Wednesday 23 May 2018

Review: Citizen Science: How Ordinary People are Changing the Face of Discovery

Citizen Science: How Ordinary People are Changing the Face of Discovery Citizen Science: How Ordinary People are Changing the Face of Discovery by Caren Cooper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The last experience that most people had with science would have been at school, where for a fair proportion of those studying it really couldn't get along with it. One maxim that I had heard to differentiate between the three core subjects was: if it moves it is biology, if it smells it is chemistry and if it doesn't work it is physics. So the thought of getting involved in science in any shape or form has some people reeling. Yet you can; you don't need a PhD or even a degree all you need is a fascination and curiosity for the world around you and anyone anywhere in the world can contribute.

In this book, Caren Copper tells the stories of the ways that normal people are getting involved in science projects. In this way, they are challenging the academic norms on how and more importantly who can collect scientific data. There are stories of people who have been collecting weather data for decades all around the United States, and how these thousands of daily records are showing worrying trends for more unstable weather. We learn of people who use spare computer power to run through protein folding sequences to assist scientists when they are creating the latest drugs. Nature lovers who wanted to ensure that turtles could lay their eggs in safety begun collecting the plastics and in particular the nurdles, that were being washed up in startling volumes on the beaches, a pressing environmental concern at the moment given the longevity of plastics.

People have always contributed to medical research, often unaware too, but there is now active participation in drug trials with people wanting to help others who will be suffering the same illnesses further down the line. Collective action by communities by people who are being made ill by companies who still pollute the atmosphere and waters is covered in one chapter, showing that how keeping records and having it backed up by scientific and government authority can make a difference. Details of migratory birds and butterflies that are observed by enthusiastic individuals add to the bigger picture that science understands about the twice-annual flow of life around the planet.

Probably the sphere of science that an amateur can have the most impact in is astronomy. All over the globe thousands of people every night head outside hoping for clear skies to observe the majesty of the night sky. Their observation are just as important as the astronomers who have control over the largest telescopes in the world. Even those who are averse to heading out can get involved too; there are websites that people can log onto to assist in verifying types of galaxies, something that us mere humans can do much better than computers at the moment. In fact, amateurs are so important in this field that they often appear on the peer-reviewed papers alongside the 'real' scientists.

Science is not as scary as you think and thankfully Copper has written a fascinating book that shows how you, yes you, can be involved in science. There are a list of resources in the back of the book and websites where you can go to find out more and sign up. It is American centric, but there are some links below where you can find out more:


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  1. This sounds fascinating. We take part in the big garden birdwatch events which feed into research about species and diversity, but there's so much more out there, isn't there.

    1. Apologies for the delay in replying, had a stressful couple of weeks. There is, particular like the sound of the astronomy ones.

    2. I completely understand that blog comment replies come down the list of priorities at times! I am self-employed and had a stressful time at the start of May where I lost track of all the blogs I read!

    3. I have a bit more time at the moment, so should get to them quicker!