By the mid-20th century, science was dominated by researchers employed by universities and government research laboratories. Subsequent calls for a democratization of science in the tradition of nature-loving amateur like Descartes, Newton, Leibniz, Buffon, and Darwin, have led to the evolution of Citizen Science (CS) over the past four decades.
Citizen Science is now usually defined as scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions. This type of public engagement in scientific research activities involves citizens actively contributing to science either with their intellectual effort or surrounding knowledge or with their tools and resources. Large volunteer networks of non-scientists often allow scientists to accomplish tasks that would be too expensive or time consuming to accomplish through other means. Participants provide and interpret experimental data and facilities for researchers, raise new questions and co-create a new scientific culture.
In this process, volunteers acquire new learning and skills, and deeper understanding of the scientific work in an appealing way. Science-society-policy interactions are improved leading to a more democratic research, based on evidence-informed decision making and thereby supporting Science Literacy. Many Citizen Science projects serve education and outreach goals. These projects may be designed for a formal classroom environment or an informal education environment such as museums. Recent projects place more emphasis on scientifically sound practices and measurable goals for public education.
The use of citizen science networks often allows scientists to accomplish research objectives more feasibly than would otherwise be possible. Answering big science questions around climate change and the diversity of life requires lots of data which researchers cannot gather alone.
Typologies of the level of citizen participation in citizen science, range between the following:
Characteristic principles of a Citizen Science project include:
Recent studies indicate that the largest impact of citizen science is in research on biology, conservation and ecology, and is utilized mainly as a methodology of collecting and classifying data. Citizen science networks are often involved in the observation of cyclic events of nature (phenology), such as effects of global warming on plant and animal life in different geographic areas. and in monitoring programs for natural resources. A growing number of Citizen Science projects take place in Africa, South America and elsewhere in the developing world.
Despite clear advantages, Citizen Science approaches have drawbacks related to, amongst other things, the reliability of data and statistical issues, which need to be acknowledged and remedied.
Technology is credited as one of the main drivers of the recent explosion of Citizen Science activity, by increasing the options:
Alternative definitions of Citizen Science place more emphasis on science communication and scientific citizenship: in this context, CS is more closely related to PAS (see above), including the idea of a scientist who are engaged in the democratic and policy processes and/or whose work is characterized by a sense of responsibility to serve the best interests of the wider community.
Likewise, CS projects aim to promote public engagement with the research, as well as with science in general. Collaboration in citizen science involves scientists and researchers working with the public. Community-based groups may generate ideas and engage with scientists for advice, leadership and program coordination.
Evidence is increasingly produced to demonstrate strong economic worth and monetary value in scientific fields such as biodiversity. Ultimately, citizen science allows for more research to be accomplished globally and connects people in a worldwide environmental movement.
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