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Chief Penguin
Musings from the Academy’s Global Ambassador

July 24, 2012

Citizen Science Army Marches

The Academy recently launched a new citizen science initiative, which seeks to advance our understanding of California biodiversity and address conservation, restoration, and protection needs. Leveraging the enthusiasm and power of a volunteer corps, the Academy is participating in two pilot projects: 1) partnering with the Marin Municipal Water District to survey the biodiversity of Mt. Tamalpais to inform management practices, and 2) partnering with the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary to document the marine ecosystem at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Learn more on our Citizen Science page.

I’ve included below an op-ed piece from the Marin Independent Journal published a few months ago celebrating citizen science—which was, in fact, the first science.

Citizen Science Brings Passion about the Natural World Back into Our Lives
By Jaimie Baxter

Where would the scientific world be today without the contributions of Galileo or Charles Darwin?

Alice Eastwood (photo: USGS)

Locally speaking, how much of Marin’s natural history would be known were it not for Alice Eastwood? According to contemporary thought, these prominent contributors to our knowledge of natural processes and scientific theory were not scientists by training, but ordinary members of society with an inexorable curiosity in solving riddles of the natural world.

Charles Darwin’s early fascination with the natural world distracted him from his medical education. In spite of this, Darwin followed his passion to publish Origin of Species, a creation that is considered one of the most influential works to scientific and evolutionary theory in all of history.

Alice Eastwood, a teacher and self-taught botanist, contributed invaluable botanical knowledge of Marin flora to Marin County and its scientific community. Her countless collections are housed at the California Academy of Sciences to this day.

These examples showcase the pursuit of scientific study by lay citizens who kept journals, collected specimens and wrote papers about their discoveries. This type of observation-based inquiry and contribution to our collective scientific knowledge waned in the mid-20th century as science became the domain of professional researchers who were employed by governmental institutions and universities.

Alas, the dominant academic discourse of the 21st century remains entrenched in the idea that the collection of scientific data is only valid if performed by professionally trained experts.

But recently, a movement that emphasizes uniting public involvement with scientifically sound practices is beginning to blossom. This movement is called citizen science and it has the many benefits of modern technology. Indeed, technology may well be the main driving force of recent explosions of citizen science activity. It provides access to expansive populations of people, and these large volunteer networks allow scientists to accomplish tasks that would be too expensive or time consuming to accomplish through other means.

Many of us are merely one step away from becoming citizen scientists. By taking advantage of mobile applications, we have the ability to record data while hiking on our favorite trail, gardening in our backyards, or wandering a portion of the Pacific coast.

Not all “apps” record data, but questions can be posted to the web with answers provided in a matter of minutes. Some examples of these mobile applications and data recorders are Nature’s Notebook, Project Budburst, Calflora’s Observer, SciSpy, eBird, iNaturalist, LeafSnap, NestWatch, WildLab, Project Squirrel and the Great Sunflower Project.

Local forms of citizen science exist in Marin as well. For example, this year the Marin Municipal Water District, in celebration of the district’s 100th anniversary, has teamed up with the California Academy of Sciences to carry out multiple bioblitzes to capture a snapshot of the flora of Mt. Tamalpais. Another local land management agency, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is piloting the California Phenology Project which tracks seasonal changes of designated plant species in the Presidio and Marin Headlands.

In addition, the Point Reyes Bird Observatory recruits citizen scientists for their annual
Christmas Bird Count from mid-December to early January.

Jaimie Baxter is an Americorps member with the Conservation Corps North Bay and a restoration and ecosystem management intern with the Marin Municipal Water District.

Filed under: Uncategorized — gfarrington @ 10:58 am

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