Excerpt: Along the jagged coast of Maine, prehistoric shell middens mark spots where Maine Indians feasted on clams, shells and other seafood, then tossed aside the remains. “Midden,” to archaeologists, means the waste left behind by long-gone humans. In practice, though, these ancient garbage heaps contain a treasure trove of data that can shed light on Maine’s early environment and long-ago residents. But the 2,000 known middens in Maine are seriously threatened by pressures, including rising sea levels, beach erosion and real estate development. In order to protect the state’s cultural heritage despite those pressures, a University of Maine project is aiming to define the current extent of the middens and develop a network of citizen scientists to monitor and protect them now and in the years to come.

“The paleo information is priceless,” Alice Kelley, an associate research professor at the University of Maine Climate Change Institute, said. “The bones and the things that are there are basically our only record of what was living in the western Gulf of Maine from 4,000 years ago to the present.”

Source: Curtis, A., 2017. Citizen scientists may help save ancient Maine shell heaps. Bangor Daily News, 15 November 2017.

Abstract: A survey of 345 volunteer water monitoring programs in the United States was conducted to document their characteristics, and perceived level of support for data to inform natural resource management or policy decisions. The response rate of 86% provided information from 46 states. Programs represented a range of ages, budgets, objectives, scopes, and level of quality assurance, which influenced data uses and perceived support by sponsoring agency administrators and external decision makers. Most programs focused on rivers, streams, and lakes. Programs had not made substantial progress to develop EPA or state-approved quality assurance plans since 1998, with only 48% reporting such plans. Program coordinators reported feeling slightly more support for data to be used for management as compared to policy decisions. Programs with smaller budgets may be at particular risk of being perceived to lack credibility due to failure to develop quality assurance plans. Over half of programs identified as collaborative, in that volunteers assisted scientists in program design, data analysis and/or dissemination of results. Just under a third were contributory, in which volunteers primarily collected data in a scientist-defined program. Recommendations to improve perceived data credibility, and to augment limited budgets include developing quality assurance plans and gaining agency approval, and developing partnerships with other organizations conducting monitoring in the area to share resources and knowledge. Funding agencies should support development of quality assurance plans to help ensure data credibility. Service providers can aid in plan development by providing training to program staff over time to address high staff turnover rates.

Source: Stepenuck, K.F., and Genskow, K.D.. 2017. Characterizing the Breadth and Depth of Volunteer Water Monitoring Programs in the United States. Environmental Management (2017):1-12. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-017-0956-7

Editor’s Choice: And accompanying the more disheartening article about scientists’ attitudes towards citizen science, here is a small ray of hope where we hear about one scientist’s journey of accepting citizen science as a legitimate methodology through actual participation in a citizen science project. — LFF —

Excerpt: For years I scoffed at the very notion of “citizen science.” I dismissed it as cumbersome, unreliable, and yielding data of questionable quality at best. In short, I was sniffy about the whole thing, and kept it at arm’s length. I was not alone. In fact, many of my colleagues dismissed citizen science as mostly a feel-good endeavor.

Though there may have been some truth to this perception, I snapped to attention when I realized that, in recent years, citizen science can lead to big science. For example, projects such as e-bird and the National Phenology Network have generated dozens of peer-reviewed papers on topics such as bird population trends or plant and animal responses to climate change. The power of crowdsourced data collection lies in thoughtful designs, clear protocols and engaging subjects.

A friend uses the otoscope to peer inside a nesting hole as the author’s daughter looks on. Photo © Meredith Cornett

Source: Cornett, M., 2017. On Bee-ing, 2 October 2017. Available at Cool Green Science: https://blog.nature.org/science/2017/10/02/bees-citizen-science-nature-bee-atlas/ [Last accessed 7 November 2017].

Editor’s Choice: A warm & fuzzy story about creepy crawlies. Though slightly tangential to citizen science, this story illustrates a key ingredient to successful science outreach: scientists seeing a little bit of themselves in their audience. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Morgan Jackson and Sophia Spencer interviewed on NPR, via the link below. — AWA —

Excerpt: Sophia Spencer, 8, loves bugs — especially grasshoppers. She’s an expert on insects, and likes to give her littlest friends an occasional ride on her shoulder. That used to earn her mockery from her peers. But now it’s earned her a massive outpouring of support — and a byline in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America. Everything changed after Sophia’s mom, Nicole Spencer, reached out to scientists for support last year. She wrote to the Entomological Society of Canada and explained the dilemma. Her daughter wanted to know if she could learn more about bugs as a job, but her mom wasn’t sure how to encourage her. And she wanted to reassure her that her entomological enthusiasm wasn’t weird.

