Updated: Oct 4, 2019
You may not have considered the possibility of a hobby to have a transformative impact; however, it’s easy for this to be the case if your hobby is centered around reporting observations in the natural world. An internationally-regarded concept, known as citizen science (CS), is ”the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists” (www.lexico.com). The term was independently coined by Alan Irwin (a British sociologist) and Rick Bonney (an American ornithologist) in the mid-1990s, and though the definitions slightly differ, both are predominantly shaped around the relationship between nature and its ordinary inhabitants.
Though the concept of citizen science is not new, more people are becoming increasingly aware of its existence and importance. Mass participation by those of us living in a variety of environments embodies the whole notion of CS. Projects can range from organized events to lone excursions, and subjects range from human anatomy, to indigenous plants, to space—the possibilities are endless. To many, there isn’t one completely definitive way of participating so long as the natural world is analyzed and testable observations are shared in order to promote the progress of scientific research. As CosmoQuest, a website designed to help space enthusiasts collaborate, puts it, citizen science is “everyday people making it possible for questions to be answered through their contributions of work, data, and time.”
iNaturalist is one of the most popular websites used by citizen scientists. On the site, you can record your findings and share them with other scientists around the globe; by doing so, a scientist can garner more information concerning their research or simply spread knowledge and awareness of their observations. Crowdsourcing is a key component of the site—and, considering technology’s continual progression, citizen science as a whole can benefit substantially from it. Through sites like this one, those with fewer resources can still make substantial contributions to the scientific world. The internet makes it intrinsically easier to connect with like-minded individuals, foster relationships, and advance your understanding of various qualities that make up the scientific world.
Citizen science is also a neat way for adults and children alike to establish relationships and be introduced to entirely new ways of seeing the world and all of its many functions. Raleigh has its own fair share of citizen science programs offered through the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences—and each one is equally intriguing. Some of their current ongoing projects include a sparrow swap, a box turtle watch, cat tracking, and studying how the microbes in ear wax and armpits correlate with one’s ancestry. The museum also places a huge emphasis on the importance of bringing citizen science into middle school curriculums in hopes to present authentic science to individuals at a young age.
A scientist cannot be solely characterized by a frazzled white-haired man in a lab coat surrounded by hazardous chemicals anymore, and you don’t have to produce extensive lab reports to make a difference. You, too, can be a scientist and contribute to the ever-growing compilation of new research and observations. Your recordings are invaluable for the scientists looking for widespread or region specific data. In the end, there is something of interest readily available for anyone to partake in—it’s all a matter of discovering where your interests lie and making the time for it. Who knows—you could help identify a new species or be a part of the team that discovers a new planet! The possibilities are truly endless.