Public Participation Citizen Science

A relatively new effort aimed at eliciting public engagement, dubbed citizen science, involves public-professional partnerships that allow people of all ages an opportunity to participate in real scientific research and to interact with scientists in the process (Cohen, 1997; Brossard et al., 2005). Although the formulation of the idea has some novel aspects, it is rooted in the activities of amateur naturalists dating back in European culture to the 1700s (Sparks and Carey, 1995). The hope is that this kind of proactive participation not only will contribute new data on species and habitats but also will increase the participants' understanding of the process and results of the relevant science (Tuss, 1996; Brossard et al., 2005). Such enlightenment, it is further hoped, will strengthen participants' connections with both science and the environment in ways that cultivate a sense of stewardship.

The citizen science approach seems well founded, but there are a few impediments. First, developing programs that foster citizen science requires intensive investment of time and energy on the part of the professional community, entailing often greater commitment than lectures, editorials, popular writing, and other efforts to communicate with the public.

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As a result, the number of people that actually have the opportunity to become citizen scientists is limited. The problem seems surmountable as more efficient programs linking scientists with science educators are being developed (Johnson and McPhearson, 2006). A second problem resides in the poor understanding of the impacts of citizen science programs to date (Brossard et al., 2005). Some of the few studies available show that, although participants improved their knowledge and familiarity with a particular scientific topic, they did not achieve a better understanding of the scientific process or change their attitudes toward science and environmental issues (Brossard et al., 2005).

However, there are now many examples of citizen science programs in the biodiversity area that seem to have beneficial outcomes. The Bioblitz biodiversity surveys (Roach, 2003) carried out in New York's Central Park, Washington, DC, and many other sites yielded new scientific results that not only further enthused participants and galvanized their activities but also attracted media interest. It seems that programs in citizen science have much potential if they allow more people to participate, their impacts are more thoroughly analyzed, and participants are better familiarized with the environmental issues that relate to their contribution (Brossard et al., 2005).

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