What is Citizen Science?
Citizen Science is all about research. Citizens and hobby scientists can contribute to new knowledge through their collaboration and their special know-how. They can support researchers while doing something they are interested in. And they will also get the opportunity to link with other people who are interested in the same topics and to learn new things from the world of research. Citizen Science is explained very well in this Video.
How it all began
Citizen Science is not an invention of the 21st century; it dates back to the 18th century. Austria, for example, has supported the Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik (ZAMG) in the observation of the flora by means of a network of observers since 1856.
One of the best-known citizen scientists worldwide is the monk Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), who was born in the Czech Republic and also stayed in Austria in the mid-19th century. He is mainly known as the originator of classical genetics. As a passionate plant expert he carried out cross-breeding experiments with peas, from which resulted “Mendel's Laws of Inheritance”. They explain the regularities that the hereditary traits follow in simple inheritance.
If you look to the USA, you will find a big Citizen Science project which many people will also be familiar with: the Christmas Bird Count. Since 1900 volunteers have been invited every year to count all birds they see or hear on a specific day. This enthusiasm for observing birds in their natural environment (“birdwatching”) is also increasing in Austria. At BirdLife Österreich interested people cannot only register their observations but also help with analysing the data or support the team in public relations activities.
The list of well-known citizen scientists and projects which have been carried out with the help of interested and committed lay persons for almost two centuries could be complemented by a number of other people such as Charles Darwin (1809-1882) – author of the Evolution Theory – and Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) – politician and inventor of the lightening rod – as well as pioneer projects in the field of ecology (reading tip: Miller-Rushing, A., Primack, R., and Bonney, R. (2012): “The history of public participation in ecological research”). Due to the internet and the numerous possibilities offered by the new technologies such as GPS and smartphones a new era for Citizen Science started at the end of the 20th century. With the help of interested volunteers comprehensive data collections can be carried out beyond national borders and great amounts of data can be analysed very quickly.
How can you participate?
The requirements differ from project to project. In some projects data can be collected without any special skills, research questions can be initiated and analyses can be carried out, often after just a short introduction; in other cases special knowledge is required.
The spectrum of activities for those interested is very broad. For example, hobby photographers take pictures of animals and thus document their prevalence, people interested in history help to preserve archives from World War II by means of transcriptions and people suffering from allergies who talk about their experiences and thereby supply new ideas for research questions.
Take part now!
Would you like to take part in a Citizen Science project and work together with scientists? Are you interested in animals and plants and enjoy being outdoors? Maybe you like to work from home and have a passion for archaeology or history?
Or are you, as a scientist, considering enriching your research work by means of Citizen Science working methods?
Here you can find a great selection of projects which invite you to take part in research and in which work has been or is done with all sorts of different Citizen Science participation models.