What is Citizen Science?
The terms citizen science and citizen scientists entered the Oxford English Dictionary in June 2014. ] Citizen science is defined as scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions.
Open Science will enable the inclusion of many actors beyond the realm of the classical academic context. Citizen Science is an example of the further extension of knowledge producing actors.
The field of Citizen Science is evolving very quickly, and ‘mainstream science’ may well not have fully understood the contribution to science, ‘citizen science’ is already making.
Citizen Science can take different forms:
-Examples like Galaxy Zoo and Zoouniverse have shown that it can be possible to bring in 100 of thousands of citizens to help with scientific research. The Zooniverse and the suite of projects it contains is produced, maintained and developed by the Citizen Science Alliance (CSA). The member institutions of the CSA work with many academic and other partners around the world to produce projects that use the efforts and ability of volunteers to help scientists and researchers deal with the flood of data that confronts them.
-Citizens can also fund citizen labs erected through means of crowd funding. The first-ever community biotechnology laboratory, GENSPACE, a Biosafety Level One facility in Brooklyn, New York, provides extracurricular experiences for students, and encourage scientific entrepreneurship, particularly in the fields of molecular and synthetic biology (see genspace.org). Labs like Genspace are based on open source principles and community access to research.
-Citizen science can also be executed by private start-ups and may eventually become big operators. The space exploration startup SpaceX was founded in 2002 to bypass bureaucratic delays associated with government-run organisations. SpaceX became the first private company to launch and return a spacecraft, and in 2012 signed a contract with NASA to provide the next generation of space flight. One could argue that once citizens have transformed themselves into full time scientific-technological operators, they have transcended the scope of what we would understand under citizen science. The border line between citizen and professional science may be hard to define.
-Citizen Science is often linked with Outreach activities, Science Education activities or various forms of public engagement with science as a way to promote Responsible Research and Innovation.
What makes Citizen Science different from ‘professional science’?
1. Citizen Scientist go where professional scientists don’t go: improving the quality of data and scientific evidence
Citizen Science is characterised by the fact that citizen scientists go to places where professional scientists don’t go. Purely at the level of ‘collecting data’, they often provide a data-source unknown to professional scientists. Open Science can make science better, among other by the inclusion of a new range of knowledge producers such as citizen scientists which provide new perspectives. Indeed Citizen Science has contributed to scientific discovery and the quality of the data.
2. Impact of Citizen Science on society
Citizen Scientists also have often an ‘immediate’ interest at stake, be it in the faster development of medicines or to gain better insight in the quality of the local environments in which they live. Citizen Scientists are often interested in giving ‘direction’ to science or re-directing science to yield information on the quality of life of local communities. Citizen scientists who globally network are often addressing ‘the grand societal challenges and work on issues relating to climate change or food security. Citizen Science can therefore contribute to Responsible Research and Innovation, as it reinforces its public engagement dimension and has an immediate interest to direct or re-direct science towards societal desirable objectives.
At the Conference ‘A new start for Europe: Opening up to an ERA of Innovation’ on 22 June 2015 in Brussels various panellists noted that Citizens can contextualise scientific knowledge, thus enabling locally viable innovations. The key note speaker at the conference, Prof. Vogel even made the case that our current innovation model is in decline (in terms of number of innovations it annually delivers) and that for new innovations, citizen science will be indispensable.