Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Citizen Science

Citizen science is the ‘democratization’ of science, where ordinary citizens (or more aptly, netizens) contribute to scientific endeavors. This emerging trend is unique in that the individuals do not have to be experts at what they do: participants can be ordinary citizens who aim to contribute something to the field of scientific research. Various projects can be found at the web, ranging from measuring the quality of freshwater, monitoring wildlife, season changes and earthquakes, or even unlocking the cure for AIDS (see related post on Foldit).

Citizen science merges two powerful tools: machines (in this case, computers and the internet) and the human brain. One steps in where the other cannot. For instance, the project called GalaxyZoo allows people to classify whether galaxies are elliptical or spiral, a task which the human brain better accomplishes than a computer processor. It also changes the way of going through the scientific method, as well as ushering a way for a new kind of research, one where people collaborate though not in a personal and physical manner. The best part of citizen science is that it is based on a volunteer basis—“researchers” do not expect to be paid. The pursuit for scientific advancement is virtually obtained at less or no cost at all.

This brand of science does not only allow for public participation in an otherwise elite field, it is also an alternative source for scientific education because of faster and “citizen-friendly” exchange of information and ideas. It expands the opportunities for scientific research, in that they need not be confined to those which are funded and supported by the government. It helps in the development of policies, be they scientific or otherwise. Citizen science research for climate change monitoring, for example, can be utilized to influence and determine environmental policies. Another example is the UN project AfricaMap, in which volunteers are given satellite images of Africa where they can mark roads, villages, etc which will then be helpful in the delivery of aid for affected areas.

Undeniably, the internet has played a significant and critical role in this new form of research. People across the globe are cooperating through the use of online tools to help scientist conduct their studies. The interconnectivity provided by the internet allows people to share ideas as well as information more easily. It has opened a space where public participation has no place before. Citizens are not merely consumers, beneficiaries and audience of scientific advances. They have become creators and sources of knowledge, active participants in development.

Krystel Jehan M. Bautista, entry no. 15

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