Call­ing all cit­i­zen sci­en­tists

Over the com­ing months, ‘The Ir­ish Times’ will be work­ing with cit­i­zen sci­ence re­searchers to sup­port on­go­ing projects in Ire­land, to gen­er­ate re­search and to help de­velop new ideas

The Irish Times - - Life - Feed­back, sug­ges­tions and ques­tions are wel­come at: info@cit­i­zen­ Kev­inO’Sul­li­van

Cit­i­zen sci­ence comes with the po­ten­tial to bring a wide va­ri­ety of ben­e­fits to re­searchers; cit­i­zens, pol­icy mak­ers and so­ci­ety in re­search and in­no­va­tion. It is a flex­i­ble con­cept which can be adapted and ap­plied within di­verse sit­u­a­tions and dis­ci­plines across sci­ence and the hu­man­i­ties.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion has summed up its ben­e­fits: “It can ac­cel­er­ate and some­times even make pos­si­ble the pro­duc­tion of new sci­en­tific knowl­edge; it can help pol­icy-mak­ers mon­i­tor im­ple­men­ta­tion and com­pli­ance with reg­u­la­tions; it can in­crease public aware­ness about sci­ence and feel­ing of own­er­ship of poli­cies and it can en­able faster and ev­i­dence-in­formed re­ac­tions to events and bet­ter ter­ri­to­rial cover­age.”

The Com­mis­sion’s strong en­dorse­ment of cit­i­zen sci­ence is re­flected in its sup­port for such projects un­der Hori­zon 2020 the big­gest EU Re­search and In­no­va­tion pro­gramme ever de­ployed, with nearly ¤80 bil­lion of fund­ing avail­able over seven years from 2014 to 2020.

Over the com­ing months The Ir­ish Times will be work­ing with cit­i­zen sci­ence re­searchers to sup­port some of the on­go­ing projects in Ire­land; to gen­er­ate re­search on six themes, and help to de­velop new ideas .

The first of these new ideas is in­tro­duced on­line to­day at cit­i­zen­ This ini­tia­tive is be­ing led by Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin, which has been to the fore­front of de­vel­op­ing cit­i­zen sci­ence re­search in Ire­land in re­cent years – it is sup­ported by the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and Sci­ence Foun­da­tion Ire­land through its Dis­cover Pro­gramme.

The top­ics that will be in­tro­duced and re­searched over the next six months in­clude the crit­i­cal role of pol­li­na­tors; at­ti­tudes to vac­ci­na­tion, geo­sciences, light pol­lu­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. They will be hosted on­line in The Ir­ish Times sci­ence sec­tion.

There are ob­vi­ous dif­fi­cul­ties set­ting up cit­i­zen sci­ence ini­tia­tives, no­tably in terms of choos­ing op­ti­mum method­olo­gies; qual­ity as­sur­ance and val­i­da­tion of the out­comes.

Like­wise, proper gov­er­nance is nec­es­sary. En­sur­ing bal­anced par­tic­i­pa­tion of cit­i­zens (eg re­gard­less of back­ground, gen­der and age) is crit­i­cal – as is achiev­ing in­tegrity in method­ol­ogy and the pro­cess­ing of data.

There is a need to recog­nise fully the work of cit­i­zens par­tic­i­pat­ing in cit­i­zen sci­ence ini­tia­tives. Fre­quently, it re­quires man­age­ment of large num­bers of vol­un­teers for many months or even years (and keep­ing them mo­ti­vated and re­spond­ing to their ques­tions).

Good prac­tice

In 2015, the Euro­pean Cit­i­zen Sci­ence As­so­ci­a­tion, led by the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum in Lon­don, with in­put from many mem­bers of the as­so­ci­a­tion through­out the world, set out 10 key prin­ci­ples which it be­lieved un­der­lie good prac­tice.

The first prin­ci­ple says cit­i­zen sci­ence projects ac­tively in­volve cit­i­zens in sci­en­tific en­deav­our that gen­er­ates new knowl­edge or un­der­stand­ing. Cit­i­zens may act as con­trib­u­tors, col­lab­o­ra­tors or project lead­ers – and have a mean­ing­ful role in the project. The sec­ond says cit­i­zen sci­ence projects have a gen­uine sci­ence out­come. For ex­am­ple, an­swer­ing a re­search question or in­form­ing con­ser­va­tion ac­tion, man­age­ment de­ci­sions or en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy.

There is a strong thread of trans­parency and gen­uine par­tic­i­pa­tion threaded through the prin­ci­ples. Cit­i­zen sci­en­tists re­ceive feed­back from the project, in­clud­ing de­tails of how their data is be­ing used and what the re­search, pol­icy or so­ci­etal out­comes are.

Cit­i­zen sci­ence is con­sid­ered a re­search ap­proach like any other, with lim­i­ta­tions and bi­ases that should be con­sid­ered and con­trolled for. How­ever un­like tra­di­tional re­search ap­proaches, cit­i­zen sci­ence pro­vides op­por­tu­nity for greater public en­gage­ment and democrati­sa­tion of sci­ence. Re­sults are pub­lished in an open ac­cess for­mat. Data shar­ing may oc­cur dur­ing or after the project, un­less there are se­cu­rity or pri­vacy con­cerns that pre­vent this.

