I’ve often thought about the public’s opinion of scientists as one most closely related to “the man behind the curtain” in the movie The Wizard of Oz. Scientists are often seen as an enigmatic figure, acting in secrecy to create things that appear to work by magic. Many of the incredible technological resources that have been created in the past twenty years are magical to the average person because we don’t know how to build them or make them work, but humans built them. When the public is given the opportunity to participate in the scientific process they become empowered to understand, pulling away the curtain. Cooperative Extension offices have been charged with this mission of taking research and making it accessible to everyone; we are the curtain pullers.
One of the most influential ways we can involve everyone in science is to apply the information that you are learning to real life situations. To pull back the curtain on the scientific process, citizens must practice the scientific process. The recent popularity in applets and technology for mobile devices has allowed research scientists to reach out to an unprecedented number of potential data collectors. Within the study of natural sciences-horticulture, wildlife biology, ecology and others-it is often very difficult to collect the massive amounts of data necessary to perform scientific research. Researchers have begun to utilize Citizen Scientists to collect large amounts of data across large test areas. While the citizen scientists are providing a meaningful service to the researchers that will utilize the data, there is also a huge benefit to these volunteer researchers. This practice of engaging the general public in data collection and research allows scientists to communicate more effectively to an audience that would not have been reached otherwise. It provides unique opportunities to educators who wish to involve students of all ages in projects that showcase the practical application of scientific information. Citizen science also makes the scientific process more apparent (and more believable) to the public. Many people who are not involved in the scientific process do not have a good understanding of where scientific concepts come from, and consequently are less likely to believe the results of scientific research.
Some of the best known citizen science projects in the last few years have come from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology with their Backyard Bird Counts and the Nest Watch program. These programs involve any and all interested in collecting data on bird species including; breeding behavior, nesting behavior, migration patterns and feeding. Here in Florida we have the ability to help researchers on a variety of projects.
“Science democratizes knowledge”-Bill Nye, the science guy.
Practice science by trying out a few of the citizen science opportunities below.
UF Ongoing Citizen Science Projects:
Non-UF Ongoing Citizen Science Projects: