Editor’s Choice: This paper underscores a very important point to keep in mind when designing a citizen science project: make sure you understand what motivates your target participants and how your project design feeds into this. This is particularly true when considering whether to “gameify” your project – some people are actually disincentivized by overt competition such as that displayed through a leaderboard. –LFF–

Abstract: Quantum Moves is a citizen science game that investigates the ability of humans to solve complex physics challenges that are intractable for computers. During the launch of Quantum Moves in April 2016 the game’s leaderboard function broke down resulting in a “no leaderboard” game experience for some players for a couple of days (though their scores were still displayed). The subsequent quick fix of an all-time Top 5 leaderboard, and the following long-term implementation of a personalized relative-position (infinite) leaderboard provided us with a unique opportunity to compare and investigate the effect of different leaderboard implementations on player performance in a points-driven citizen science game. All three conditions were live sequentially during the game’s initial influx of more than 150.000 players that stemmed from global press attention on Quantum Moves due the publication of a Nature paper about the use of Quantum Moves in solving a specific quantum physics problem. Thus, it has been possible to compare the three conditions and their influence on the performance (defined as a player’s quality of game play related to a high-score) of over 4500 new players. These 4500 odd players in our three leaderboard-conditions have a similar demographic background based upon the time-window over which the implementations occurred and controlled against Player ID tags. Our results placed Condition 1 experience over condition 3 and in some cases even over condition 2 which goes against the general assumption that leaderboards enhance gameplay and its subsequent overuse as a an oft-relied upon element that designers slap onto a game to enhance said appeal. Our study thus questions the use of leaderboards as general performance enhancers in gamification contexts and brings some empirical rigor to an often under-reported but overused phenomenon.

Source: Kock Pedersen, M., Ravn Rasmussen, N., Sherson, J.F., Vaid Basaiawmoit, R., 2017. Leaderboard Effects on Player Performance in a Citizen Science Game. arXiv:1707.03704

Excerpt: Thanks to a chance encounter in Baker, the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka will soon be the proud owner of a powerful microscope that will be used in a citizen project to study ancient insects and plants preserved in amber. Museum Director Sabre Moore ordered the microscope on Wednesday and expects to have it on-site in time for the museum’s flagship event—the Annual Dino Shindig on the last weekend of July. Moore bought the research tool after receiving a $4,300 check from the Red Ants Pants Foundation. The museum, the first county museum in Montana and the first to display dinosaur fossils, received the largest of the 13 grants the foundation awarded this year.

Source: Kemmick, E., 2017. Red Ants grant aids ‘citizen science’ in Carter County. 14 July 2017 on KTVQ.com. Available at: http://www.ktvq.com/story/35886442/red-ants-grant-aids-citizen-science-in-carter-county [Last accessed 31 July 2017].

Excerpt: By the time officials in Flint, Mich., declared a state of emergency in response dangerously high levels of lead in the city’s drinking water in mid-December of 2015, residents had been complaining to each other about discolored and foul-smelling drinking water for more than a year. That time lag, between residents identifying a potential hazard and government officials taking action, shocked Pooja Chandrashekar, A.B. ’18, a biomedical engineering concentrator at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “That was when we first conceived the idea of leveraging social media data, media reports, and Google trends data to come up with an environmental monitoring system,” she said. “We thought that, by using non-traditional data sources, we could get a better idea of what people are discussing online and what kinds of things are raising red flags for them.”

Source: Harvard University, 2017. Detecting dangers with crowdsourcing. Posted on phys.org, 18 July 2017. Available at: https://phys.org/news/2017-07-dangers-crowdsourcing.html. [Last accessed 31 July 2017].

