What do the monk Gregor Mendel, the fossil collector Mary Anning and the politician Benjamin Franklin have in common? All three are famous "citizen scientists." Without having any training in their field of research, they made significant scientific discoveries. Anyone who is curious about discovering the world can become an amateur researcher themselves through citizen science: Observing animals and plants, analyzing languages, researching the weather - anything is possible!
Is Citizen Science new?
No. People are curious beings. Since time began, regardless of origin, age or gender, people have been pondering the origins of the world and its mysterious processes. They observe, document and draw conclusions from their accumulated knowledge. A division between amateurs and researchers did not exist in the past. This only occurred with the institutionalisation of science in the 19th century. Enthusiastic citizen scientists such as birdwatchers, botanists and stargazers, who pursue their passion in their free time, can still be found today in clubs, organisations, etc.
What role do technologies play?
Modern technologies such as GPS, internet and smartphones support the rise of citizen science. With their help, research is possible from almost anywhere and at any time. Today, interested people can make the computing power of their computers available for scientific calculations, measure environmental parameters with sensors, take photos of animals and plants with cell phones, post new research questions on a platform or offer scientific solutions through online games.
Citizen Science is diverse
The Citizen Science concept is constantly evolving. Due to the different topics, scientific disciplines and also cultures, a uniform definition of Citizen Science is very difficult (see literature, topic "Definitions"). The 10 Citizen Science Principles of the European Citizen Science Association (2015) offer some guidance. These lay down important prerequisites for good Citizen Science practice. The most important core statements:
- Citizen science projects actively involve citizens in scientific endeavour that generates new knowledge or understanding.
- Citizen science projects have a genuine science outcome.
- Both the professional scientists and the citizen scientists benefit from taking part.
- Citizen scientists may, if they wish, participate in multiple stages of the scientific process.
- Citizen scientists receive feedback from the project.
- Citizen science is considered a research approach like any other, with limitations and biases that should be considered and controlled for.
- Citizen science project data and meta-data are made publicly available and where possible, results are published in an open access format.
- Citizen scientists are acknowledged in project results and publications.
- Citizen science programmes are evaluated for their scientific output, data quality, participant experience and wider societal or policy impact.
- The leaders of citizen science projects take into consideration legal and ethical issues surrounding copyright, intellectual property, data sharing agreements, confidentiality, attribution, and the environmental impact of any activities.