Citizen-science projects should be more diverse, says panel

Programmes that include non-scientists contributing to research need to be more diverse and inclusive. That is the conclusion of a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which claims that initiatives that bring together professional researchers with non-scientific but interested laypeople – known as “citizen science” – can be beneficial for science. Citizen science is a growing area of research that has its own societies and even journals. Projects now go beyond efforts to count migrating birds, monitor waterways or even spot new comets and other astronomical phenomena. For example, Higgs Hunters, which is run by researchers from Oxford, Birmingham and New York universities, involves participants scouring data for a particle dubbed a “baby Higgs” that could be produced when a Higgs boson decays. The report affirms that citizen-science projects can help participants learn scientific practices and content Rajul Pandya Other projects include Gravity Spy, run by researchers at Northwestern University in the US, that uses citizen scientists and computer algorithms to classify and characterize glitches in machine learning when detecting gravitational waves. Meanwhile, Steelpan Vibrations, which is overseen by Andrew Morrison from Joliet Junior College, aims to classify vibrations from Caribbean steelpans to learn how the drums work. The goal of such citizen-science efforts, however, do more than just advance scientific understanding. “The report affirms that citizen-science projects can help participants learn scientific practices and content,” says committee chair Rajul Pandya, who is director of the Thriving Earth Exchange – a unit of the American Geophysical Union that help communities to tackle problems with science. Read more The ever-expanding Zooniverse However, the 12-member committee found that those that do citizen science tend to be white and well educated. As citizen science can be used to engage traditionally underrepresented and underserved individuals and communities, the committee recommends that designers should “carefully consider and address issues of equity and power throughout all phases” of project design and implementation. “There is clear and ample evidence that diverse, equitable and inclusive program design advances learning in all participants,” the report states.