Friday, May 31, 2013

The Citizen Scientist still matters

The nonscientist, the amateur, whatever term you want to use, the role of the non-degreed scientist has not outlived its utility. Sure, it was easier to make contributions without a scientific position or degree in past centuries - or was it? Thanks to the Internet and improvements in gadgets like telescopes, the amateur can contribute more than ever. Citizen scientists find comets and asteroids, search for extraterrestrial intelligence, count birds and bugs and all manner of creatures, and collaborate on a global scale.  It's pretty cool. 
Here, courtesy of my friend Crystal Kuecker, is the BBC's great collection of links for amateurs in the UK.  (The word "amateur," by the way, means "love of.") In the United States, we have the Great Backyard Bird Count, an indispensable contribution to monitoring the status and migration of bird populations that has now expanded globally. You want science? Try people from 103 countries reporting on 3,144 species of birds. Then we have the Christmas Bird Count to check on our feathered friends in the winter. In fact, amateur bird spotters now contribute rear round to the Audubon Society's eBird. When a spectacular explosion lit the skies of Jupiter last September, it was amateurs who caught it. Through the Zooniverse portal, citizens contribute to a wide variety of disciplines that simply cannot do a good job without the participation of a large body of home-grown naturalists to supplement the work of professionals.
So go do some science!

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