I say citizen scientist, you say crowdsourcing
By Bert Raynes, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
November 28, 2012
Be it known that I’m an enthusiastic supporter of citizen science. Witness my participation in Christmas bird counts for some, um, long, long time, contributions Meg and I made to the bird inventory of Jackson Hole, this column and, of course, Nature Mapping Jackson Hole.
It was natural, then, that the headline and subhead of an article by Deirdre Lockwood in the Nov. 12 issue of Chemical and Engineering News caught my attention. They read: “Crowdsourcing Chemistry: Public participation in chemical research drives discoveries in solar fuels, environmental health and more.”
To me, that’s a grabber headline. “Crowdsourcing” meaning citizen science. In chemistry? Solar fuels! Environmental health? It certainly appears so.
The National Science Foundation alone is funding at least 25 citizen science projects each year now, having started off slowly in the early 2000s. There are hundreds worldwide, and at least 1,000 publications have been completed. People interested in participating in scientific research should be able to find a project of interest. Or start one.
Moreover, computer capabilities have made it easier to connect to researchers and analyze large data sets. So I have been assured, and I am eager to see that happen in future acts of citizen science through Nature Mapping Jackson Hole.
Bruce Parkinson, a chemistry professor at the University of Wyoming, is seeking a material that would catalyze a reaction to produce hydrogen from water and that would be stable for decades. Parkinson came up with an idea to crowdsource the problem and has attracted some 70 universities, high schools and individuals to help find such a material (should one exist). There are scores of water projects under way. Sometimes the citizen science projects start with the citizen and can get some action done by industry or politicians.
Having been so recently intrigued by the makeup of the word “crowdsourcing,” I was impressed that it’s already in the media — at least in the New York Times. It was in an article on education being carried out by lectures on the Internet. Some colleges and universities are experimenting with free college-level classes online. Crowdsourcing techniques are being used to allow lecturers to tailor their contents to respond to their students.
In this same Times article is a term MOOC. Stands for “massive open online courses.” Naturally.
Switching now to an entirely different topic: Sometimes I watch C-SPAN II on its nonfiction books weekend, and when I do I marvel at how some authors get the name of their book(s) into the conversation in nearly every sentence. A few authors truly excel at it.
My difficulty is that I haven’t ever figured out how to get the titles of my books into one sentence. Even a paragraph: “Valley So Sweet,” “Birds of Grand Teton National Park,” “Winter Wings,” “Curmudgeon Chronicles,” “Finding the Birds of Jackson Hole.”
Not easy to get them all into a single response.
Thus, here I am at Christmas book-giving season, facing an author’s obligation to promote his offerings. And this is how I’ve chosen to live up to it. Great little books and quite inexpensive. Get two; they’re small.
Field Notes: An unaccustomed brown Thanksgiving Day 2012 — at least on the valley floor. Snow levels are creeping down the mountains, but not yet all the way down. It doesn’t mean that streets, roads and building entrances can’t be icy and slippery, though. Already a few victims have remarked on my adventures.
The more or less stable air mass the Hole has been under for many weeks has permitted birds and mammals to explore for their natural foods. Bears are still out, birds don’t need to come to feeders so much, ungulates haven’t selected winter quarters.
Trumpeter and tundra swans are stopping over in the Hole now; most will migrate farther south, but some trumpeters will winter over. Most of the other waterfowl will also migrate. Some ducks and Canada geese will remain unless all waters freeze. A lone white pelican was with swans on the Snake River oxbow in Grand Teton National Park on Friday (Frances Clark, Bernie McHugh).
Rough-legged hawks are in number. Joan Lucas is enjoying the company of two small saw-whet owls. Jerry Longobardi and Carl Brown spotted a sharp-tailed grouse at Teton Point in Grand Teton National Park on Nov. 17. Redpolls continue to show up (Deb Patla, Hunter Marrow, Tracy Blue, Mary Lohuis, Bernie McHugh, Frances Clark, Ms. Reed, many others). The delightful dipper song can be heard now. No more reports of rosy finches. Have they left? Evening grosbeaks have not entirely moved on.
On Nov. 20, a buck white-tailed deer was killed by a vehicle in daylight in front of McDonald’s. Give ’em a brake.
© Bert Raynes 2012
Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways.