Last week, I spent two days at the first-ever Citizen Science Association conference in San Jose, CA, gathering ideas and inspiration for making improvements to Truckee River Guide. Citizen science, for those not familiar, is a branch of scientific research conducted by anyone who wants to participate, with volunteers, amateurs, and professionals teaming up to investigate different questions. Many projects overlap, and Rick Bonney of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in his welcome address, spoke to the importance of developing synergies among projects rather than competing projects, as the field continues to grow.
In recent weeks, I’ve spent many hours worrying about how my small Truckee River project overlaps with big data projects like iNaturalist and eBird, which are already collecting some of the same data that I’m interested in. Is it okay to start a smaller scale project on a similar topic, I’ve wondered? In a world where the New York Times exists, is there still a place for small local papers? In a world with department stores, is there still room for small specialty shops? Yes to all three, I’ve told myself, while on some level remaining unconvinced by this logic.
I arrived at some peace-of-mind after listening to a conference talk by Leslie Allee of Cornell’s Lost Ladybug Project, who spoke to the importance of incorporating different ways of knowing into citizen science. Allee begins ladybug workshops by a reading a Native American Thanksgiving Address. In her work, she encourages people to connect with the natural world on a spiritual level as well as on a scientific level, to give thanks, and to think of each ladybug that they study as a “being”, rather than an “it”. I pondered this idea for several days — ways that citizen science projects can incorporate different ways of knowing — and concluded this: Allowing people to explore different ways of knowing is exactly what citizen science is all about.
As volunteers, citizen science offers us opportunities to immerse ourselves in whatever portion of the world interests us, at whichever scale we prefer. Do you want to more intimately know the place that you live? If so, I hope you will consider helping out with a project like Truckee River Guide, which aims to incorporate local knowledge of our ecosystem in ways that most larger projects cannot. Would you rather add information to a national or global scale project? That’s great too; knowing how we fit into the bigger picture is fascinating, valuable, and really important. Are you interested in studying one particular species, like the monarch butterfly, or many species, like hawks? Or something entirely different — stars? weather? the bacteria that live in your belly button? (yup, that’s a project.) Whatever your interest or motivation, find a project that fits, or create your own. There are many ways of knowing, and they’re all a lot of fun.
Next time on the blog: Ten citizen science projects you can add to from the Truckee River region. Until then, check SciStarter!
A very big thanks to the Reynolds School of Journalism for funding my registration for this conference through a CAMS grant, and to my poster-mate Justin White of the Reno Hawk Project.
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