The Science of Sustainability

The Joys of Citizen Science

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Bay Area birders participate in the Audubon Christmas Bird
Count. Credit: terriem on flickr.com

Though it's easy to forget, any kid with a magnifying glass can tell you that you don't need a fancy degree to be a scientist. All it takes is a curious mind and a keen eye for observation. And in case the mere thought of a world full of wonders isn't enough to get you motivated, there are dozens of ways your personal observations can contribute to formal, published research. It's called "citizen science".

The idea behind citizen science is that ordinary folks, spread all across the country (or the world!), can collect valuable data on a breadth and scale that would be impossible for a single researcher to do on her own. It's particularly suited to projects that require lots of field observations but not a lot of special tools – things like counting creatures or measuring snow. And while the Internet has made the process of recruiting volunteers and reporting data easier than ever, for most projects, no technology is necessary. One of the oldest citizen science projects, the Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count, has been happening for over a hundred years!

In case you have any doubts about whether a scattered group of untrained citizens can really produce valuable data, just check out this week's headlines about how climate change is affecting bird populations (they're moving north). The news is based on an Audubon Society study that looked at 40 years worth of citizen-produced information.

So how can you get involved? There are all kinds of projects, some that are ongoing, others that happen at a particular time. Here are a few to consider:

There's so much science out there, just waiting for you to get involved. Go observe!

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Category: Biology, Climate, Environment, Events

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Rachel Zurer

About the Author ()

Rachel Zurer is an intern for QUEST. Originally from Washington, DC, she's been steadily making her way further west and deeper into the world of science. After earning her B.A. at Duke University, she spent two years as a crew leader with the Utah Conservation Corps, building trails, killing weeds, and learning first hand about the awesomeness of nature. Then she moved indoors to become the Gallery Programs Coordinator for the Utah Museum of Natural History. Now a Berkeley resident, she's pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction writing through Goucher College. She's thrilled to be helping explain cool science for people through as many types of media as possible