Matt El­lis ex­tols the virtues of cit­i­zen sci­ence, where am­a­teurs can con­trib­ute to sci­en­tific stud­ies, aid con­ser­va­tion work and get back to na­ture

Sporting Shooter - - Contents - WITH BASC’S MATT EL­LIS

The term ‘cit­i­zen sci­ence’ is a strange one, as it im­plies some kind of sep­a­ra­tion be­tween cit­i­zens and sci­en­tists. Un­til re­cently, there was no such di­vi­sion. An­toine-Lau­rent de Lavoisier, the fa­ther of mod­ern chem­istry, was a Parisian tax col­lec­tor who trans­formed our un­der­stand­ing of com­bus­tion, re­sult­ing in sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in gun­pow­der pro­duc­tion.

He prob­a­bly would have done a lot more had he not been ex­e­cuted dur­ing the French rev­o­lu­tion af­ter be­ing falsely ac­cused of plun­der­ing the peo­ple.

Other, sim­i­lar ‘gen­tle­man sci­en­tists’ have also been in­stru­men­tal in shap­ing our un­der­stand­ing of the world with lit­tle for­mal ed­u­ca­tion. Think Dar­win, Descartes, New­ton and Franklin.

It was only in the 20th cen­tury that sci­ence be­came a pro­fes­sion, re­stricted to for­malised re­search con­ducted by trained spe­cial­ists in white coats. Great men with great ideas.

In the most ex­treme cases, sci­ence with­out the cit­i­zen can be­come some­thing dan­ger­ous and de­tached. Nu­clear physi­cist Robert Op­pen­heimer be­came so racked with re­vul­sion for his part in cre­at­ing the atomic bomb that he quoted this Hindu scrip­ture: “Now I am be­come death, the de­stroyer of worlds”.

Whether this sig­nalled the be­gin­ning of a greater democrati­sa­tion of sci­ence or not, the tim­ing is strik­ing.

Am­a­teur as­tron­omy ini­tia­tives such as but­ter­fly and bird counts, hy­drol­ogy and tree record­ing all started to emerge in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Cit­i­zens be­came reen­gaged, al­though ‘cit­i­zen sci­ence’ as a con­cept wasn’t even on peo­ples’ minds; th­ese were just av­er­age folk want­ing to con­trib­ute to some­thing big­ger. And they suc­ceeded.

Even to­day, am­a­teur bird counts form the ba­sis of the ev­i­dence used to in­form gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions on is­sues such as the po­si­tion­ing of wind­farms or the reg­u­la­tion of shooting. Am­a­teur records of bud bursts and flow­er­ing dates are con­tribut­ing to our un­der­stand­ing of cli­mate change. To come right up to date, bio­hack­ing – or am­a­teur DNA ma­nip­u­la­tion – is at the bleed­ing edge of ge­netic re­search.

It is of­ten found that cit­i­zen sci­en­tists pro­duce data as good, if not bet­ter, than ma­te­rial pro­duced by pro­fes­sional sci­en­tists. Yet this data may still be un­der­val­ued by both sides. The sim­ple fact is that there aren’t enough pro­fes­sional sci­en­tists in the world to match the in­put from cit­i­zen sci­en­tists. And cit­i­zen sci­ence isn’t just a nice idea, it is cru­cial to the ef­fec­tive func­tion­ing of sci­en­tific re­search and it un­der­pins the vast ma­jor­ity of the de­ci­sion-mak­ing around prac­ti­cal bi­ol­ogy and con­ser­va­tion.

There are plenty of ways you can con­trib­ute – with no lab coats re­quired.

BASC’s Green Shoots Map­ping al­lows you to record where you shoot, what you shoot, and what other wildlife you see. This helps us to tar­get con­ser­va­tion ac­tions like dor­mouse habi­tat work, for ex­am­ple, at a na­tional level.

And pro­vid­ing bag re­turns or duck, goose or wood­cock wings through our Wing Sur­vey al­lows us to demon­strate the sus­tain­abil­ity of our sport and se­cure its fu­ture.

Out­side of BASC, you can take part in Project Splat­ter, record­ing what road­kill you see, or Crab Watch to help mon­i­tor the abun­dance of na­tive crab species, and the spread of non-na­tives. Find some­thing you’re in­ter­ested in and find a way to con­trib­ute. Find a way to get the kids in­volved and teach them about the world around them.

By get­ting in­volved, you’ll prob­a­bly learn some­thing new, meet like­minded peo­ple and have a good time.

You will def­i­nitely be help­ing pro­tect our en­vi­ron­ment and our sport, you might just help save the world! And, un­like de Lavoisier, you’ll def­i­nitely

keep your head!

‘Even to­day, am­a­teur bird counts form the ba­sis of ev­i­dence used to in­form gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions’

Pro­vid­ing bag re­turns for duck, goose or wood­cock wings through BASC’s wing sur­vey is one way of get­ting in­volved in sci­en­tific re­search

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