Great discussion last night at Science Cafe Concord about “citizen science” projects. As promised, here are more details about various possibilities discussed at the session (which you can see on Concord TV’s page – the taping will be edited and online in a week or so) if you’d like to plunge into collecting or analyzing information about the world in the name of science:
The Stewardship Network of New England. Malin Clyde, UNH Coop Extension Stewardship Network director, was one of our panelists, and talked about the way that more researchers are incorporating citizen science, both because we provide free labor and also because it helps them reach out to the public and get more public support for science. Plus, the National Science Foundation and other major funding organizations are starting to encourage and/or require it. The Stewardship Network oversees a bunch of outdoor data-collection projects dealing with trees, plants, pollinators, oysters, etc. newengland.stewardshipnetwork.org/
Volunteer Lakes Assessment Program Organized by the Department of Environmental Services, this has been using volunteers for decades to keep an eye on the state’s 800-or-so lakes. www.des.nh.gov/organization/divisions/water/wmb/vlap/index.htm Sara Steiner, who coordinates the project, was anothe rpanelist.
N.H. Fish and Game wildlife surveys We mentioned the wild turkey count, but this state agency has others that look for bobcats, reptiles, dragonflies and more. www.wildlife.state.nh.us/education/citizen-science.html
Appalachian Mountain Club’s Mountain Watch, “engaging hikers in hands-on monitoring of air quality and climate change.” www.outdoors.org/conservation/climate-energy/citizen-science.cfm
CoCoRaHS. The Community Collaborative Rain Hail Snow network has the worst acronym ever developed, but it’s pretty straightforward: You get a special rain gauge and keep track of daily precipitation (rain, melted snow, even hail) at your home, uploading it into a database that it used by weather forecasters, climate modelers, and emergency response teams, mostly to prepare for flooding. I’ve done this for years; it’s oddly satisfying.
And as I discussed, there are lots of possibilities for people who don’t want to go outdoors:
The laziest option is using your computer for one of many distributed-computing projects, which divvy up very complicated programs so they can be performed by scads of connected machines in their off moments. Basically, you download a program and set it to run in the background. Examples include the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, home of the largest prime number ever found, or SETI@Home hunting for aliens or a whole bunch of projects that help researchers fight diseases by analyzing such things as the way proteins fold. You can find hundreds of them at www.distributedcomputing.info/projects.html – although not all of their examples are still live.
There are more active computer projects which require you to analyze information. A project called Zooniverse is home to about 100 of these. Some ask you to decipher and type up handwritten documents so that researchers can study them – Old Weather looks at log books of 19th century warships for climate data; Shakespeare’s World looks at diaries of 16th-century British folk; Notes from Nature transcribes museum records, etc. Others have you look at pictures of things to categorize them – supernovas, cells, flowers, giraffes (giraffes?), even the Amazon rainforest canopy. And others are weirder, such as Etch a Cell, in which you’re asked to draw lines inside photos of cells to help differentiate structures.