If you take a peek back at our previous articles, we mention the word “science” in just about every single one. We all hear the word practically everyday. We all know what it means. Right?
Relax, this isn’t a pop quiz 🤓There are no wrong answers here. In fact, there are a laughable amount of correct answers to “What is the definition of science?” This one is perhaps our favorite:
“The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”
Shout out to Oxford University for that one, but it’s still a bit of a mouthful. So, let’s break it down. Basically, science is the practice of understanding the world through observation and experimentation. Well, every single one of you reading this observes the world, in some aspect, every day. You are doing it right now.
So how about experimentation? I doubt many of you are sitting in a laboratory surrounded by Erlenmeyer flasks and Bunsen burners right now. Actually, knowing our audience, I really wouldn’t be that surprised.
Anyway, the misconception here is that we often think of experiments as these highly exclusive projects being carried out in high-tech labs by folks in thick polycarbonate goggles and stark white lab coats. This creates a disconnect between us “regular citizens” and scientists.
Further dividing us is the barrier of terminology. How often do you click on a scientific article and quit reading after the first two sentences because you don’t know that deoxyribonucleic acid is just the full form term for DNA.
The divide between citizens and science is not good for anyone. The general public has immense observational capabilities and a strong sense of societal needs. So, how do we encourage citizens to become a part of the scientific process?
Say hello to citizen science. I know, it sounds like a cheesy 90’s superhero. But, citizen science is more of a concept than just a singular website or organization. Basically, it’s the involvement of the public in scientific research and it’s happening around the world.
Volunteer contributions include activities like amassing photos of flora and fauna to determine ranges and migration patterns, photographing stagnant water to help document the spread of mosquito borne illnesses, and marking coastal water levels annually to determine the effects of sea-level rise.
There are thousands of scientific experiments around the world that are currently recruiting public citizens to help with. Apps like Seek by Inaturalist are the easiest way to get involved in data collection. For the more adventurous, you can check out current US government-funded projects here and more global experiments here.
The biggest challenge with citizen science is decentralization and recruitment. One major step in the right direction was the founding of the Citizen Science Global Partnership last year. As far as recruitment goes, well, what are you waiting for? In fact, we just heard of a really exciting citizen science program that is creating quite a buzz…
But, that’s a story for another day.