Source: Domonoske, C. and Kennedy, M., 2017. Once Teased For Her Love Of Bugs, 8-Yr Old Co-Authors Scientific Paper, 19 September 2017. Available at NPR: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/09/19/551876044/once-teased-for-her-love-of-bugs-8-year-old-co-authors-scientific-paper [Last accessed 7 November 2017].

Editor’s Choice: Getting meta with the data. This study examines learning as well as pre- and post- attitudes of college biology students who participate in, what I’d term “deep” inquiry-based learning. The college students were not only assigned to analyze a species’ potential response to climate change using citizen science phenology data, but also to formally evaluate the validity of citizen science datasets. In the process, students gained real-world, critically-engaged experience with the challenges as well as the opportunities of working with large-scale datasets collected by citizen scientists. I’d say, hire these students as your lab and field technicians! — AWA —

Abstract: A common feature of many citizen science projects is the collection of data by unpaid contributors with the expectation that the data will be used in research. Here we report a teaching strategy that combined citizen science with inquiry-based learning to offer first year university students an authentic research experience. A six-year partnership with the Australian phenology citizen science program ClimateWatch has enabled biology students from the University of Western Australia to contribute phenological data on plants and animals, and to conduct the first research on unvalidated species datasets contributed by public and university participants. Students wrote scientific articles on their findings, peer-reviewed each other’s work and the best articles were published online in a student journal. Surveys of more than 1500 students showed that their environmental engagement increased significantly after participating in data collection and data analysis. However, only 31% of students agreed with the statement that “data collected by citizen scientists are reliable” at the end of the project, whereas the rate of agreement was initially 79%. This change in perception was likely due to students discovering erroneous records when they mapped data points and analysed submitted photographs. A positive consequence was that students subsequently reported being more careful to avoid errors in their own data collection, and making greater efforts to contribute records that were useful for future scientific research. Evaluation of our project has shown that by embedding a research process within citizen science participation, university students are given cause to improve their contributions to environmental datasets. If true for citizen scientists in general, enabling participants as well as scientists to analyse data could enhance data quality, and so address a key constraint of broad-scale citizen science programs.

Source: Mitchell N., Triska M., Liberatore A., Ashcroft L., Weatherill R., Longnecker N., 2017. Benefits and challenges of incorporating citizen science into university education. PLoS ONE12(11): e0186285. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0186285

Abstract: This paper aims to explore the apparently rising trend of unaffiliated researchers. It does so by analyzing a set of scholarly publications where the authors state “independent researcher” in place of their affiliation. Some of the characteristics of this set are explained along with directions on how to expand research on this topic.

Source: ElSabry, E., 2017. Unaffiliated Researchers: A Preliminary Study. Challenges, 8(2): 20. DOI: doi:10.3390/challe8020020

Abstract: Mobile apps and web-based platforms are increasingly used in citizen science projects. While extensive research has been done in multiple areas of studies, from Human-Computer Interaction to public engagement in science, we are not aware of a collection of recommendations specific for citizen science that provides support and advice for planning, design and data management of mobile apps and platforms that will assist learning from best practice and successful implementations. In two workshops, citizen science practitioners with experience in mobile application and web-platform development and implementation came together to analyse, discuss and define recommendations for the initiators of technology based citizen science projects. Many of the recommendations produced during the two workshops are applicable to non-mobile citizen science project. Therefore, we propose to closely connect the results presented here with ECSA’s Ten Principles of Citizen Science.

