Citizen Science: What it is and How to Get Involved

By Luke Farnish

‘Stand on the shoulders of giants’. This is the slogan of Google Scholar, the Google search for scientific, peer-reviewed articles – and scientists do stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before them, those names immortalised by their incredible achievements. But, equally so, scientific understanding is built from a foundation of hard graft. To generate large datasets, scientists rely on the dedication of members of the public to record information for them. This is called citizen science.

Citizen science covers all of the major fields, from astronomy to zoology, as well as a huge range of techniques from questionnaires to surveys. Whatever your interest, there is likely some citizen science going on you can contribute to.

At this point, especially if you are a non-scientist with only a minor interest in all things scientific, you may be wondering; has anything ever truly been achieved through citizen science? The simple answer is: yes! Certain fields have hugely benefited from public involvement. Astronomy is one, with amateur discoveries including 42 exoplanets, the Hale-Bopp comet and the planet Uranus! You don’t even need expensive equipment or a supercomputer for most projects. Many can be completed in just a few moments of spare time using nothing more than a laptop computer or a sheet of paper.

Hopefully I’ve inspired you to stretch your grey matter in generating the data that will drive the future of research. So, where should you go now?

One of the best places to go is zooniverse. Here you’ll find projects from across the earth and beyond the stars from helping to transcribe lost Shakespeare era documents to searching the sky for the elusive planet 9.

Another great place to look out for opportunities, this time for birding, is the RSPB who along with other societies such as the BTO, they often run surveys that the public can become involved in.

irecord is a site for recording any organism spotted. All the data is added to a national database and helps to keep track of species movements and abundance. For recording species on the go, there’s also an app.

UEA itself has many opportunities. As well as being highly biodiverse, making the above site easier to use, experiments are run by the school of psychology that one can register to participate in.

Of course, there is also the simple joy of observation. Many of the greatest scientists the world has known were little more than curious people who write their findings. It always pays to remain curious about the world around you. That is the science of the everyday. That is citizen science.

Image b_10a_uranus by Balaji Dutt M V licensed under CC BY 2.0

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