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


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


shark on Kronos Reef, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge; photo by Wyland

After the blockbuster movie Jaws, two silly things happened: kids started calling me Hooper (instead of Cooper) and I was afraid even in the deep end of a swimming pool. Logic can battle fear, but not necessarily win. Even though there are hundreds of species of sharks, and about 20 types that ever harm people, a fin in the water elicits screams. People should be cautious and smart when in waters with Great White sharks, just as they should be when hiking in areas with Grizzly bears or Mountain lions. Just as they should be cautious when driving, when choosing foods, and going down stairways. There are hazards everywhere.

But we shouldn’t let fear, or the aesthetics of beauty determine conservation priorities. People tend to be sympathetic to a relatively few “poster species” for conservation even though most species in need of conservation actions are not generally considered cute, cuddly, or obviously useful.  Even though many species of sharks are near extinction, I realize that my own conservation orientation is dampened by fear, despite knowing that people are at far greater risk of death from lightning than sharks. On top of that, sharks are the ones with more reason to be afraid because people kill tens of millions of sharks annually.

For me, only fascination can lessen my fear and spark my conservation concern. As  Irish poet James Stephens put it, “Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.”

Fortunately, sharks are fascinating. Sharks have a sixth sense, electroreception, through an organ called the ampullae of Lorenzini. They also have what could be called a seventh sense: their lateral line organ acts like an internal barometer so they can sense tiny changes in pressure from passing objects. With eyes on the sides of their heads, sharks have nearly panoramic views, with blind spots only in front of their snout and directly behind their head. Plus, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The dwarf shark is only about 4 inches long, which makes it cute. Some sharks give birth to live offspring, called pups, which, again, seems pretty cute. Other species lay egg cases with the nickname mermaid’s purses: adorable. Some sharks are social, and forms schools and migrate together. Almost 50 species of sharks have photospheres, which are light-emitting organs.

There are over 1,000 species of elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and rays) and 24% of are on IUCN red list, meaning they are threatened by extinction. One major challenge to shark conservation is the fear factor that limits public concern. Their biology challenges to their conservation too: they have naturally low population densities and their large home ranges often span the coasts of multiple countries. Another challenge is that, for almost half the species, there is not enough information to assess their extinction risk. The data gap on so many species across the world has been a call to citizen science. Now there are projects that draw on recreational divers, dive guides, photographers, beach goers, and more.

whale shark 2014 by Nicholas Lindell Reynolds

For example, divers and guides monitor shark numbers in Sharkscount. Divers photograph whale sharks in Philippines as part of the Large Marine Vertebrates Project. From photos of whale sharks, researchers can use pattern recognition software (originally developed by NASA) to identify individuals based on their unique spots and stripes. Whale shark photos aggregated in Wild Book for Whale Sharks allow researchers to estimate their abundance. Recreational divers help Redmap in Western Australia to map the abundance and distribution of sharks.

Other citizen scientists stroll the beaches and search for mermaid’s purses. The locations where these egg cases wash up on shore can help identify potential nurseries and assess shark abundance and distribution. For example, in the UK and Italy, citizen scientists find egg cases of Smallspotted Catsharks and Nursehounds.

egg case of a lesser spotted dogfish by Tom Oates 2009

Irrespective of whether you feel a connection with sharks based on fear or fascination, we need to recognize that they are part of healthy ocean ecosystems.

If you like sharks or if you suffer from galeophobia (an excessive fear of sharks), join us for the next #CitSciChat, a Twitter discussion about citizen science. This week, which is Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, we’ll talk about citizen science with sharks. What people do, why they do it, and why this means YOU!

The #CitSciChat will be Wednesday 8 July 2pm EDT, 7pm BST, 8pm SAST, which corresponds to Thursday 9 July 6am NZST.

Sharks live around the world and so do our guest panelists:

Rebecca Jarvis (@Rebecca_Jarvis) a graduate student in New Zealand.

Katie Gledhill (@KatGledhill) with the South African Shark Conservancy and Earthwatch shark project.

David Shiffman (@WhySharks Matter) a graduate student at University of Miami’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy

Jake Leveson (@SCBMarine & @jacoblevenson), a marine biologist at the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and  Education Officer with the Marine section of the Society of Conservation Biology.

Jason Osborne (@paleoexplorer), President and Cofounder of Paleo Quest (@paleoquest), and Cofounder of SharkFinder citizen science (@shark_citsci)

Catalina Pimiento (@pimientoc), a PhD candidate in the U of Florida (defending this Friday!). Her research investigates the ecology of sharks in deep time. Next month she begins a post doc fellowship at the Paläontologisches Institut und Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.