Cit­i­zen sci­en­tists are ac­knowl­edged in project re­sults and pub­li­ca­tions and pro­grammes are eval­u­ated for their sci­en­tific out­put; data qual­ity, par­tic­i­pant ex­pe­ri­ence and wider so­ci­etal or pol­icy im­pact.

The lead­ers of cit­i­zen sci­ence projects are ex­pected to take into con­sid­er­a­tion legal and eth­i­cal is­sues sur­round­ing copy­right, in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, data shar­ing agree­ments, con­fi­den­tial­ity, at­tri­bu­tion, and the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of any ac­tiv­i­ties

Lay­ers of con­tri­bu­tion

Cit­i­zen Sci­ence – sci­ence that in­volves peo­ple who are not pro­fes­sional sci­en­tists – is a broad term, ac­cord­ing to Dr Joseph Roche, an as­tro­physi­cist and as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion at TCD, who co-or­di­nated this series of projects. “It in­cludes dif­fer­ing lay­ers of con­tri­bu­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tion and co-cre­ation de­pend­ing on the level of par­tic­i­pa­tion tak­ing place be­tween sci­en­tists and mem­bers of the public,” he adds.

For cen­turies cit­i­zens have been ac­tively con­tribut­ing to ad­vanc­ing sci­en­tific knowl­edge. Even with the pro­fes­sion­al­i­sa­tion of sci­ence in the 19th cen­tury, public vol­un­teers still contributed to sci­ence through their ob­ser­va­tions of new stars, doc­u­ment­ing of birds, col­lect­ing weather data and mon­i­tor­ing of wa­ter qual­ity. The Ir­ish Times has sup­ported cit­i­zen sci­ence projects in re­cent years in­clud­ing a suc­cess­ful na­tional sur­vey in 2015 to learn more about the ge­net­ics of cats.

On­line projects, such as “Planet Hunters” led by Yale Uni­ver­sity, have re­sulted in ground­break­ing achieve­ments such as the dis­cov­ery of new plan­ets by cit­i­zen vol­un­teers. Not only does this surge in public in­ter­est speed up sci­en­tific progress in cer­tain re­search ar­eas, it can also bring ad­di­tional ben­e­fits.

“By in­te­grat­ing cit­i­zen sci­ence projects into the class­room, teach­ers are help­ing their stu­dents to en­gage in ac­tive sci­en­tific re­search which pro­vides an early in­sight into how sci­ence works. There is also grow­ing ev­i­dence that in­volve­ment in cit­i­zen sci­ence can lead to pos­i­tive im­pacts on the so­cial well-be­ing of par­tic­i­pants by giv­ing them a voice in sci­ence pol­icy and de­ci­sion mak­ing,” Roche points out.

The Com­mis­sion has high­lighted this as­pect of “demo­cratic” cit­i­zen sci­ence as a way of real­is­ing its vi­sion of “sci­ence for the peo­ple, by the peo­ple”.

De­spite the vast po­ten­tial of cit­i­zen sci­ence, its suc­cess is de­pen­dent on public good­will. The big­gest threat is the dan­ger that ir­re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zen sci­ence dam­ages the rep­u­ta­tion of all sci­ence. The most high-pro­file ex­am­ple of ir­re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zen sci­ence, ac­cord­ing to Roche, arose dur­ing the re­cent wa­ter cri­sis in Flint, Michi­gan. A Flint res­i­dent drew in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion to the dan­ger­ous con­tam­i­na­tion of the Flint wa­ter sup­ply by adopt­ing a sci­en­tific ap­proach to wa­ter test­ing.

By work­ing with sci­en­tists she was able to prove that the local wa­ter sup­ply was un­safe to drink. “This demon­strated how cit­i­zen sci­ence can em­power peo­ple to take own­er­ship of as­sess­ing dan­gers to their own health,” Roche adds.

But it also serves as a warn­ing of the pos­si­ble risks: the sit­u­a­tion was ex­ploited by a group called the Wa­ter De­fense Or­gan­i­sa­tion, an en­vi­ron­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion founded by Hol­ly­wood ac­tor Mark Ruf­falo.

It posed as a cit­i­zen sci­ence out­fit of­fer­ing to as­sist Flint res­i­dents in their time of need. Their wa­ter-test­ing meth­ods were flawed and their claims that the wa­ter might be too dan­ger­ous to use in hand-wash­ing and show­er­ing were un­founded. “Their in­ter­ven­tions fur­ther jeop­ar­dised the health of local res­i­dents by scar­ing them into need­lessly for­go­ing ba­sic hy­giene,” he notes.

To en­sure cit­i­zen sci­ence re­mains a field that pri­ori­tises progress and op­por­tu­nity, it is im­por­tant that it is car­ried out in a re­spon­si­ble man­ner, Roche points out.

Ire­land has a small but grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple work­ing in cit­i­zen sci­ence, from ded­i­cated re­search teams to local schools and com­mu­nity groups.

The most suc­cess­ful cit­i­zen sci­ence projects de­pend on large num­bers of peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing and are open to ev­ery­one, which he hopes will be a fea­ture of the project be­ing launched to­day.


There is grow­ing ev­i­dence that in­volve­ment in cit­i­zen sci­ence can lead to pos­i­tive im­pacts on the so­cial well-be­ing of par­tic­i­pants

Paw pa­trol: Ir­ish Times sup­ported a cit­i­zen sci­ence project in 2015 that cre­ated a na­tional sur­vey to learn more about the ge­net­ics of cats

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.