Editor’s Choice: One of Citizen Science’s most iconic projects, the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, yields another excellent research result and a great lesson for all citizen science projects. By better understanding how certain species of flies impact monarch butterfly populations, researchers can better pinpoint which are human-based factors in monarch decline. — LFF —

Excerpt: Thanks to citizen volunteers, scientists now know more than ever about the flies that attack monarch butterfly caterpillars. Since 1999, volunteers participating in the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project have collected and raised more than 20,000 monarch eggs and caterpillars, and they’ve recorded incidents of those specimens being parasitized by fly larvae. They have also collected more than 1,100 specimens of those flies and sent them to entomologists at the University of Minnesota for identification. Findings from this long-running collaboration are published today in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

Source: Entomology Today, 2017. Citizen Science Delivers “Unprecedented View” of Monarch Butterfly Parasitoids. Posted 10 July 2017. Available at: https://entomologytoday.org/2017/07/10/citizen-science-delivers-unprecedented-view-of-monarch-butterfly-parasitoids/. [Last accessed 31 July 2017].

Gamification in citizen science systems combines play elements with scientific tasks. We posit that gamified elements are connected through “framings,” layers of meaning overlaid onto core tasks to shape an overall experience. Drawing upon self-determination theory, we propose a research model to investigate how users’ perceptions of framings contribute to motivational needs and contribution behavior. In a full study, we plan to conduct an online survey to validate our research model and elaborate upon the promise of gamification in information systems.

Source: Tang, Jian and Prestopnik, N., 2017. Effects of Framing on User Contribution: Story, Gameplay and Science. In America’s Conference on Information Systems 2017 Conference Proceedings

The benefit of engaging volunteers in marine citizen science projects goes beyond generation of data and has intrinsic value with regards to community capacity-building and education. Yet, despite the documented benefits of citizen science, there can be barriers to the process of developing strategic citizen science projects and translating data into valued results with natural resource management applications. This paper presents four case-studies from fifteen years of Reef Check Australia (RCA) marine citizen science research and education projects. These case studies convey approaches and lessons-learned from the process of designing, implementing and sharing citizen science programs with the goal to create valuable social and environmental outcomes:

  1. Demonstrating citizen science data quality through a precision study on data and analysis of 15 years of standardized Reef Check (RC) reef health data in Queensland, Australia.
  2. Identifying and responding to data gaps through volunteer monitoring of sub-tropical rocky reefs in South East Queensland, Australia.
  3. Adapting citizen science protocols to enhance capacity building, partnerships and strategic natural resource management applications through reef habitat mapping.
  4. Tailoring new pathways for sharing citizen science findings and engaging volunteers with the community via a Reef Check Australia Ambassadors community outreach program.

These case studies offer insights into considerations for developing targeted and flexible citizen science projects, showcasing the work of volunteers and project stakeholders, and collaborating with partners for applications beneficial to research, management and education.
doi: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00146

Source: Schläppy, M-L., Loder, J., Salmond, J., Lea, A., Dean, A.J., Roelfsema, C.M., 2017. Making Waves: Marine Citizen Science for Impact. Frontiers in Marine Science, 4:146. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00146

This article examines certain guiding tenets of science journalism in the era of big data by focusing on its engagement with citizen science. Having placed citizen science in historical context, it highlights early interventions intended to help establish the basis for an alternative epistemological ethos recognising the scientist as citizen and the citizen as scientist. Next, the article assesses further implications for science journalism by examining the challenges posed by big data in the realm of citizen science. Pertinent issues include potential risks associated with data quality, access dynamics, the difficulty investigating algorithms, and concerns about certain constraints impacting on transparency and accountability.

Source: Allan, S., Redden, J., 2017. Making citizen science newsworthy in the era of big data. Journal of Science Communication 16(02)(2017)C05.

As part of a national research program studying the sources, distribution, and effects of litter entering the ocean, we established a national citizen science program engaging nearly 7000 primary and secondary students, teachers and corporate participants in collecting marine debris data around Australia’s coastline. Citizen scientists undertook a one-day training program, which addressed data collection skills and academic topics in the national science curriculum. A subset of teachers and corporate sponsor staff participated in an intensive multi-day training program with researchers before venturing into the field.

