We are pleased to announce publication of the first issue of JCOM for 2016.
SPECIAL ISSUE: CITIZEN SCIENCE, PART I
We are delighted to publish the first in a two part series exploring Citizen Science. Following a call for papers, Bruce Lewenstein and Emma Weitkamp received 37 manuscripts. Following review, it was clear that we would need two issues to accommodate the many worthy submissions. This newsletter introduces the essays and research papers that form part one of the Special Issue. April will see the publication of part two, and the final papers accepted through the call. We thank all the authors submitting manuscripts and the many reviewers contributing their time to peer review papers.
Can we understand citizen science?
Bruce V. Lewenstein
Citizen science is one of the most dramatic developments in science communication in the last generation. But analyses of citizen science, of what it means for science and especially for science communication, have just begun to appear. Articles in this first of two special issues of JCOM address three intertwined concerns in this emerging field: The motivation of citizen science participants, the relationship of citizen science with education, and the implications of participation for creation of democratic engagement in science-linked issues. Ultimately these articles contribute to answering the core question: What does citizen science mean?
ARTICLES AND ESSAYS
White House Citizen Science Forum
September 30, 2015
AAAS CEO Rush Holt’s Remarks
Published with permission from AAAS. The video is available here, with Dr. Holt’s remarks running from 43:00-56:30 minutes. Photo source: Library of Congress.
“I’m at the head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s premier general science membership organization, and our mission and goal includes integrating science into public policy, into legislation, into the branches of government, into education and culture and society. And citizen science connects directly to our mission and goals.
It’s interesting to note that citizen science is central to our founding. The AAAS was founded in 1848 when some disciplinary scientists got together and abolished their disciplinary societies so they could form a new society to advance science. The word “science” actually was relatively new to the general lexicon at that time, and they believed it was important to speak for science at large, the principles, the fundamentals, of science. And they elected as the first president of the AAAS, William Redfield who was a citizen scientist, who predated the Christmas Bird Count by half a century. You see, he had noticed after a storm went through New England, that trees in different locations were blown down in different directions. And he began to think that maybe storms were cyclonic in the circulation of winds. But of course, the conventional wisdom was that storms just blew through town, and blew in from one side and out the other. So he enlisted hundreds of people along the Atlantic coast and asked them to note when a storm came, at what time did the winds blow in what direction, and, if they had access to a barometer, what was the barometric pressure.
We now know, from every evening’s weathercast, that storms do circulate. And this citizen science activity established modern meteorology. Redfield was not a trained scientist, he was a steamship owner who had steamboats up and down the rivers, the Hudson River and so forth, in the early part of the 19th century. But he knew he could think like a scientist. And he could engage others to think like scientists. That’s the goal of AAAS. To see that society at large integrates science into the society, into the culture, into the policy.
So we certainly support crowdsourcing and citizen science. In our education programs we’ve developed something called “Active Explorer,” which is a smartphone app that’s available to kids to do citizen science—real science, and real education. We have programs to incorporate cooperative programs in the schools to look at meteorology around the world—consistent, I would say, with our founding. We have publicly endorsed the goals and the principles of Senator Coons’ legislation: the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act. Many of our members, of course, have taken part in these celebrated citizen science activities. Looking for gravitational lenses—some of you may know, these are the subtle signatures that you can observe when massive objects block a light source, but bend the light so you can see from Earth the light that would be obscured by those massive objects. Then you can deduce something about the masses of those objects. It requires some pattern recognition that humans are good at. Just as humans are used for typing galaxies, because you have to recognize forms and patterns, and humans do that well.
David Baker published an article in Science about protein folding. The way proteins that are in biological cells fold has a lot to do with how they function, and they try to arrange themselves in a low-energy state but there are lots of possibilities. And David Baker in an article in Science, and subsequently recognized by the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland prize, enlisted, I think, thousands of people, in looking at how the proteins might fold, to find novel foldings that could be important, at least for the understanding of biology, if not for human health.
Recently in Science Advances, the new AAAS open access journal—I recommend it to you by the way, fine journal, Science Advances, online, free to the user—we published an article about work that had been sponsored by the US Geological Survey, of how smartphones can be used in real time to detect and measure and categorize earthquakes. And in fact, it can be done in time to give warnings, because radio waves travel faster than seismic waves, you can then warn cities, of a coming earthquake. And it was a nice article, earlier this year.
We’ve followed all those things at AAAS, and care about them a lot. We hosted at the last annual meeting—by the way, David Baker, the protein biologist, spoke on this subject at our annual meeting—and we also hosted the first meeting of the Citizen Science Association, which is off to a good start now, and I urge you all to get involved in that. Because citizen science has all sorts of advantages. Labor that is distributed in space and time: many hands make light work. But in some cases, many perspectives make work possible. You can accomplish things that individuals cannot accomplish by having multiple points of view, multiple people practicing, contributing to the observations and the experiment.
And of course, it can be conducted without any limitation by region or race or age—it is democratic. Small ‘d’—I don’t want to get partisan here. It can speed discoveries, but actually make possible discoveries—and, by giving you large statistics, it makes it possible to do lots of cross-cutting statistical analysis that might be impossible if you have one researcher collecting data for one experiment.
It’s open. Now this is something that is essential to science. Open communication is one of the principal goals of the AAAS, or of scientists anywhere. The United States is open and democratic not just in our political system, but intellectually as well. We are, back to our foundings, rooted in the scientific way of thinking. Not just Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush, the acknowledged scientists. All of the founders were employing a scientific way of thinking: a reverence for evidence, and openness in communication. And I would argue that the benefits from citizen science—and by the way, citizen science doesn’t necessarily mean simply crowdsourcing. When I talked about William Redfield—yes, he was using crowdsourcing in the 1820s, but he was also a practitioner of open, democratic science.
And I think this points out what we stand to gain from the citizen science movement, even more than good scientific discoveries. What we stand to gain is what we badly need today: a reverence for evidence in our population and our policy-makers, an understanding of how science works, an ability to evaluate evidence on one’s own. Scientists, of course, have developed the ability to evaluate evidence. That’s what scientists do.
I think the American traditional ability to think like scientists has eroded somewhat. There are fundamental misunderstandings right now, widespread in our society, about vaccines and public health, about climate change, about evidence-based economics, about biological evolution. Our legislative, and policy, and public behavior suffer because the public forgets that they—ordinary people—have the ability, and I would argue the responsibility, to evaluate evidence. They think that science is for the scientists. Specially trained, esoteric scientists. Science is asking questions so they can be answered on the basis of evidence, that ideas can be communicated openly and somebody else can check your work.
Scientists develop a reverence for evidence; citizen scientists do too. And what they learn, and what they can communicate to their sisters and cousins and aunts, and their co-workers and everyone else, is that science is not just for the specialists. Science is accessible to all. It is essential that everyone practice this, at least to some extent, for the sake of our society and our policies. Thank you.”
Advancing Open and Citizen-Centered Government, OSTP Blog
“Today, the United States released our third Open Government National Action Plan, announcing more than 40 new or expanded initiatives to advance the President’s commitment to an open and citizen-centered government.
The release is part of our membership in the Open Government Partnership — launched by President Obama and seven other heads of state — which in just 4 years has grown from 8 to now 66 countries. Member countries and their civil society partners are all working to increase public integrity, enhance public access to information, improve management of public resources, and give the public a more active voice in government processes. As a member of the Open Government Partnership, the United States issues Open Government National Action Plans outlining ambitious commitments to advance open government every 2 years.
The release of this plan coincides with the Open Government Partnership Summit taking place this week in Mexico City, where more than 2,000 open government reformers from member governments and civil society organizations are gathering.”
Citizen science was mentioned in the Third Open Government National Action Plan, released today, including
Open Science (p. 9-10):
- Encourage Increased Public Participation in Open Science Using Low cost Scientific Instruments. One step that the Federal government could take to increase participation in citizen science and crowdsourcing is to develop hardware and software tools that are affordable, easy to use, and easy to improve.The Administration will kick off an interagency dialogue to identify best practices for how the Federal government can foster the development of low-cost scientific instrumentation and work with stakeholders through workshops and ideation challenges to identify opportunities for getting them into the hands of volunteers, such as air-quality monitors or wearables for monitoring personal health. Using these low-cost scientific instruments, volunteers can contribute their expertise to help advance a variety of scientific and society goals.
3. Engage the Public on our Nation’s Greatest Challenge (p. 12-13), including:
- “The EPA will expand the use of citizen science approaches in environmental research by engaging amateur beekeepers to provie data to better understand the effects of environmental stressors and by engaging citizen scientists in research on harmful algal blooms using smartphone microscopy.”
- “The USGS will roll out Science Cache, a web and mobile-based app for engaging the public in citizen science projects, such as finding huckleberry plants in Glacier National Park and taking pictures and recording data to inform research on climate change impacts.”
- “The National Archives will expand its citizen archivist program that makes records more accessible online to include citizen-scanning of federal records in the agency’s new Innovation Hub.”
- “Federal agencies will catalog their current open innovation activities including prizes, challenges, citizen science, and crowdsourcing activities…In addition, GSA will create a new project database that lists citizen science and crowdsourcing projects from across government.”
4. Collaborate with Citizen and Global Cartographers in Open Mapping (p. 13), including State Department, USAID, Peace Corps, and USGS will continue and expand crowdsourcing mapping efforts.