About Caren Cooper

Caren is the assistant director of the Biodiversity Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. She is an avian ecologist and relies on citizen science to help communities use birds as indicators of environmental health. She hosts monthly chat sessions about citizen science on Twitter. Follow her at @CoopSciScoop


Coop’s Scoop: Shark citizen science, on the next #CitSciChat – CitizenSci.

Source: Coop’s Scoop: Shark citizen science, on the next #CitSciChat – CitizenSci

Welcome to the First Edition of Citizen Science Today!

By Chris Lintott and Lucy Fortson

We’re delighted to announce the launch of Citizen Science Today as the latest PressForward publication, presented by the Zooniverse and our friends from the growing community of researchers and practitioners of citizen science.

Citizen science – the involvement of non-professionals in the research process – has been part of research for centuries, and fields ranging from paleontology to meteorology got their start through the efforts of volunteers. In recent years, the vast increase in the volume and variety of data, as well as the velocity with which it arrives, has led to a revival.

Citizen scientists now discover planets, map the human brain and explore their local environments. Yet the literature describing these efforts is widely distributed between fields, encompassing computer science and human computation, psychology, economics, information science, museum studies, domain sciences such as astrophysics, and on and on… and then there’s all the non-peer-reviewed work.

Citizen Science Today is thus born out of the need to aggregate important peer reviewed content together with blog posts, evaluation summaries, reports on methods and protocols, and technical reports as well as policy and ethics statements.

For lead editors Chris Lintott and Lucy Fortson, the process of engaging with citizen science includes continually discovering papers and posts they should have read. As the citizen science research and practioner community is growing, especially as shown through the emergence of the Citizen Science Association in the US, and the European Citizen Science Association, we expect that many of you may be in the same boat. And thanks to the Press Forward plugin, we now have the opportunity to aggregate material on citizen science from across the Internet. With an editorial team encompassing experts from all corners of the academy and beyond, Citizen Science Today takes a crowdsourcing approach for finding and sharing information, aggregating online resources curated by editors to highlight good writing and clear-sighted scholarship related to citizen science. We hope Citizen Science Today will be the solution – a one-stop shop – for anyone interested in perusing the latest goings-on in the wide ranging field of public participation in research. Look for new content every first Tuesday of the month!

We thank the Sloan Foundation and the team at RRCHNM, including Stephanie Westcott and Mandy Regan, for their help in enabling Citizen Science Today to become a Press Forward pilot publication. Our Managing Editor is Juliana Vievering at the University of Minnesota. We also thank Justin Schell and Laureen Boutang of the University of Minnesota Libraries and Adam McMaster of the Oxford University Zooniverse team for their assistance in managing the push towards our first edition.

How To Know When to Mow

We know that grassland habitats are important for the birds we love to watch throughout the summer. Bluebirds and swallows in particular prefer the view from their nest box or tree cavity to be an open, grassy expanse complete with wildflowers and insects. And in order to maintain this picturesque “early-successional” habitat for our avian friends, mowing becomes a necessity. To become better habitat stewards, we need to take a closer look at this complex web of life.

How to Know When to Mow

Grassland Gallery

White lipped tree frog (by Felanox/Wikipedia,/CC BY-SA 3.0)

White lipped tree frog (by Felanox/Wikipedia,/CC BY-SA 3.0)

This is an except of a story that ran in the February 2015 issue of Association of Zoos and Aquariums monthly magazine, Connect.

Looking for amphibious citizen science projects? Look no further! SciStarter has some lined up for you right here.

By Cathie Gandel

At dusk, Carolyn Rinaldi and her 14-year-old daughter sit silently on the shores of the lake at Wadsworth Falls State Park in Middletown, Conn. Then their ears go into overdrive. For three minutes they count the different grunts, gribbets, croaks and peeps emanating from frogs and toads resident in the wetlands.

They are just two of the volunteers that took part in FrogWatch USA during 2014, a citizen science program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The name is somewhat of a misnomer. The program could be called FrogListen.  Volunteers identify frogs by listening to their mating calls and indicating whether each was heard individually, in a group or in a full chorus.

AZA took over management of the program in 2009 and began to establish a network of chapters throughout the country. Chapter coordinators bring creativity to the program, as well as train volunteers in the necessary monitoring protocols. “The volunteers feel connected to a local group and engaged with a community,” said Rachel Gauza, education outreach coordinator at AZA.

Why Frogs and Toads are Important

According to the IUCN, more than one-third of the world’s 6,000 amphibian species are threatened with extinction.  Their permeable skins make them sensitive to environmental changes, including habitat destruction, climate change and water pollution caused by fertilizer runoff and pesticides.

