The arrival of ‘ash dieback’ in 2012, a fatal disease that aggressively infects trees, in the UK was big news, and generated a range of citizen science responses. This thoughtful article, from Judith Tsouvalis at the University of Nottingham, looks at the sometimes awkward relationship of such programs with language used by those concentrating on issues of biosecurity. As citizen science programs work more closely with state agencies, these kind of considerations will continue to crop up. — CJL.

Protecting tree and plant health remains a concern firmly embedded in the science-based, technocratic discourse of ‘biosecurity’ with its emphasis on regulation, surveillance, and control. Here, Judith Tsouvalis argues that this makes it difficult to have a broader debate on the deeper, more complex causes of the steep rise in tree and plant disease epidemics worldwide.

Much has changed since the trade-related arrival of ash dieback (Chalara) at a nursery in Buckinghamshire in February 2012. On the negative side, 652 sites across England, Scotland and Wales are now known to contain trees infected with the potentially fatal disease. It is also accepted that the spread of the disease cannot be stopped. There is hope for treatments, but they are currently still in the development phase and their wider ecological implications are unknown. Assuming therefore that ash dieback will run its course and take its toll, the estimate that the UK will lose at least fifty species identified as solely relying on the ash for their survival is tragic. On the positive side, Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, as the pathogenic fungus from East Asia that causes Chalara is now called, has spurred science and policy in the area of tree and plant health into action.

Source: How social and citizen science help challenge the limits of the biosecurity approach: the case of ash dieback.

Crowdsourcing. We talk about it. We educate people how to use it. But it is also an overused and underappreciated word, according to Forbes. Its influence is now spawning to government affairs thanks to the Internet. In 2013, President Obama called out to the federal agencies to use Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing to tap the wisdom of the crowds—the citizens—to help solve scientific and societal problems.

In November 2014, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) started developing the crowdsourcing Toolkit to get things done using a “human-centered design workshop.” This is just of the many stories and initiatives where the government is proactive in harnessing collective wisdom and emerging technologies.

But how can governments use crowdsourcing and citizen science for effective citizen empowerment? The former is the practice of engaging a crowd or group for a common goal, while the latter, (according to the White House), is “a form of open collaboration in which members of the public participate in the scientific process, including identifying research questions, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, and solving problems.”

Source: How Governments Apply Crowdsourcing To Spark Citizen Empowerment


Smorball tackles a major challenge for digital libraries: poor output from Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software significantly hampers full-text searching of digitized material. When first scanned, the pages of digitized books and journals are merely image files, making the pages unsearchable and virtually unusable. While OCR converts page images to searchable, machine encoded text, historic literature is difficult for OCR to accurately render because of its tendency to have varying fonts, typesetting and layouts.

This educational game enables citizen scientists to engage in “purposeful gaming” by playing Smorball, which asks players to correctly type the words they see on the screen—punctuation and all. Smorball presents players with phrases from scanned pages from cultural heritage institutions. After much verification, the words players type are sent to the libraries that store the corresponding pages, allowing those pages to be searched and data mined and ultimately making historic literature more usable for institutions, scholars, educators and the public.

Source: Smorball

Jellyfish abundance can inform what is happening in the oceans on a larger scale, and researchers are asking citizen scientists to post jellyfish observations on a special website.

“Citizen science … is valuable because it is multiplied with such large numbers. To tap into that pool of has huge advantages,” said Steven Haddock, a researcher at the University of California at Santa Cruz who studies marine bioluminescence, zooplankton and deep-sea jellyfish.

Haddock wants to test hypotheses that contend a warmer climate has boosted jellyfish blooms. There is a misconception that jellyfish thrive in warmer waters, but any seagoing Alaskan knows that’s not necessarily the case.

Source: Healthy groundfish in Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska give trawlers a boost

Researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Waikato are seeking the assistance of everyday “citizen scientists” to help complete a huge new WWI history project called Measuring the ANZACs (

The researchers would like to see citizen scientists of all ages participate so that they can release the records of men who served in France before a September 2016 commemoration of the War in France that is to be held in Wellington.

Measuring the ANZACs will create a complete database of all New Zealanders who served in World War I to support research by family historians, students at all ages, and scholars. Many New Zealanders know of ancestors who served in World War I but not much about what they did. With the upcoming centenary of major Western Front battles in 2016 now is the time many New Zealanders will be discovering the stories of World War I soldiers. Measuring the ANZACs community transcription of the records will open up New Zealand soldiers’ stories to new and larger audiences.

Measuring the ANZACs is also supporting scientific research. The creation of the large database about 140,000 New Zealand soldiers is part of an international research project about health and mortality in New Zealand. Researchers on the project use the military records to study how Māori and Pākehā health differed in the past, how childhood diseases affected men’s health in later life, and how the war affected the health of survivors.

Source: Massive WWI history project seeks volunteers before September deadline

If you’ve lived in a city, you’ve probably encountered something like New York City’s Tenth Avenue after a rainstorm: a place that was so windy, the ground is littered with broken umbrellas. Why don’t we use that impressive windpower? The answer lies partially in technology–the turbines able to take shifting, multidirectional urban winds were only developed recently–but largely in knowledge. We just don’t have the scientific data to back up where wind turbines could be feasible.

Enter Breezefinder, a citizen science tool to help you find opportunities for wind energy. In this first iteration, I have packed all the sensors and goodies you need to power a windspeed-sensing anemometer and send your data to Twitter into a neat laser-cut box.

Source: Breezefinder: Citizen Science Windpower Tool

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