Feb. 27, 2015

Researchers flock to inaugural citizen science meeting

Not wanting to just wing it, researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the U.S. and around the world, gathered formally – for the first time – as the Citizen Science Association takes flight.

More than 650 people from 25 countries attended Citizen Science 2015, the inaugural conference of the Citizen Science Association, on Feb. 11-12 in San Jose, California. The gathering preceded the larger American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting on Feb. 12-16.

Citizen Science 2015 boasted two keynote lectures, a panel on public engagement for scientists, and symposia on citizen science-related management and policy, ethics of biomedical research, and on inclusion and broadening diversity within citizen science. 

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has been a leader in using citizen science for bird monitoring, with such programs as eBird and the Great Backyard Bird Count, and hosted a National Science Foundation-funded conference in 2007 to develop a guide for best practices for citizen science.

“Since 2007, there has been real momentum for cross-disciplinary gatherings of people running and managing and supporting citizen science projects,” said Jennifer Shirk, manager of Professional Development in Public Engagement at the ornithology lab, and former Citizen Science Association steering committee member.

Rick Bonney, director of Public Engagement in Science at the lab, is a Citizen Science Association board member and attended the inaugural meeting. He is credited with coining the term “citizen science.”  Cornell attendees included another 11 lab staff members as well as representatives from the Department of Entomology, the Paleontological Research Institution, and System of Rice Intensification International Network and Resources Center.

The association plans to hold a conference every two years, and members are also working with other international citizen science groups in Europe and Australia to hold a joint conference in three to five years, Shirk said.

Citizen science has a long history and growing presence in the fields of public health, molecular biology, astronomy and environmental monitoring.

“Citizen Science allows us to do a new kind of research, not just at a larger geographic and temporal scale, but research that happens when you build a conversation between scientists and members of the public  - that can allow us to address issues in new ways,” Shirk said.