Monday, March 13, 2017

Citizen Science and Scistarter

I've been reading three interesting science-related books from the library, though I've been slacking on finishing them because one's too big to read on the treadmill and the others aren't competing just with eBooks but with everything else going on at home. However, I did finish the first one a couple of days ago. It's called Citizen Science, and it examines the ways in which ordinary citizens not only contribute to science but can also direct the direction of scientific research. 

The book is divided into three main sections. The first section covers disciplines such as astronomy, meteorology, and ornithology where ordinary people report their observations to scientists. There's an interesting chapter about convicts who raise monarch butterflies in prison and release them. In some fields, particularly in astronomy, amateurs with good equipment can be in a position to make discoveries on their own. The next section of the book features ways in which people can help scientists analyze data or models. Computer games can be designed so that the players learn how to fold proteins and predict their structure. (I think I tried one of those games several years ago but didn't play it for very long.) In the final section, citizens not only assist scientists with their projects but come up with their own. For example, a group of people monitoring sea turtle nests and hatchings were inspired to collect and catalog the trash they found. They actually needed to document the trash to prove how much of it had been left behind. By looking at the amount of plastic in the ocean, these volunteers became motivated to reduce their own use of plastics. In the last chapter, gay and lesbian rights activists at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic used their collective power to convince scientists to research this disease.

If all this talk about citizen science makes you want to try it yourself, you can visit scistarter.com. All you have to do is enter your location and an area of interest, and it'll match you up with several projects that meet your criteria. I might try it myself--if I can squeeze the time in with everything else I'm already doing.

2 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Is there a section on how to influence where the money goes so it doesn't go to wasteful, meaningless projects. (Those studies you read about where you wonder who on earth funded such a waste of time?)

Pat Dilloway said...

That's really interesting, though science was never my best subject in school.

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