Thursday, February 16, 2012

Exploring the science of citizen science

Francois Taddei gave a great talk today at the Citizen Cyberscience Summit and boiled it down to "Do we need a science of citizen science?". Based at the Center for Research and Interdisciplinary at Paris Descartes University he even changed the title of his talk at the last minute after watching the earlier talks. However he brought up some great questions that could shape the future of citizen science.

There are some important synergies between science education and technology but how can how can citizen science be brought in? The thing is both technology and science are evolving at an unimaginable rate (a mobile phone can now be a microscope). But education is only really a 19th century innovation and is evolving a lot slower. It is changing now though, children now do real science or publish papers in peer reviewed journals.

Hand in hand with this is citizen cyberscience opening science to the public, for example Foldit is in some respects a game but it solves real scientifc problems but also is being used to improve the methodology being used by teh protein folding community. What Francois wanted to know was can we do the same for science education?

The old model was the "teacher" was catalyst and moving towards contributing to the frontier of knowledge is slow, you could be doing a PhD before you get to actual do new cutting edge research. Citizen science takes anyone and everyone to the frontier. What is the next step? Sometimes projects only get the public involved in one aspect. They just donate their computer to crunch or just recognise patterns and shapes. They should get involved in all aspects; creating models, planning analysis and doing the experimentation.

He did leave us with some open questions:
  • Are the best projects top down, bottom up, co-constructed
  • Who benefits? Who should benefit? Science, companies, contributors society
  • How can we maximise learning through research while contributing to the field of citizen science
  • Can we analyse and model citizen science processes
  • What would a particular discipline need to do to benefit from citizen science?
  • What is the optimal division of labour between man and machine, citizen and pro individual and collective.
However, for me, it really leaves one main question "Do we need a science of citizen science?"

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