Source: Sturm, U. et al., 2017. Defining principles for mobile apps and platforms development in citizen science. Research Ideas and Outcomes 3. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3897/rio.3.e21283

Editor’s Choice: This article shows how much work remains to be done to convince our scientific colleagues that, appropriately applied, citizen science is a unique tool that can produce excellent science. — LFF —

Abstract: Increased interest in public engagement with science worldwide has resulted in the growth of funding opportunities for scientists in the rapidly expanding field of citizen science. This paper describes a case study based on interviews and observations, including a six-month field diary, of ten scientists who engaged in a citizen science project to receive funding for their scientific research. It examines how these scientists perceived their commitment to the public, and it explores relationships between the ways that citizen science is defined and presented in the literature and the ideas that scientists in this project have about citizen science. The findings indicate that these scientists were motivated mostly by their interest in promoting scientific research and obtaining prestigious funding. Many of the scientists also found it difficult to accept the idea that the public can make actual contributions to science. Although the scientists acknowledged the advantages and benefits of citizen participation for the public, they had no desire to actively engage with the public and would rather conduct a traditional study without the public’s involvement. Exposing scientists to public engagement and citizen science concepts, especially at early stages of their scientific carrier, could help overcome barriers and encourage scientists to further engage the public in such initiatives.

Source: Golumbic, Y.N. et al., 2017. Between Vision and Reality: A Study of Scientists’ Views on Citizen Science. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice. 2(1), p.6. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/cstp.53

Abstract: Citizen science—the involvement of volunteers in data collection, analysis and interpretation—simultaneously supports research and public engagement with science, and its profile is rapidly rising. Citizen science represents a diverse range of approaches, but until now this diversity has not been quantitatively explored. We conducted a systematic internet search and discovered 509 environmental and ecological citizen science projects. We scored each project for 32 attributes based on publicly obtainable information and used multiple factor analysis to summarise this variation to assess citizen science approaches. We found that projects varied according to their methodological approach from ‘mass participation’ (e.g. easy participation by anyone anywhere) to ‘systematic monitoring’ (e.g. trained volunteers repeatedly sampling at specific locations). They also varied in complexity from approaches that are ‘simple’ to those that are ‘elaborate’ (e.g. provide lots of support to gather rich, detailed datasets). There was a separate cluster of entirely computer-based projects but, in general, we found that the range of citizen science projects in ecology and the environment showed continuous variation and cannot be neatly categorised into distinct types of activity. While the diversity of projects begun in each time period (pre 1990, 1990–99, 2000–09 and 2010–13) has not increased, we found that projects tended to have become increasingly different from each other as time progressed (possibly due to changing opportunities, including technological innovation). Most projects were still active so consequently we found that the overall diversity of active projects (available for participation) increased as time progressed. Overall, understanding the landscape of citizen science in ecology and the environment (and its change over time) is valuable because it informs the comparative evaluation of the ‘success’ of different citizen science approaches. Comparative evaluation provides an evidence-base to inform the future development of citizen science activities.

Source: Pocock, Michael J.O.; Tweddle, John C.; Savage, Joanna; Robinson, Lucy D.; Roy, Helen E., 2017. The diversity and evolution of ecological and environmental citizen science. PLoS ONE, 12(4): 17. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0172579

Abstract: Citizen science approaches provide opportunities to support ecosystem service assessments. To evaluate the recent trends, challenges and opportunities of utilizing citizen science in ecosystem service studies we conducted a systematic literature and project review. We reviewed the range of ecosystem services and formats of participation in citizen science in 17 peer-reviewed scientific publications and 102 ongoing or finished citizen science projects, out of over 500 screened publications and over 1400 screened projects. We found that citizen science is predominantly applied in assessing regulating and cultural services. The assessments were often performed by using proxy indicators that only implicitly provide information on ecosystem services. Direct assessments of ecosystem services are still rare. Participation formats mostly comprise contributory citizen science projects that focus on volunteered data collection. However, there is potential to increase citizen involvement in comprehensive ecosystem service assessments, including the development of research questions, design, data analysis and dissemination of findings. Levels of involvement could be enhanced to strengthen strategic knowledge on the environment, scientific literacy and the empowerment of citizens in helping to inform and monitor policies and management efforts related to ecosystem services. We provide an outlook how to better operationalise citizen science approaches to assess ecosystem services.

Source: Schröter, M. et al, 2017. Citizen science for assessing ecosystem services: Status, challenges and opportunities. Ecosystem Services 8(Part A):80-94. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2017.09.017