The invisible citizen scientist?

October 2nd, 2014 | Posted by citizenscience in article | review - (0 comments)

In early September this year, Caren B. Cooper, Jennifer Shirk and Benjamin Zuckerberg published an article called The Invisible Prevalence of Citizen Science in Global Research: Migratory Birds and Climate Change. This article analyzes the role of citizen science in the (most cited) articles describing the “impacts of climate change on avian migration”. The results are quite interesting:

We found that 85 of the 171 papers that we could classify were based on citizen science, constituting 5 to 20 papers per claim (Appendix S1). Citizen science heavily informed claims related to ecological patterns and consequences and was less frequently cited for claims about mechanisms (Table 1).

In other words, when it comes to avian migration and climate change, citizen scientists contribute to almost half of the body of scientific facts that we rely on for knowing about this phenomenon. Moreover, the quality of the data was examined, and the authors found no deviation among the observations performed by citizen scientists vs. the observations made by conventional means.

However, Cooper, Shirk and Zuckerberg point to a problem of visibility of the citizen scientists. It seems like the scientific community has not yet recognized the contribution of citizen scientists properly, and the authors argue that there is a “stigma” attached to involving the public:

The use of citizen science data in an active field of ecological research, such as migration phenology, is strong evidence that any stigma associated with the use of data collected by volunteers is unwarranted. Yet, the contributions of citizen science were not readily detectable in most cases. Thus, the stigma may persist unless researchers begin to draw attention to the citizen-science elements in their research papers.

As a consequence, scientific articles do not always render visible that citizens have participated in keywords, titles or abstracts. Thus, the authors suggest that the keyword “citizen science” should be used as a standardized keyword for all further studies that involve their contribution.

Cooper CB, Shirk J, Zuckerberg B (2014) The Invisible Prevalence of Citizen Science in Global Research: Migratory Birds and Climate Change. PLoS ONE 9(9): e106508. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0106508