A bit of Citizen Science Communication

If somebody asks you if you’d like to go down to London Town to tell people about how great Citizen Science is there really is only one answer. So I found myself booking yet another London-bound train this time to attend the British Science Association’s Science Communication Conference

The Venue – King’s Place


As this was a science communicators conference there was a mix of educators, writers, media people, organisational representatives and students amongst the attendees.

I was on a panel with Chris Davis, project scientist for the STEREO Heliospheric Imagers and Solar Stormwatch science team guru and Marek Kukula, the Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. Karen Bultitude from the University of the West of England Science Communication department chaired and introduced our session which was held in one of the concert halls. Apparently the hall sits on rubber springs to ensure it is acoustically separate from the outside world. I didn’t notice the springs but it had the look of a breakfast TV set with an audience. Cosy.

Me, Karen, Marek and Chris on the sofa


Our session was: “Citizen Science: public participation in research.”  We had an hour and a half to talk about the role Citizen Science can play in science communication and data sifting. We were each given a slot to talk about different aspects of Citizen Science.

Very briefly our message was:

  • The digital age is producing data faster than researchers can keep up with it.
  • Design the right interface and the public will be happy to help out.
  • Given good instructions the public can classify things just as accurately as “professionals.”
  • It’s an inspiring concept and a great way to get people interested in science.

Marek was first up and spoke about the creation of the Zooniverse, from it’s early days after a conversation in a pub to the current 8 live projects and 400,000 registered volunteers.

Chris was next on how Solar Stormwatch came to be part of the Zooniverse. He was discussing the huge amount of data that the STEREO mission was producing with Chris Lintott and wondering how it was all going to be analysed and before long another zooniverse project was born. As a result Chris said he was delighted to suddenly have 12,000 research assistants.

I was there to explain why I started taking part in Citizen Science and what I get out of it. There’s more about me here  but my story is simple. I’m a latecomer to science after not studying it at school. The Apollo missions sparked a life-long interest in astronomy and astronomy was what I was hoping to get more involved in when, by chance, I found stardust@home and then Galaxy Zoo. I was in the right place at the right time. Science, it seemed, wanted volunteers to help out. Volunteers like me. Being involved in Citizen Science really has made a difference. It’s given me the confidence and motivation to start studying again and I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to several conferences like this one where I hope some of my enthusiasm rubs off. I can’t help thinking that if Zooniverse-style Citizen Science had been around when I was at school my story would have been very different.

Then we highlighted 3 citizen science projects: Solar Stormwatch, Moon Zoo and the UK Ladybird Survey.

The UK Ladybird Survey


The question and answer session produced some good questions covering all aspects of Citizen Science.

  • Are volunteers classifications accurate (yes, for Galaxy Zoo we are at least on a par with experts)
  • What do you do about rogue classifiers (crowdsourcing has built in error correction)
  • How are papers based on Citizen Science treated (just as rigorously as any others)
  • How do we recruit volunteers (conventional and social media)
  • How many people taking part visit the forum (not enough!!)
  • And a couple of people asked how they could start their own Citizen Science project

Someone also asked if volunteers should be involved in leading the research. My response was that I’m quite happy being led – being one of Chris’ 12,000 research assistants – but liked the fact that the data was made available so that anyone had the opportunity to do their own research if they wanted to.

The live audience participation in Moon Zoo Boulder Wars was a success.

There is a  Twitter storyfy of Day 2 here or you can search the hashtag #SCC2011.

The conference tweet tag cloud by @andrea_fallas

We had lots of guests on both the Solar Stormwatch and Moon Zoo forums that night. I just hope some of them stay to see what all the fuss is about.


Jules is a volunteer moderator for the Solar Stormwatch and Moon Zoo forums

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About The Zooniverse

Online citizen science projects. The Zooniverse is doing real science online,.

2 responses to “A bit of Citizen Science Communication”

  1. Aurel says :

    “How many people taking part visit the forum (not enough!!)”

    While it might not magically increase the participation by too much, I always have trouble finding the forum button on solarstormwatch – especially when logged in, it is in such a small region in the middle of the page that I always find it last 😛

  2. Kevin Shi says :

    That’s a really cool idea. I’ve vaguely heard about this kind of science crowd sourcing before but I never really looked into it until now. My understanding is that you have the participants classify things for use in scientific research. What do you think is the limit as to what the participants could do? Do you have plans to go beyond just asking the participants to classify things?

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