Celebrating the citizen in citizen science

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A paper in the journal Conservation Biology explores whether participating in citizen science also leads to a more conventional citizenship. The authors test the theory that citizen science is a path to social and political action by taking a close look at the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST), a program that relies on volunteers to monitor beached seabirds from Mendocino, California to Kotzebue, Alaska.

In the study, researchers Benjamin HaywoodJulia Parrish, and Jane Doliver analyzed COASST surveys of 308 volunteers active for over a year, as well as 124 volunteers about to enter the program. They also interviewed 79 of the active participants.

They found that these citizen scientists quickly gained a solid understanding of bird biology, behavior, and ecology, including species abundance, distribution, and threats to coastal birds. Moreover, participating in COASST led to emotional feelings about the values and goals of the program. As the authors note, “For many participants, data collection became a way to protect a valued place and the associated ecosystem.”

Interestingly, the researchers also found that COASST volunteers typically start with vague but deep concerns about how human activity affects bird deaths. These fears became tempered, however, as they learned more about natural mortality such as winterkill and the stresses of breeding. A “deepened sense of place garnered through authentic scientific experience” allows these citizen scientists to “move from a nonspecific sense of fear about environmental degradation to a sense of which action or actions are practicable and efficacious.” In other words, the volunteers become more informed conservationists, infused with a greater sense of hope and empowerment because they know better what to do and why.

read more: blogs.plos.org/citizensci/2016/11/02/celebrating-the-citizen-in-citizen-science/
article: Sharman Apt Russell
photo: COASST

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