The History of Citizen Science

The History of Citizen Science

Today’s blog post is brought to you by Lisa Drennen.

The term citizen science is relatively new, but public participation in scientific research to expand knowledge has been going on since the late 1800s. The first formal documentation of volunteers and scientists working together to further scientific knowledge involved bird migration monitoring between 1890s-1910. A famous ornithologist named Wells Cooke contributed much of his life to studying migratory bird patterns of hundreds of bird species across the USA. He established this bird migratory program and it became one of the first programs created for birds. During this time, the volunteers wrote down their observations on cards! These cards are being scanned into a public database for historical analysis! How cool! 

In more recent years, public participation in science and research has increased thanks to advancing technology and raised public awareness of science issues. Around the 1990s, the use of citizen science drastically increased as the internet made sharing and contributing  information easier and quicker. In the last two decades, Smart phones have made the process of data sharing even easier with reliable internet, GPS and many other computer capabilities. 

One awesome example of what citizen science is capable of was the National Geographic Society’s bioblitz held in 2011 at the Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona. In 24 hours, more than 5,000 citizens contributed to adding more than 400 species that were unknown to the National Park Service’s species list! One species of bryophyte was found during this bioblitz that was new to the park and potentially new to science! 

In 2013, the citizen science association was established for practitioners and researchers of citizen science. In 2014, the journal,Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, was established by the Citizen Science Association and Ubiquity Press Ltd. Citizen science is continuing to expand and be used across disciplines. Its use is noted in policy making, community engagement, and environmental aspects. 

April 2020 marked the first global citizen science month! Therefore, this month marks the second annual global citizen science month. I am excited how this event has grown in such a short amount of time. In just two years, global citizen science month has gone from a one day event to many partners holding events throughout the entire month! 

Today, there are several organizations and public databases where hundreds of citizen science projects can be found! Interested volunteers have the opportunity to join and contribute to furthering knowledge on topics of their choice. Whether you like the stars, frogs, plants, animals, or like to help monitor water, air, or soil pollution, there is a project for you! If you want to join projects that count birds, collect weather data, observe coral bleaching, or help track invasive species, click here. Some notable websites to check out that contain projects you could potentially join are Zooniverse, Scistarter, National Geographic Education: Bioblitz, and adventurers and scientists for conservation

Photo credits:

First image is Lisa Drennen training citizen scientists how to identify and conduct photo surveys of native bumble bees in St. Louis, MO. Photo was taken by citizen scientist Luz Rooney. 

Second image is by Arthur Ogleznev from Pexels

Additional Resources:

For more information on citizen science and its history from National Geographic, click here.

For more information on citizen science month going on right now, click here