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June 4, 2013 Comments (5) journal

Citizen Science


According to some stories I’ve been seeing in the media lately, we’re living in the time of citizen scientists. It’s a return to a way of intelligence-gathering and analysis that used to be the norm, but that fell out of fashion sometime in the last century as science became the realm of professionally trained academics. With the advent of portable and widely-available technology (smart phones, laptops, etc.), the methodology and the tools are present now for a wider segment of society to be involved in the data collection and observations upon which science depends.

It’s not so much that scientists are being evicted from their ivory towers. We need professionally trained minds to help develop the future, to use current information to predict what will come next and to give us ideas of how we should interact with our world. But the role of the citizen scientist, the data gatherer and advance trend-spotter on the ground has never been more important. Just as data without analysis is meaningless, decisions cannot be made without information. If science is to progress, it will be a team effort.

The Ikkatsu Project is citizen science. We go to places that are not frequently visited and we study them in ways that they have not been studied before. We collect specific information and bring it back to be included in the general set of data, where it can be used to inform future activities like prioritization of beach cleanup, sea bird studies and other survey activities. At the same time, by filming the process and by developing educational programs, we are trying to bring the operation to as many people as possible, to show other citizens the nature and the scope of the issues facing our oceans, and provide them with ideas about how they can get involved in the process.

That’s citizen science. Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin would have seen that right away. Given the chance, Ben Franklin and Rene Descartes would have loved to kayak remote Alaskan shorelines, conducting surveys of marine debris. Pretty sure.

5 Responses to Citizen Science

  1. Liam Antrim says:

    Right on essay!

  2. Dave Viens says:

    Another notable from around the time of Benjamin Franklin is Alexander von Humboldt.

    In those days when citizen scientists might be gentlemen naturalists, Humboldt’s writings were wildly popular with not only the academics of the day but also with ordinary, literate citizens. What is fascinating about Humboldt’s work is that he constantly tried to see the connection of everything to each other in a Web of Life — a very modern view. To say he was ahead of his time is an understatement: he recognized ‘ecology’ before the word existed.

    Although I am not yet finished reading it, I recommend Aaron Sachs book, _The Humboldt Current_, published by Viking in 2004. It tells of Humboldt and a similar story to Ikkatsu: That of men going off into the wild, natural world to gather data for Science.

    Keep up the good work, Ken!

  3. Kris Tabor says:

    Great post! We are busy connecting community and kids with the idea of Citizen Science in Oregon along the Clackamas River. I thought I’d mention John Bartram and his son William Bartram, 1739-1823 and recommend your readers would enjoy “Travels of William Bartram” first published in 1791 but copies are still available today. The book was hailed as a work of literature and an accurate account of natural and cultural history. The book speaks to the Bartram men explorations of 400 miles of the St. John’s River in Florida from 1765-66. The elder Bartram had been appointed Botanist Royal in America by King George III. Bartram too was well acquainted with Franklin and Jefferson. Happy exploring!

  4. Ken Campbell says:

    Thanks Dave and Kris…
    It’s funny how it all starts to come together at some point. I feel like I’ve been training for this for a long time, without really knowing I was doing it. I will read The Humboldt Current… thanks for the tip. And the Travels of William Bartram is on my list now too.

    Thanks again!