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Citizen science helps bridge research gap

Caren Cooper

The practice of science traditionally operates in labs, field stations and offices, isolated from mainstream culture, which can lead to public skepticism of research and limited communication between scientists and laypeople. The solution, says a Cornell researcher, is citizen science – public participation in gathering data for studies in disciplines ranging from fish, birds and weather to stars and health.

So said Cornell Lab of Ornithology researcher Caren Cooper, during a Feb. 16 presentation, “Citizens of Science: When Advances Are Powered by Crowds,” at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago.

Cooper’s presentation outlined how citizen science can relocate science from cultural fringes and foster its growth in mainstream society as an ongoing collaboration between the public and professionals. Citizen science is known to co-create reliable scientific knowledge and encourage social networks and individual investments in community that make democracy work better, according to Cooper.

“The information gathered by everyday people has brought scientific findings to light,” she said. “Without data from the public, scientists might not have learned that birds are breeding earlier in response to climate change, that leaf decomposition is greater at forest edges, or that the human navel contains an enormous diversity of microbial life,” she added.

Along with discussing current trends and frontiers in citizen science, Cooper also announced the launch of the Citizen Science Association (CSA), a global network of citizen science practitioners. The CSA will offer free inaugural memberships for 2014, Cooper said.

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