Examining new trends in citizen science

February 2, 2016 by Jennifer Grigg, Plos Blogs
Examining new trends in citizen science
Figure showing the growth of published peer reviewed articles on citizen science, from 1997 to 2014. Figure from Follet and Strezov, PLOS ONE.

In total, 1127 unique articles were reviewed, from these 239 were excluded for not being directly related to citizen science (as above).

Follet and Strezov reported that the first citizen science article was published in 1997. In the years following, few articles were published until 2007 during which 6 papers were presented at the Ecological Society of America Meeting. After this, the number of peer-reviewed citizen science articles increased substantially.

The most widely published topic where citizen science contributed to the project was biology, with 72% of articles falling into this category. Biology-related citizen science articles also experienced a rapid growth in the number of publications, at a faster rate than all other scientific fields. The most common objectives among the biology-related articles was to assess the diversity and distribution of species, in particular birds.

The findings of Follet and Strezov's study is supported by the results of a recent meta-analysis published in PLOS ONE, which identified biology, conservation and ecology as the primary fields utilising citizen science. The study also reported the highest scientific output is generated in the fields of ornithology, astronomy, meteorology and microbiology.

A caveat of publishing research generated in part from citizen scientists is that many of these volunteers received no formal training, bringing the quality and reliability of the data into question. However, these issues can be addressed. Researchers can design standardised monitoring protocols to identify unreliable data, or prevent the collection of poor quality data, by using tools such as data entry forms with automated error checking capabilities. In their study Follet and Strezov found that an increasing number of publications were centred on addressing the methodologies and validation techniques researchers can use to detect errors in data and reduce the occurrence of these errors and eliminate bias.

Overall, the study reported the number of citizen science publications are increasing. But, according to another recent study reviewing the contributions of citizen science projects, only 12% of bio-diversity related citizen science projects contributed data that resulted in peer-reviewed scientific articles. So as it seems, there is still room to increase the acceptance of citizen science.

What does the future hold for citizen science?

Citizen science is becoming ever more popular and is rapidly enabling non-experts to contribute to the growing field of scientific knowledge. One of the major benefits of citizen science is that it allows researchers to utilise resources to analyse large volumes of data quickly, often with lower financial cost. Furthermore, data can be collected from a wider demographic of participants over a much larger spatial scale that researchers would not necessarily have the time or resources to monitor otherwise.

The growing role of citizen scientists in research is now being recognised around the globe. In 2015 professional citizen science organisations were created in Europe, Australia and the United States, and the first Citizen Science Association Conference was held, with another one is planned for February 2017. In the US the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2015 was introduced to encourage the use of citizen science within the federal government. As technology develops and more people have access to the resources available over the internet, this increases opportunities to engage wider audiences in a diverse range of projects. Based on current trends, this should mean that more of the journal articles published in 2016 will celebrate the contribution of the citizen scientists around the world.

full text: http://phys.org/news/2016-02-trends-citizen-science.html#jCp


Ria Follett. Vladimir Strezovl. 2015. An Analysis of Citizen Science Based Research: Usage and Publication Patterns, PLOS ONEDOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0143687


Mike Quinn, Austin
Texas Entomology