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Changing the citizen science conversation

EList update, 31 AUG 2011: Citizen science at ESA; Focus on Diversity; Discussion forum coming soon.

(From the e-list, 31 AUG 2011. Interested in subscribing? Click here!)

Hi folks,

Who else has noticed the shift in conversations about citizen science and public participation in scientific research (PPSR)?

Hitting the nail on the head (for me, at least) was this quote from Dr. Lisa Gardiner (who blogs about citizen science for ScienceFriday and ScienceForCitizens), in a recent blog post by Amy Mayer on

"A few years ago when I'd go to conferences I'd hear that there was some concern about citizen-scientist collected data," (says Lisa). The blog goes on to say, "But that has dissipated."

That was the main take-away for me, from the recent meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Austin, TX. With some 40+ talks and posters touching on citizen science (overview here), none of them were tainted by any historic across-the-board biases against volunteer collected data. Rather, they honestly discussed the merits AND challenges of different scientific and educational strategies. How refreshing!

And how necessary. It's about time that we have a critical (read: critical thinking) conversation about challenges as well as merits, to really move the field forward. Thankfully, there are more and more opportunities to work together and tackle such challenges through thoughtful conversation. Just for one example, check out an upcoming conference entitled The Focus on Diversity: Changing the Face of American Birding (October 22, 2011 in Philadelphia), where participants will explicitly consider how communities of color and underserved groups might be better served through conservation and outdoor programs such as PPSR. (See another other recent conversation on this topic).

It's almost impossible anymore for any one person to keep track of the growing number of critical conversations on citizen science, but it's certainly do-able as a collective effort. If you're presenting on citizen science or PPSR, or have seen a great online talk, or come across a call for proposals, please, post it here!

And while you're there, check out some of the great past conversations on the discussion board. We piloted this forum back in March, and are gearing up to bring it back online for monthly conversations beginning the second full week in September. We'll start by asking, does the Citizen Science Toolkit address the needs of your project? Outcomes from a recent workshop suggest ways to improve it (PDF, see p. 10), what do you think? But don't wait for that discussion, you can share your thoughts now by answering: what kinds of conversations do you want to have with this community?

I'm looking forward to how this conversation evolves!

Jennifer and the team

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