The Best of 2013 // #76: The Rise of Citizen Science


Citizen Science was a driving force behind some major science stories in 2013, thanks in partly to its exponential growth: in 2009, fewer than 50 citizen science citations were made in 2009.  In 2013, that has increased to almost 600.

/READ MORE// Growing Stem Cells in Animals

More and more, scientists are seeing the potential power of citizens helping them with data.

“It would have taken our researchers 18 months to do what citizen scientists did in just three months,” – Amy Carton, citizen science lead at Cancer Research UK.

Carton had a team of volunteers help identify cancerous cells by looking at slides from drug trials online.  The results were presented at the National Cancer Research Institute’s annual conference in November.

Government agencies, from NASA to the USGS, have turned to crowdsourcing websites, such as CrowdCrafting, to help expand the number and diversity of citizen science programs available.

CrowdCrafting, for example, now lets researchers create ‘micro-tasking’ projects.  One micro-project, called FrackFinder, launched in August, with volunteers poring over 9,000 aerial images to identify and classify fracking wells in Pennsylvania.  In 29 days, the team made 90,000 classifications, and identified 1,420 different well locations.  The next phase of the project will be to track changes in the surface area from those wells.

Another impact from growing citizen scientists is a boom in new products, many of them developed in collaboration with volunteers.

“There is a $37-billion-dollar-a-year industry for scientific research equipment that never saw individual users, like citizen scientists, as a market,” – Shannon Dosemagen, co-founder of DIY community Public Lab

Scientists are also creating more projects for citizens that have a high entertainment value.  One example is EyeWire, an online brain-mapping game, where players compete to build 3D neurons.

“Millions of people like to spend time playing games on their mobile devices…We want to tap into that huge amount of human effort and direct it toward medical research.” – Amy Carton

There’s more stories from 2013.  Check out the Best of 2013 series here

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