From Penguin Saving to Historical Research: Five Projects for the Citizen Scientist

Over the past few years, thousands of non-expert volunteers have contributed to research in a variety of fields. They’ve done so by participating in citizen science projects, activities that range from identifying animal species in images to transcribing manuscripts online. While these contributions are straightforward and simple, they accelerate research processes to a pace that would not be possible if only conducted by a few scientists and scholars.

With the upsurge of citizen science projects, some professionals have also raised their concerns. There is a certain skepticism in allowing research data to be analysed by amateurs. Many contributors might lack the necessary knowledge to make distinctions between species in a picture, for example. Others have pointed towards biased volunteers approaching a project, such as users who are opposed to fracking and are therefore more inclined to note signs of pollution in scientific data.

While the above concerns are important to consider, the potential of crowdsourcing for research should not be completely dismissed. It can not only accelerate the research process of an existing thesis but can potentially tap into new questions and forms of knowledge that are yet to be imagined. With these possibilities in mind, you might want to try out some of the following projects:  

  1. PenguinWatch: Help endangered penguins

Penguin Watch is one of the most popular citizen science projects. The task is simple: spot the number of penguins in a picture. Why? The Antarctic ecosystem is currently under threat due to climate change, fisheries and direct human disturbance. In order to measure how the ecosystem is being affected, areas that have not yet been altered must be studied as a benchmark. These areas are monitored with cameras. The amount of data captured by these is immense, which is why the help of volunteers is much needed to track penguin colonies and their relationship with their larger ecosystem.  

  1. ARTigo: Contribute to art historical research

If you like games and art, this project is for you. ARTigo is an online game that aims to provide artworks with tags that can best describe their content. If the tags you provide match those of the co-player viewing the same artwork, you gain 25 points; if they match those introduced by previous players, you gain 5. Digital reproductions of art are valuable for historical research, but it is still difficult to search and find many items if they don’t have the necessary metadata (tags) to understand their content.

  1. Globe at Night: Stargaze and learn about air pollution

If you are looking for a project that includes an outdoor activity, Globe at Night will interest you. Take advantage of the summer night skies and compare what constellations you can see from what you should see, as shown in the images presented on the project app. You will learn about constellations, but the main aim of the project is to study and raise awareness about light pollution; which not only affects our view, but is also energy consuming, causes sleep disorders and disrupts the sleeping and breeding patterns of certain species.

  1. Bash the Bug: Help fight tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is one of the top ten causes of death worldwide, with 10.4 million new cases appearing in 2015. Luckily, there are antibiotics that can help cure this infectious bacterial disease. However, with increased use of antibiotics comes the increased resistance of the bacteria towards them. Your job is to analyse samples of bacteria that have been altered with certain antibiotics and different dosages, and to establish how bacteria has reacted to them. Using the right antibiotic can quickly limit the opportunity for bacteria to develop its resistance mechanisms.

  1. Anti-Slavery Manuscripts: Transcribe anti-slavery manuscripts

The Boston Public Library has digitised correspondence records from abolitionists in the United States and Great Britain, but many of these cannot be researched because the technology to create machine-readable text from hand written letters is not perfected yet. By helping transcribe these records you can help researchers and the general public access primary sources from one of the most important moments in the history of the 19th century. Along the way you’ll learn about the fight against slavery but also gain insight into how supporters felt, as well as the heated discussion of what position women should have in the abolitionist movement.  


[Natalia Phoebe – @natferash]



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