be glued to 150 custom-made radio receivers set up across the country.

The project, called EclipseMob, is the largest experiment of its kind in history. By recording changes in the radio signal, these citizen scientists will collect data on the ionosphere — the region of the atmosphere where, miles above Earth’s surface, cosmic and solar radiation bumps electrons free from atoms and molecules. It plays a crucial role in some forms of long-distance communication: Like rocks skipped across a pond, radio waves can bounce along the top of the ionosphere to travel farther around the globe. But signals passing through the ionosphere sometimes behave in unpredictable ways, and scientists still have a lot of questions about its properties and behavior.

Source: Guarino, B., 2017. A massive atmospheric experiment is planned for August solar eclipse. The Washington Post, 12 July 2017.

Excerpt: In her introduction to the round table, Dr. Katrin Vohland, Director of the Research Programme “Public Engagement with Science” and Executive Chair of the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), reflected on the importance and challenges for CS in the current situation in Europe. Two opposing trends that can be observed: On one hand, science appears to be firmly established in European societies. More people than ever attend universities, newspapers have their own science sections, science festivals grow everywhere, and there is a boom in Citizen Science, do-it-yourself science, FabLabs and other forms of participatory knowledge creation and innovation. Scientific evidence plays an increasing role in political decisions, at least science-policy platforms that promote such aims multiply, e.g. the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

On the other hand, increasing scepticism towards science can be observed. While critical discussions, e.g. on the representation of different knowledge systems or access to the benefits of science and technology, and scrutiny regarding scientific integrity are much needed for healthy research systems. Caution is warranted when overly emotional rhetoric and populism gain ground, like when narratives of a post-truth or post-factual age take hold. Another observation is a coming

Source: Göbel, C., Agnello, G., Baïz, I., Berditchevskaia, A., Evers, L., García, D., Pritchard, H., Luna, S., Ramanauskaite, E. M., Serrano, F., Boheemen, P. v., Völker, T., Wyszomirski, P., Vohland, K., 2017. European Stakeholder Round Table on Citizen and DIY Science and Responsible Research and Innovation. Doing-it-Together Science Report. URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1563626

Excerpt: Students from St Thomas Primary School discovered the small jumping Lycidas Karschi spider during a Bug Blitz field day in September. Experts have now verified the spider’s identification. “They’re a tiny little jumping spider, about 5 millimetres long,” Bug Blitz program director John Caldow said.

“Children are catching things with nets and bringing them up to me all day and I’m madly photographing things, but it wasn’t until later on that we realised we had discovered something interesting.” Year 5 student Hannah Abdalla said it had been an exciting, hands-on way to learn about science. “We were searching in trees and on the ground and the only thing I found at first was a yellow ladybug, and I was thinking ‘Geez, I hope I find something else’,” she said.

Source: Lazzaro, K., 2017. Scientists verify spider discovered by young citizen scientists not seen before in Victoria. Australian Broadcasting Corporation News, 28 Jun 2017. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-29/rare-spider-discovered-by-young-citizen-scientists-verified/866250 [Last accessed 1 August 2017].

Excerpt: Old guys who hunt have been stepping up to help the Snapshot Wisconsin project, a booming citizen-based science initiative that’s using trail cameras to document what’s going on in our woodlands and other wild places when we’re not looking. Since its launch in spring 2016, Snapshot Wisconsin has worked with 604 citizen volunteers to set up 726 trail cameras in 18 counties around the state. According to the Department of Natural Resources, Snapshot Wisconsin has compiled nearly 12.18 million photos of birds, mammals, people and anything else triggering its cameras’ motion sensors.

Source: Durkin, P., 2017. Snapshot Wisconsin is citizen science success story. Green Bay Press Gazette, 13 July 2017.