Watch the LIVE WEBCAST of “Open Science and Innovation: Of the People, By the People, For the People”, hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (@WhiteHouseOSTP), on Wed, September 30th from 8:10am-12pm ET. Learn more
Only a small fraction of Americans are formally trained as “scientists.” But that doesn’t mean that only a small fraction of Americans can participate in scientific discovery and innovation. Citizen science and crowdsourcing are approaches that educate, engage, and empower the public to apply their curiosity and talents to a wide range of real-world problems. To raise awareness of these tools and encourage more Americans to take advantage of them, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Domestic Policy Council will host “Open Science and Innovation: Of the People, By the People, For the People,” a live-webcast forum, on Wednesday, September 30th.
Follow on Twitter #WHCitSci
Geospatial Data: Progress Needed on Identifying Expenditures, Building and Utilizing Data Infrastructure, and Reducing Duplicative Efforts (GAO-15-193, Released March 16, 2015).Federal agencies and state governments use a variety of geospatial datasets to support their missions. For example, after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Federal Emergency Management Agency used geospatial data to identify 44,000 households that were damaged and inaccessible and reported that, as a result, it was able to provide expedited assistance to area residents. Federal agencies report spending billions of dollars on geospatial investments; however, the estimates are understated because agencies do not always track geospatial investments. For example, these estimates do not include billions of dollars spent on earth-observing satellites that produce volumes of geospatial data. The Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have started an initiative to have agencies identify and report annually on geospatial-related investments as part of the fiscal year 2017 budget process.
FGDC and selected federal agencies have made progress in implementing their responsibilities for the National Spatial Data Infrastructure as outlined in OMB guidance; however, critical items remain incomplete. For example, the committee established a clearinghouse for records on geospatial data, but the clearinghouse lacks an effective search capability and performance monitoring. FGDC also initiated plans and activities for coordinating with state governments on the collection of geospatial data; however, state officials GAO contacted are generally not satisfied with the committee’s efforts to coordinate with them. Among other reasons, they feel that the committee is focused on a federal perspective rather than a national one, and that state recommendations are often ignored. In addition, selected agencies have made limited progress in their own strategic planning efforts and in using the clearinghouse to register their data to ensure they do not invest in duplicative data. For example, 8 of the committee’s 32 member agencies have begun to register their data on the clearinghouse, and they have registered 59 percent of the geospatial data they deemed critical. Part of the reason that agencies are not fulfilling their responsibilities is that OMB has not made it a priority to oversee these efforts. Until OMB ensures that FGDC and federal agencies fully implement their responsibilities, the vision of improving the coordination of geospatial information and reducing duplicative investments will not be fully realized.
OMB guidance calls for agencies to eliminate duplication, avoid redundant expenditures, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the sharing and dissemination of geospatial data. However, some data are collected multiple times by federal, state, and local entities, resulting in duplication in effort and resources. A new initiative to create a national address database could potentially result in significant savings for federal, state, and local governments. However, agencies face challenges in effectively coordinating address data collection efforts, including statutory restrictions on sharing certain federal address data. Until there is effective coordination across the National Spatial Data Infrastructure, there will continue to be duplicative efforts to obtain and maintain these data at every level of government.
Why GAO Did This Study
The federal government collects, maintains, and uses geospatial information—data linked to specific geographic locations—to help support varied missions, including national security and natural resources conservation. To coordinate geospatial activities, in 1994 the President issued an executive order to develop a National Spatial Data Infrastructure—a framework for coordination that includes standards, data themes, and a clearinghouse. GAO was asked to review federal and state coordination of geospatial data.
GAO’s objectives were to (1) describe the geospatial data that selected federal agencies and states use and how much is spent on geospatial data; (2) assess progress in establishing the National Spatial Data Infrastructure; and (3) determine whether selected federal agencies and states invest in duplicative geospatial data. To do so, GAO identified federal and state uses of geospatial data; evaluated available cost data from 2013 to 2015; assessed FGDC’s and selected agencies’ efforts to establish the infrastructure; and analyzed federal and state datasets to identify duplication.
What GAO Recommends
GAO suggests that Congress consider assessing statutory limitations on address data to foster progress toward a national address database. GAO also recommends that OMB improve its oversight of FGDC and federal agency initiatives, and that FGDC and selected agencies fully implement initiatives. The agencies generally agreed with the recommendations and identified plans to implement them.
For more information, contact David A. Powner at (202) 512-9286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Frank Konkel, FCW, March 17, 2014
And as mapping technology advances, it allows for far more than foolproof directions. Federal agencies now use geospatial data, geo-analytics and multi-layered maps for myriad purposes, including gathering intelligence, predicting disease outbreaks and sharing data pools with the public.
For full text of the article, please click here.