“It’s the canary in the coal mine kind of thing,” said James Sirch, education coordinator at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and leader of the chapter co-hosted by the museum and Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, Conn.  As the environment changes, the frogs will let us know, he said.


“This is one program that is easily learned with a little bit of help and time,” said Sirch. But it does take practice.

Some chapters develop their own training tools for recognizing the different calls of species. For example, Matt Neff, in the Department of Herpetology at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, DC, and lead coordinator of the Smithsonian National Zoo chapter, has designed a website that allows volunteers to practice their skills. The chapter at Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio is working on a CD of calls recorded at different sites. “The training usually involves listening to one call at a time,” said Dr. Jennifer Clark, assistant professor of biology at the college.  “But in the field, you hear overlapping calls. The CD will be more realistic.”


While training materials may differ, monitoring protocols are the same. Volunteers must be at their site at least 30 minutes after sundown, sit quietly for two minutes and listen for three minutes. Then they note the species name and calling intensity. “If you hear just a few separate individuals without overlap, that is a one, calls overlapping is a two and a full chorus is a three, said James Sirch.  “If you don’t hear any frogs, you write down zero,” he says. “Hearing nothing tells you something, too.”

Volunteers can choose wetland sites near their homes and are encouraged to monitor twice a week from February through August because different species of frogs breed at different times.  Volunteers enter their data into FrogWatch-FieldScope, which makes information instantly available to anyone who wants to see a species’ range or discover what other species are being heard in their community and throughout the country.

“We’ve found that FrogWatch-FieldScope has helped with the retention of volunteers,” said Matt Neff. “Volunteers can see the impact of their data in real time.”

Barbara Foster, lead coordinator of the FrogWatch Researchers of the Greenville Zoo (FROGZ) chapter in South Carolina, appreciates the immediacy of the data. “I know when I check FrogWatch-FieldScope it is current.”

Why Get Involved?

“We’re doing it for fun but also for the greater good of protecting a whole class of animals,” said Jenny Kinch, an education instructor at the Greenville Zoo.  FrogWatch USA also gets you out of the house and into nature where you never know what you might discover.

“You’ll be listening for frogs and all of a sudden, a beaver will slap its tail right behind you. It’s just fun,” said Greenville volunteer Valerie Murphy.

Dolores Reed and her husband, volunteers near Washington, DC, go out together. “It’s our date night,” she said. They have seen foxes and watched the courtship flights of snipes and woodcocks.

And then there is what Rachel Gauza calls the “treasure hunt” aspect of the program: hearing an unexpected or rare mating call, or even observing a new species for the area.

This program is more than just amphibian research, said Amanda Watson, an education instructor at the Greenville Zoo. “The program ties into so much that the AZA is about: climate change, the health of the habitat and conservation,” she said.

Join FrogWatch USA and make a difference.

Cathie Gandel is a communications professional based in Bridgehampton, N.Y.  She has spent over 25 years in journalism, corporate communications, and public relations – some of that time with major corporations such as Time, Inc., some with smaller companies and some as an independent consultant or freelancer.For more see


The post Make a Difference by Counting Croaks appeared first on CitizenSci.

Source: Make a Difference by Counting Croaks

A group of conservation, animal welfare, and media groups filed suit challenging the state of Wyoming for its data trespassing laws passed in the 2015 session.

Plaintiffs Western Watersheds Project, National Press Photographers Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Center for Food Safety filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne.

The data trespassing laws made national headlines in May, when an opinion piece in Slate magazine said they could make it illegal for a citizen to share photos taken in Yellowstone National Park with a government agency.

Sponsors of the bills, including Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs), said the laws did not reach that far. Yet the language was expansive enough to put scientists at the University of Wyoming on edge, asking for guidance in how to proceed with public lands fieldwork to support research.


Source: Groups sue Wyoming over “data trespassing” law

This paper, by Ramine Tinati of the University of Southampton et al, studies Eyewire‘s use of real-time chat, looking at the contributions of both chatting and non-chatting members of the community. It was published in ACM Web Science 2015, and is available as a preprint here.

Citizen science is changing the process of scientific knowledge discovery.
Successful projects rely on an active and able collection of
volunteers. In order to attract, and sustain citizen scientists, designers
are faced with the task of transforming complex scientific
tasks into something accessible, interesting, and hopefully, engaging.
In this paper, we examine the citizen science game EyeWire.
Our analysis draws up a dataset of over 4,000,000 completed game
and 885,000 chat entries, made by over 90,000 players. The analysis
provides a detailed understanding of how features of the system
facilitate player interaction and communication alongside completing
the gamified scientific task. Based on the analysis we describe
a set of behavioural characteristics which identify different types of
players within the EyeWire platform.

