Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Citizien Scientists: A Positive View

Volunteers play a vital role in ensuring that a range of valuable long-term datasets continue to survive, a team of scientists will say. [BBC online, March 15]

I am critical against the trend to engulf increasingly citizen scientists in projects and tasks traditionally scientists can not do anymore, or simple don't have the resources. A very typical example is the effort by GBIF or EOL to enlisten volunteers to help to create content (data) for there services.

It is not so much the notion that they there are not many very skillful and dedicated people out there. It is more two elements that concern me. To know, whether something is relevant or not that needs to understand the topic in a wider sense, and the reliability of the data generation in terms of commitment. A commitment that is purely driven by interest and makes these volunteers very dedicated, but at the same time certain tasks are not being done, because they are less attractive or at times that are not convenient.
This is especially of concern for long term monitoring studies, such as birders do. For collaborations, these needs its own skills to manage a crowd that you can not promise a financial reward but motivation.

The story reported in BBC and mainly reflects the work done by Earthwatch makes just the opposite point, that many of the long term observation studies only work because of the volunteers.

This is a very positive note, similar to the fact that very many taxonomists are amateurs and produce a huge wealth of knowledge.


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