Growing the Ranks of Citizen Science - Scistarter, CERN@School
The citizen cyberscience summit brings together so many disparate activities and people, all with the basic premise that everyone should be doing science and be involved. They also have the attitude of “Don’t Panic, Organise!” Well three projects which are doing this are the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS), London Zoo and EveryAware.
Shannon Dosemagen and Sara Wylie from PLOTS are interested in open source development of tools for grassroots science. They want civic science to solve the problems of engaging the community in environmental science and health research. What matters to them is that citizens are interested in different kinds of needs and data types outside usual standards. So they are trying to develop science which is community orientated and owned.
Their first project used balloons and digital cameras in 2 litre soft drink bottles to do aerial mapping/photography. It was first used in Louisiana so that actual on the ground stakeholders could get involved in tracking and monitoring the oil spill form the Deep Water Horizon disaster. They now have over 200,000 images and have also transformed all of the data into to industry standard but also created non-online data e.g. maps that were handed out at diners and shops. It has now been used for pollution monitoring at the Gowarnus Canal superfund site in Brooklyn NY as well as by protestors in Jerusalem, Wall Street and Santiago to show the extent of their movements.
Not everything is so urban though Alasdair Davies from Zoological Society of London presented the Instant Wild application. They have 6 camera traps in 4 locations like Sri Lanka, and Kenya. When they are activated by a mammal moving past them the photo is sent to a volunteers phone so they can identify what animal it was they are now upto 80,000 downloads to iPhones and over 325,00 identifications. They have had some real surprises like a fishing cat in Sri Lanka or leopards in Kenya but the most important one was a mountain mouse deer which has only been photographed once before in 3 years (before that it wasn’t even officially recognised as existing). They hope to move forward with 21 new cameras and new locations as well as supporting the Android platform.
The last project was EveryAware presnted by Vittorio Loreto from La Sapienza University of Rome. It is a platform that integrates objective and subjective monitoring to improve awareness and possibly change behaviour. They combine various technologies from sensor boxes to smart phones with their flagship project being “Widenoise”. Measureing actual noise (objective) and a user’s prediction (subjective) it helps build up a noise map of the area but also engage the user in what the noise levels are around them
These are only 3 of the projects trying to bring people to bear on science and engage them actively in thinking about their local environment as well as the global.
The first day of the Hackfest sparked off a great deal of discussion. Tom Igoe, is an Associate Arts Professor at Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) in NYU, and runs a truly inter-disciplinary course that takes in a hundred graduate students a year from different backgrounds (dancers, musicians engineers, librarians) and trains them in communications technologies, programming, electronics, media production and app development. All useful skills for developing citizen science projects!
During the two-year graduate ‘Physical Computing’ programme, students get truly inventive, exploring more intuitive ways of interacting with technology and computers to solve problems. A computer’s physical interface is fairly limited (i.e. keyboard, mouse, interactive display), but the ITP projects delve further utilising micro controllers and sensors that respond to humans in a more intuitive way.
One of the themes is to examine sustainable practices, and think about solving environment issues guided by students own motivations. One project, ‘Botanicals’ uses a simple temperature and humidity sensor that tweets you when your plant is sick. The group is also working to improve the work of conservationists that track monkeys in the forests.
Science is sometime shown as gleaming labs and shiny white coats, we all know that is not how it really is. Two talks from the second afternoon session at the London Citizen Cyberscience Summit showed how far this view can be from reality.
Lilian Pintea from the Jane Goodall Instituteis using community based monitoring in western Tanzania to protect the chimpanzee and their forest habitats. They use a holistic approach engaging and empowering communities to look after their natural resources (including chimpanzees). Based on Google’s Open Data Kit they get locals to get identify and tag local landmarks. However it is not always so high tech they have pulled data from maps drawn in the sand. It is still a bottom up approach, with the team just being a catalyst and facilitator, providing tools, training and stipends.
Jon Parsons from the Global Canopy Programme is using Technology to enable non-technical people to record the natural environment. He started his work in the UK with the Woodland Trust with a project digitising phenology (plant and animal life cycle events) datasets from as far back as 1736. They then asked for help from the public to do observations on ancient trees and the BBC programme Springwatch got involved and they had a massive uptake. They now have 75,000 catalogued and validated and almost 20,000 more. He then moved to more foreign climes, Guyana. The project uses a native community to monitor, record and verify areas and landmarks in the rainforest. It was not a normal project testing included making sure the phones could survive a dunking and mango fall! One of the stranger problems the encountered was that older members of teh community had very dried out skin so could not use the touch screen without licking their fingers first.
These are only 2 of many projects showing that citizens are not just people sitting at home analysing data on their home PCs, sometimes they are local tribes avoiding falling mangos.