This post first ran on the Zooniverse blog and describes work by Cox et al published in Computing in Science & Engineering

What makes one citizen science project flourish while another flounders? Is there a foolproof recipe for success when creating a citizen science project? As part of building and helping others build projects that ask the public to contribute to diverse research goals, we think and talk a lot about success and failure at the Zooniverse.

But while our individual definitions of success overlap quite a bit, we don’t all agree on which factors are the most important. Our opinions are informed by years of experience, yet before this year we hadn’t tried incorporating our data into a comprehensive set of measures — or “metrics”. So when our collaborators in the VOLCROWE project proposed that we try to quantify success in the Zooniverse using a wide variety of measures, we jumped at the chance. We knew it would be a challenge, and we also knew we probably wouldn’t be able to find a single set of metrics suitable for all projects, but we figured we should at least try to write down one possible approach and note its strengths and weaknesses so that others might be able to build on our ideas.

The results are in Cox et al. (2015):

Defining and Measuring Success in Online Citizen Science: A Case Study of Zooniverse Projects

In this study, we only considered projects that were at least 18 months old, so that all the projects considered had a minimum amount of time to analyze their data and publish their work. For a few of our earliest projects, we weren’t able to source the raw classification data and/or get the public-engagement data we needed, so those projects were excluded from the analysis. We ended up with a case study of 17 projects in all (plus the Andromeda Project, about which more in part 2).

The full paper is available here (or here if you don’t have academic institutional access), and the purpose of these blog posts is to summarize the method and discuss the implications and limitations of the results.


The overall goal of the study was to combine different quantitative measures of Zooniverse projects along 2 axes: “Contribution To Science” and “Public Engagement”.

A fair bit of ink has been spilled in the academic literature about the key outcomes that point to success for a citizen science project. This work brought many of those together (and adapted some of them), combining similar measures into categories. These included some basic measures like:

  • number of classifications;
  • number of volunteers;
  • number of posts on the project forum/Talk;
  • number of posts by research team members on the forum/Talk;
  • number of posts on blogs and social media; and
  • number of publications.

In order to help compare different projects, our study controlled each of these measures for either the project age (time period between the start of the project and now) or duration (the number of days the project was actively collecting classifications), depending on which was most appropriate.

There were also more advanced measures, such as:

  • the classification Gini coefficient, which measures how the workload in each project is distributed among the volunteers;
  • the fraction of volunteers who only completed the tutorial and never actually classified;
  • the count of research papers written with project volunteers as named co-authors; and
  • the amount of time someone would have to work as a full-time employee to produce the project’s classifications.

Additionally, we collected some measures that we didn’t end up using, such as the fraction of forum/Talk threads that were conversations as opposed to single comments, the typical length of forum/Talk posts, and various measures of the popularity of project blogs and social media accounts. While we’d like to include these in a future analysis that allows for additional nuances, the idea behind this study was a clean aggregation and combination of relatively straightforward quantitative measures.

Once we’d collected and normalized all our data across projects, the data was combined by category into quantitative measures for each project. Each of the 4 categories (called performance indicators in the paper) was made up of 3 individual measures. Here’s what the “Data Value” performance indicator looks like for the projects:

chart showing performance indicators for contributions to science in Zooniverse citizen science projects

A couple of notes here:

  • The ABCD categories are: Galaxy Zoo, Other Astronomy, Ecology, and Other.
  • The reference to Old Weather throughout this study is actually to the latest Old Weather project, which began collecting classifications in mid-2012. I’ll discuss Old Weather in much greater detail in part 2.

There are 4 charts like this, 2 for “Contribution to Science” and 2 for “Public Engagement”. In the interest of further distilling things down into a “simple” measure of success, the study combines both charts for each broad measure into 1 number, so that “Public Engagement” and “Contribution to Science” can  be plotted against one another:

Public engagement vs Contribution to science : the success matrix
Public Engagement vs Contribution to Science for 17 Zooniverse projects. The size (area) of each point is proportional to the total number of classifications received by the project. Each axis of this plot combines 6 different quantitative project measures.

This is the Zooniverse Project Success Matrix from Cox et al. (2015). Note that the drawn axes represent average values, not zero, and anyway the numbers themselves are more or less meaningless because measures of different units were combined and everything has been normalized across projects.

In the next post, I’ll discuss some of the implications and limitations of this way of measuring project success.

Citizen science is a flexible concept which can be adapted and applied within diverse situations and disciplines. The statements below were developed by the Sharing best practice and building capacity working group of the European Citizen Science Association, led by the Natural History Museum London with input from many members of the Association, to set out some of the key principles which as a community we believe underlie good practice in citizen science.
Full text here.