Ten Principles of Citizen Science

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Text via http://ecsa.citizen-science.net/sites/ecsa.citizen-science.net/files/ECSA_Ten_principles_of_citizen_science.pdf


Todd Hanson:

"Involving citizens in science, however, is more complicated than one might expect. Simply giving, or in some cases selling, instruments to someone to collect data with, or involving groups of people in data processing, may give some nonscientists a sense of participation, but this is not genuine involvement. To be truly beneficial to all parties involved, citizen science requires a principled approach in which the critical standards, beliefs and behaviors of science are supported by competent, methodical, ethical, and intellectually balanced actions. A principled approach means bringing amateurs and professionals together in ways that truly work and matter.

Led by the Natural History Museum in London, the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), for example, has developed the Ten Principles of Citizen Science to help guide the field. It defines a principled citizen science as being genuine, meaningful, and mutually beneficial both to citizens and professional scientists, with the research they do not only generating new knowledge or understanding, but giving the citizen scientists active participation in multiple stages of the scientific process, if they desire. In this approach, citizen scientists are not confined to data processing or other activities that do not allow genuine participation in the research.

While all of the principles of the ECSA statement are important, three of them struck me as particularly noteworthy. The first is that citizen science should be considered a unique scientific research approach with its own limitations and biases that should be considered and controlled for in the research. To me, this is an interestingly honest acknowledgement that citizen science does differ from professional scientific research, yet is not seen as inferior or second-rate. While controlling for biases and limitations may seen tedious or difficult, it is at this point that the professional scientist earns his or her keep by formulating a research approach that accommodates them.

The second noteworthy aspect of the ECSA statement is the demand for acknowledgement of the work of the citizen scientists in resulting research publications. In science, publications are the lifeblood of practice. The protocols, traditions, and rituals that govern scientific communication and publication are the stuff about which ethnographic dissertations are written and even slight changes to a such a ritualized tradition can be culturally traumatic to its long term practitioners. However, if the principled values of science practice are to be upheld in citizen science, then the contributions of all, including citizen scientists, must be acknowledged in public and in print.

Finally, the ECSA statement expects the public availability of research project data and open access publishing to be part of citizen science practices. Here, the ESCA has stipulated one of the most fundamental tenets of scientific research, transparency, as a mandate of citizen science. Without it, citizen scientists can be exploited with no substantive intellectual involvement in a science project.

Not to be overshadowed by European efforts, the Citizen Science Association (CSA) provides an equally principled approach to constructing what it calls “a community of practice for the field of public participation in scientific research.” CSA has made its mission the advancement of citizen science through communication, coordination, and education, with goals of (1) establishing a global community of practice for citizen science, (2) advancing the field of citizen science through innovation and collaboration, and (3) promoting the value and impact of citizen science. Additional goals include (4) providing access to tools and resources that further best practices, (5) supporting communication and professional development services, and (6) fostering diversity and inclusion within the field of citizen science.

Ultimately the rise of citizen science has the potential to reshape the landscape of scientific research practice. As the ECSA has noted, effective, inclusive citizen science that is genuine, meaningful, and mutually beneficial is a scientific research approach with its own limitations and biases that must be considered and controlled for in research design. It is science practiced differently in order to mutually benefit from both the opportunities for public engagement it provides and the democratization of science it engenders. Things are bound to change as citizen science continues to grow.

Meanwhile, other efforts are underway to to build the field that make it much quicker and easier for citizen scientists to connect with professional researchers, and contribute to research." (http://blog.castac.org/2015/12/citizen-science/)