Skip to content. Skip to navigation

Cornell Lab of Ornithology


"Just because you paid them..."

"... doesn't mean their data are better." Sam Droege counters the presumption that paid researchers do better work, by sharing the rich history of citizen science and the current value of volunteer research.

"Just because you paid them..."


That's how much Sam Droege estimates the USGS saved taxpayers by soliciting the help of a single volunteer in the Breeding Bird Survey.

In addition to a dollar value, Sam accounts for the invaluable contributions volunteers have made to the scientific enterprise, starting with lighthouse keepers in the 1800's counting bird strikes, through current projects monitoring amphibians, waterfowl, and native bees.

In an overview of the history of citizen science, Sam discusses what does and doesn't (generally) work for project design. As someone who has designed and facilitated landmark projects for the USGS on birds, salamanders, bees, and katydids, he is up-front about his experiences with failure as well as success. About project design, he says, "keep trying," as the percentage of what works is worth the effort.

Sam Droege's keynote presentation is one resource on this site that may help improve the odds for success. "Just because you paid them doesn't mean their data are better," is part of the beautifully transcribed Proceedings from the 2007 Citizen Science Toolkit Conference. The full proceedings, available for download here, offer talks on community engagement, data quality, cyberinfrastructure, evaluation, and more.

Citizen science, volunteer monitoring, participatory action research... this site supports organizers of all initiatives where public participants are involved in scientific research.

More about this...