Science in Society: making the most of the enthusiasm
One element of New Zealand’s Science in Society (née Science and Society) project that has impressed me is creating a framework for large citizen science projects.
One idea that’s been suggested in a few meetings I’ve attended has been gathering to collect temperature and humidity data from everyone’s home. Neat idea, but…
…in my view using ‘citizen scientists’ as data sources only, either as sensors or worker bees only (e.g. Galaxy Zoo), reinforces a divide between the participant and the scientist. The citizen scientists are not able to participate as peers through the scientific process. They’re just inputs. The science comes later.
Some suggestions to ensure that everyone is genuinely involved:
- Ensure that the datasets produced are openly licenced (CC-0) and freely accessible. Everything else flows from this.
- Get students working directly with the raw data. We want students to learn the issues that come from a) poor data provenance and b) needing to release your data openly
- Create open hardware sensors. Students from around the country will iterate to create the best. Exposes students to a) variability of sensor readings, e.g. margins of error, b) electronics, c) software
- Explore developing open format(s) for these sensors. This gets students: a) learning the difficulty in representing information, b) usability/efficiency trade offs - managing limited bandwidth, c) persuasion in distributed teams - navigating management by committee to create the standard
- Get students to create the repository. Don’t hand them a website/analytics portal. Student will learn a) requirements gathering, b) building tech for a wide audience, c) benefits of open source and collaboration
- Create a hashtag for project write-ups etc (in previous centuries, this would have been read ‘establish a journal’)
If you’re worried about the students that just want to engage in part of the process - that’s totally fine, they’re not disadvantaged. The trick is making sure that there is no ceiling for opportunities that could arise from this data.
Sidenote: We already have these sensors in many people’s home. All we need to do is convince HRV and others to open up their API to their devices.