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using the power of people to drive research



Campbell Paine walked through the bush with his camera in cash. Sudden movement in the distance attracts the eye and lifts the camera, bringing the bird figure into focus. Fast movement – click – and the bird's image is preserved and preserved, ready for installation.

Mr Payne is one of thousands of people around the country who are actively engaged in what is called civic science every day: enthusiastic amateurs whose efforts help sustain and run research projects.

Increasingly, scientific institutions and governments are discovering the benefits of using a group of people who want to be involved in the scientific process, and larger strides are being made to encourage others to participate.

Campbell Paine is not considered a citizen as a scientist, but says he is happy to use his hobby to help manage biodiversity.

Campbell Paine is not considered a citizen as a scientist, but says he is happy to use his hobby to help manage biodiversity.Credit:Campbell Paine

In a world where some people seem to be turning away from scientific principles in favor of pseudo-science and denial of facts, scientists are hoping to demystify the scientific method and encourage scientific literacy.

What is citizen science?

While the term has been used in many different contexts, the definition relies on a person helping researchers to collect or interpret data, especially for large collections of data that would have been impossible to collect or sift in the past.

While doing this previously, in an ad hoc way, the movement is becoming more organized. A 2018 review of Queensland's citizen science projects revealed that there were 138 separate projects in that state with the help of people power in some form of data collection.

The Australian Association for Civic Sciences was set up in 2015, a year after a meeting of key science figures in Brisbane identified the need for a more organized framework for citizen science projects.

ACSA chairman Erin Roger, who works for CSIRO, said the need for direction has become apparent.

"Because it's such a fast space, sometimes there is duplication or lack of direction between different projects," Dr Roger said.

"Sometimes projects can be labeled citizen science, when they are not real science citizens, so we stand for citizen science projects and demonstrate its potential, which is enormous."

Dr Roger, who holds a doctorate in land ecology, said some believe that conservation projects that used volunteers fall under the banner of citizen science, which was not the case.

More importantly, the project must collect data that can be given to researchers for further study or use scientific methods in some way to answer questions.

"They say they are following something around the area, then it's civic science," she said. "But if they are just planting trees or weeding weeds, it is not considered a science for citizens."

Far from shepherd or snowboarding guards, such definitions were necessary, Dr. Roger said, to ensure people use their time effectively and get tangible results.

Regent's manager shot by Campbell Paine, only the fourth birdwatcher in the area in 150 years.

Regent's manager shot by Campbell Paine, only the fourth birdwatcher in the area in 150 years.Credit:Campbell Paine

"We risk excluding people if they can't see the scientific outcome of their work," she said.

"People may be disappointed, thinking, 'I've spent hours and hours doing this, but with what effect? “. So, transmitting information to participants is a key part of the process. "

Everyday people

Campbell Payne was an Australian Army officer for 31 years until his recent retirement, and had an interest in bird monitors throughout his career.

When released overseas, in places like Papua New Guinea, he will send photos of local birds to his family in Brisbane, with his daughter Jasmine also very interested in birds.

Describing it as his "break-in period", he spends his free time recently waving up to six hours in Bushland, photographing birds of birds.

Hobby has grown into an obsession, but one with benefits for researchers. Mr Payne uploaded many of his photos to an application called QuestaGame, which asks users to submit wildlife images with information about when and where they were photographed.

The app is structured as a game – users gain points, and Mr Payne is proud to be one of the highest-rated players globally, thanks to his self-recognized "competitive line-up".

The information collected is sent to researchers, who use it to track species populations, in an attempt to get a broader picture of biodiversity.

"Creating myself into the term citizen science is done by others, not me, which I suppose shows how one can get involved in what others consider to be valuable," Mr Payne said.

"This is a competition between the bird and me to get a good picture of it … I enjoy the challenge of it."

Photography was a common way to use volunteers to get data, Dr. Roger said, because almost everyone had a camera in their pocket these days.

"Bird raising is classic because there is a large contingent of people who are not professionals but who know a huge amount of birds, especially in their local areas," she said.

Recreational divers also take many photos, their images proving essential to researchers at the University of Queensland for his Manta project.

Researchers at UQ have found that the radius of the mandate extends to more than 1,000 kilometers, more than double what was previously thought.

Researchers at UQ have found that the radius of the mandate extends to more than 1,000 kilometers, more than double what was previously thought.Credit:Asia Armstrong

The project tracks the movements and number of reef mantles along Australia's east coast, but UD candidate Asia Amstrong said they could never get the results they had without their underwater eyes.

"This is where citizen scientists were invaluable to us," Ms Amstrong said.

"Our research and staff budgets are only stretching so far … we wouldn't be able to do half of the things we do if we didn't have that contribution."

Pros and Cons

Concerns have been raised about the increasing use of the scientific community of science citizens.

A number of published papers have raised concerns about deviations from standard research protocols or other problems, such as specimens.

Study published in Nature in 2017 found that the quality of data collected by civil scientists was good, but often incomplete.

Specifically, data collected by civil scientists were biased towards where they live and what things they were interested in considering.

Dr Roger said an organization such as the ACSA is needed to provide data collection in a scientific way.

"I think it's about the project, not the participants," she said.

"So you can protect the methodology by doing a lot of things and getting the volunteers through the process and getting the best results you can."

