Citizen science is a term used for projects and programs of scientific work in which individual volunteers or networks of volunteers (many of whom may have no specific scientific training) perform or manage research-related tasks such as observation, measurement or computation (Wikipedia, 2011). The use of citizen-science networks often allows scientists to accomplish research objectives more feasibly than would otherwise be possible. In addition, these projects aim to promote public engagement with the research, as well as with science and conservation in general.
Audubon has been a pioneer in the field of Citizen Science. In fact, the longest-running citizen science project currently active is probably the Christmas Bird Count, which started in 1900. Audubon continues to work with partners around the country to match members with projects in their local area. Whether you are a beginning birder or a seasoned veteran, there are ways to contribute to conservation and research projects.
Most people assume you have to have a scientific background to conduct citizen science. Not so! Audubon is working to pair volunteers with a background in experimental design with volunteers skilled in bird identification and willing to help with data collection.
The most important factor for citizen science is actually the level of commitment. For the integrity of scientific data, it is best if all information in a project is collected by the same group of recorders. Lucky for us, “commitment” is generally something Audubon members have in spades!
Are you ready to participate in a Citizen Science Project? Help is just a click away!
Issues to consider when you want to help…
What exactly are we doing? A good citizen science program will always seek to inform volunteers about their roles in the projects. However, sometimes the greater scientific goal might not be immediately obvious. In some cases, research protocols may even require that data collectors be “blind” to the purpose. If you are working as one member of large team, you may have to wait to the end of the project to fully understand your role. But you will always know the results and how the data were used at the conclusion of the project.
No one said there would be a test! Before you become a participant in a study, you might have to go through an evaluation process. If you have spent decades watching Florida birds, don’t be insulted by this requirement. It is important that that researchers know the skill levels of all participants so that data collected by different observers can be considered comparable. Use it as a chance to show off what a birding rockstar you are!
You want me to go WHERE and WHEN? Sometimes research projects send you places you might not consider prime birding habitat. You might be asked to conducts surveys in areas that seem unusual at first (through a suburban neighborhood, a shopping mall parking area, or a construction site). This actually makes your work more important than ever—because if you weren’t doing the surveys, there certainly wouldn’t be any casual birders making observations here either!
Access to public and private lands is often required for research projects. Volunteers need to be aware of property issues and sometimes are asked to be responsible for controlling entry to restricted areas.
Citizen scientists are the very heart of Audubon, sounding the alarm on declining species, evaluating habitats imperiled birds depend upon, and even unraveling the mysteries of bird biology. So what are you waiting for? Now that you know what it means to be a Citizen Scientist take a look at some of the current projects to which you might contribute.