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Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Caren Cooper

Ecologist, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Caren Cooper

I am an ecologist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Because the Lab is an institution that operates simultaneously within academia and as an environmental conservation NGO, I have the unique opportunity to do more than an ecology research program focused on birds, such as gain experiences in science communication, informal science education, public engagement in scientific research, and create an active social science research program in human dimensions of conservation.

My primary job responsibility is to use the observations of Citizen Scientists to answer scientific questions of interest, and publish the results in peer-reviewed journals. Most of my ecological contributions using Citizen Science data relate to geographic trends in avian life histories.
I also developed and pilot tested a Citizen Science project, My Yard Counts. From this experience, and because most bird watching takes place around residences, I put forth a framework by which Citizen Science could advance conservation goals in an urbanized environment.  I research the human dimensions of conservation, specifically the interconnections between nature-based recreation, Citizen Science, and conservation actions.
Several years ago I was trained by Al Gore in The Climate Project (TCP).  From this experience, I joined others in the communication field in pushing for a shift in science communication from a sole emphasis on science literacy (that is, operating on the assumption that an authority just needs to tell people ‘the facts’) to an embracing of public engagement in science (that is, dialogues that explicitly recognize that the public have unique perspective, values, and opinions to contribute to discussions about science and its role in society).  I think there is great potential for large-scale Citizen Science practices to expand to engage the public in science in more ways than data collection.  My views on science communication are in press for the March issue of BioScience.

I received my PhD in Biology from Virginia Tech, studying Brown Treecreepers, a cooperatively breeding bird, in Australia. I received my Masters in Zoology & Physiology from the University of Wyoming, and my B.S. degree in Zoology from North Carolina State University.