In a large review of the Citizens' Sector for Science in 2018, the Queensland Department of Environment and Science found that two-thirds (66.6 percent) of citizenship science projects under way at the time had "unclear" research outcomes.

And a review of published in 2018 of published citizen science projects in Journal of Science Communication found that some scientists set too high expectations for the type and quality of data that volunteers could collect.

In particular, they cited examples where scientists who were peer-reviewed papers compiled by non-scientists required the documents to be "instructive" by adding jargon and complex methodologies.

Queensland's chief scientist, Professor Paul Berths, said getting more clarity on the focus of citizen science projects is important for the sector to gain legitimacy.

“The demand from the citizens [to be involved] it will continue to grow, so we have to make sure scientists think about how they can engage the public to enrich their projects, "he said.

Material results

Project Manta has collected a database of more than 1300 rays based on more than 7000 views from recreational divers, and has made incredible discoveries.

Previously it was thought that the mandate rays did not shy too far, relatively, from their homes. However, photos taken by divers revealed that some rays traveled more than 1,000 kilometers, from South Strasbourg Island in Moreton Bay to the south of Townsville.

"The discovery that animals are capable of traveling over 1000 kilometers within their domain, which has huge implications for areas that may have smaller jurisdictional boundaries and areas where there is targeted fishing," Ms Amstrong said.

"So, this information can really affect the management of species conservation."

In the meantime, Mr Pine said he had been photographing the Regine honey giant around Tin Khan Bay, only the fourth sighting of that bird in the region in 150 years.

"After that, I took a second and then a third view, so sometimes you're just happy, but being aware of what's there makes you valuable to that scientific community," he said.

In Victoria, Philip Island Nature Parks have launched a "Seal Seal" program, using drones to photograph high-definition fur seal populations.

Volunteers are required to consider print seals in photographs, with data vital to monitoring seal populations for developing management strategies.

In Western Australia, the UWA is conducting an ongoing birdwatching project, called Coco Hood, looking at the extent of expansion and use of black cocoa habitats in the Perth metropolitan area.

For the past four years, Perth residents have been submitting data through the BioCollect application or on the project's website.

Citizen science projects around the world have had excellent results. NASA confirmed in January that it had discovered an exoplanet – a planet orbiting a different star thousands of light-years away – using citizen science.

The researchers asked the volunteers to look at the data captured by the Kepler telescope and confirm that the planet was there. They said the only way that would happen is with a large number of people working on the problem, too much for NASA to appear at once.

In Denmark, researchers have discovered 10 types of bacteria by putting students in rocks and sticks they found in their local forests in bowls of milk. If the milk burned, they found a bacterium and sent it to a testing laboratory.

Official recognition

With increased public willingness to participate in citizen science projects, official institutions and governments have begun to actively target funding for the sector.

The federal government announced more than $ 4 million in 2016 for 13 citizen science projects, followed by $ 1.9 million the following year for an additional five projects.

The Queensland government has withdrawn since then, announcing that it distributed $ 580,000 last month among 21 projects, many of them smaller community-focused ventures.

Queensland Science Minister Lane Enoch said they are directing the money to those projects because they want to increase the level of scientific knowledge in the community.

"Everyone understands that the types of skills we will need in the future are based on those STEM skills," Ms Enoch said.

"We know we will see more biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence; in the future more STEM skills are needed, so we invest in space. “

Campbell Paine is also photographing many other species, including the lambs.

Campbell Paine is also photographing many other species, including the lambs.Credit:Campbell Paine

The University of Sydney has such a belief in citizen science that it has set up a "knot" to oversee all university projects under the flag.

The node is based in the Charles Perkins Center, which focuses on health and medical research.

Alice Movement, co-director of Knot, said the center's philosophy is to foster interdisciplinary collaboration, and citizen science has played a major role in that.

She said the use of civic science in their research provided the kind of trial and error that would be cost-effective if done in a laboratory.

"If you have hundreds or thousands of people developing new drugs, you need to find the one working faster than you have a team of five," she said.

Dr. Mueses does this with his science project "Good Birth", which teaches high school students how to manipulate molecules in order to replicate existing drugs and the potential to create new ones.

In 2016, students participating in the program recreate the priced walk-on drug Daraprim for just a few dollars, sparking an international conversation about drug availability.

Demystifying science

Dr. Mosse said the ability of citizen science to raise awareness of general science in ordinary people cannot be overstated.

"The best kind of engagement you can have in science is to be able to participate in it yourself," she said.

Professor Berths agreed and said the issue of demystifying science for non-scientists is an ongoing issue in the modern world.

"We live in what I call the information paradox," he said.

"We are awakened by information, but it is really a translation of information into knowledge that is done through a scientific process.

"It's about showing the public that there is a centuries-old process that takes information and converts it into knowledge."

Professor Bertsch made a distinction between scientific citizens, who had scientific goals, with the problem of denying climate change or the vaccination movement, both of which collected cherry data to promote the earlier results.

“[It’s] just collecting information and doing it as knowledge, and that is what really undermines the discussion about science and the trust that citizens have in science, "he said.

Campbell Paine with her daughter Jasmine.

Campbell Paine with her daughter Jasmine.Credit:Campbell Paine

For people like Campbell Paine, concerns about methodology and results are incidental to what is a fun way to spend your time.

"They opened my eyes to all sorts of things, but the best thing is to find things I didn't know existed but two were in my backyard," he said.


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