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The Sciences

Get Out, Do Science, Make a Difference: The Field Guide to Citizen Science

Coming this February, the Field Guide to Citizen Science helps you get out and start contributing to science yourself.

Illustration of the World
(Credit: Timber Press/Julianna Johnson)

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The Field Guide to Citizen Science recently appeared on Discover's 2020 reading list.

Darlene Cavalier, Catherine Hoffman and Caren Cooper, all citizen science experts from SciStarter, walk readers through how to get started with citizen science — real scientific research anyone can do. In addition to providing an overview and brief history of the field, the authors describe and invite readers to do projects across seasons, outside, online, at home, at their local library and more. There's truly something for everyone, and you can find a project that satisfies your curiosity, addresses an issue you care about and fits your lifestyle.

The book is currently available for pre-order, and the excerpt below is courtesy of Timber Press. Can't wait to get started with citizen science? You can head over to SciStarter right now to search over 3,000 citizen science projects and events.


Book Cover for Field Guide to Citizen Science
(Credit: Timber Press/Julianna Johnson)

Many times in our lives we may be filled with an urge to explore and discover. We may be curious about everyday encounters with birdsongs or spiders in webs. Or we may become concerned about air quality or the safety of our drinking water. As we face global challenges, we may want to find local ways to make a difference in protecting endangered species, safeguarding marine systems, preventing disease, or accelerating medical research. Sometimes finding solutions through new discoveries requires a lot more eyes, ears, and perspectives than scientists possess. Put simply, citizen science is a collaboration between scientists and those of us who are curious or concerned and motivated to make a difference. Citizen science can satisfy that urge, bring joy and purpose to our lives, and advance a surprising diversity of scientific research.

This book will help you discover opportunities to be an explorer, to participate in this movement sweeping the globe. Yes, the globe. If you are surprised to hear about the burgeoning popularity of citizen science, you are not alone. Conventional science frequently takes place out of sight, with methods and outcomes that remain a mystery to most. Compare that to sports, art, or music, in which we watch professionals perform in public view and then take part as amateurs in our local sports leagues, art gallery, or garage band. There’s no expectation that our participation will or should lead to professional careers in pursuits we enjoy. By putting science in public view, citizen science makes it possible for anyone to participate, with or without a formal scientific background.

Citizen science brings science within reach by connecting two critical ingredients: you and teams of scientists who need and value your help for authentic research. Typically, scientists provide the instructions, protocols, and procedures, as well as the equipment and structures to guide you in sharing your observations: what you see, hear, smell, track, count, and tally. In return, you provide scientists knowledge through your observations and insights or analysis—data that scientists cannot access, collect, and analyze alone. Increasingly, citizen scientists are also setting the research agenda by identifying issues they are curious or concerned about and then tapping scientists to assist with the development of protocols, interpretation of data, and translation of data into action.

Today’s opportunities to participate in citizen science are boundless. Odds are there is a citizen science project that coincides with any hobby, interest, curiosity, or concern that you may have. Matching people and projects appropriately is essential to success. Along with the fifty-plus projects featured in this book, we’ll show you how to discover thousands of opportunities and the citizen science projects most suited to you by working with the SciStarter website. You can use it to discover, join, and even track your contributions to projects. With SciStarter as your online assistant, we encourage you to treat this book as your field guide and the beginning of an exploration into citizen science.

Some participants collect data by taking photos of clouds or streams, documenting changes in nature, or counting litter on their local beach. Other citizen scientists use low-cost sensors to help scientists keep an eye on local air, water, and social conditions. Countless others collect and send in microbes, track flu symptoms, or play games to help advance health and medical research. People just like you are counting bird, butterfly, and other pollinator populations, helping NASA track landslides, and monitoring noise and light pollution in our communities.

In short, by working together we better understand our world and make better decisions.

We sincerely hope that once you start participating in the projects featured in this book, you’ll share your experiences with your friends and family and perhaps even inspire them to become citizen scientists. Witnessing the transformation in people who realize they are capable and needed gives us a sense of joy and accomplishment and inspires us to work harder to reach more people. You’ll see what we mean!

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