Data collected by citizen scientists were compared with data collected by researchers at nearby locations. We found the citizen science data were of equivalent quality to those collected by researchers, but there were differences among students. Primary school students detected more debris than did older secondary students. Students detected small items (<1 cm^2), and were as accurate as researchers in identifying debris type and size categories. However, sampling approach was important — students detected more debris during quadrat searches than during strip transects. Comparing researcher effort to volunteer-collected data, citizen scientists were often more efficient (per m^2) than researchers at collecting marine debris, but the results varied among methods. Researchers made more surveys within a given day (0.8 surveys/person-day). However, participants of one day programs working with secondary students or adults were nearly as efficient (0.6 surveys/person-day). This study shows that engaging with citizen scientists can broaden the coverage and increase the sampling power of coastal litter and other ecological survey assessments without compromising the data. Source: Van der Velde, T., Milton, D.A., Lawson, T.J., Wilcox, C., Lansdell, M., Davis, G., Perkins, G., Hardesty, B.D., 2017. Comparison of marine debris data collected by researchers and citizen scientists: Is citizen science data worth the effort? Biological Conservation 208: 127–138. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2016.05.025

Phone-wielding and bare-armed, I follow Scott Edmunds and Mendel Wong to a small park in the Mid-Levels area of Hong Kong Island, where a dengue outbreak occurred last year. We hit the jackpot within five minutes – a swarm of mosquitoes around a tree. With his phone, Wong snaps a picture of one that lands on his arm, as well as the breeding site – a pile of discarded rubbish in the alley nearby. From the picture, we can clearly see the white lines on its legs, the distinctive characteristic of both the tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) and yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti). “You don’t necessarily have to let it feed on you. You just need a clear picture of the front of its head,” says Wong. He uploads the picture to Mosquito Alert, an app which taps into the power of citizen science by allowing people to report sightings of mosquitoes and their breeding sites.

Source: Cheung, R., 2017. Hong Kong citizen scientists localise mosquito tracking app to let people report sightings of the disease carriers. South China Morning Post, 30 May.

As citizen science methodologies mature and number of participants increases, it is becoming more possible to understand the role and necessity of experts in relation to data quality. This article is a great example of how expertise can be assessed and utilized. — LFF —


  1. Citizen science data are increasingly making valuable contributions to ecological studies. However, many citizen science surveys are also designed to encourage wide participation and therefore the participants have a range of natural history expertise, leading to variation and potentially bias in the data.
  2. We assessed a recently proposed measure of observer expertise, calculated based on the average numbers of species recorded by observers. We investigated if this observer expertise score is associated with how often an observer records any individual species. Species reporting rates increased monotonically with the observer’s expertise score for 197 of 200 species, suggesting that this expertise score describes inter-observer variation in the detectability of individual species.
  3. Expertise scores were incorporated into single-species occupancy models as a covariate, to explain inter-observer variation in detectability. Including expertise as a detectability covariate led to improved model fit and improved predictive performance on validation data. The expertise score had a large effect on the estimated detectability, comparable in magnitude to the effect of the duration of the observation period.
  4. Expertise scores were also included into single-species occupancy models that estimated seasonal patterns in species occupancy and seasonal expertise effects. The addition of a seasonal effect of expertise led to improved model fit and increased predictive performance on validation data. The seasonal expertise variables accounted for bias that may be introduced by seasonal differences in the effect of expertise, caused by changes in the environment or species behaviour.
  5. Measures of observer expertise included in models as a covariate can account for heterogeneity and bias introduced by variable expertise, although in this example the differences in estimated occupancy were small. This method of incorporating observer expertise can be used in any regression model of species occurrence, occupancy, abundance, or density to produce more reliable ecological inference and may be most important where citizen science schemes encourage wide participation. Overall, the results highlight the value of recording observer identity and other detectability covariates, to control for sources of bias associated with the observation process.

Figure 3 from article, Johnston et al., 2017

Source: Johnston, A., Fink, D., Hochachka, W.M., Kelling, S., 2017. Estimates of observer expertise improve species distributions from citizen science data. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.12838