Citizen Science to the Rescue of Research — Digital Notebooks to the Rescue of All
Non-researchers have often seen scientists as “lone wolves,” who toil in cluttered laboratories to uncover the scientific facts that will transform the ways in which we understand and experience the world. But citizen science, also known as crowd-sourced science, networked science or participatory action research, is truly transforming the ways in which our society defines its scientists. It enables non-professional or amateur researchers to strongly contribute toward unearthing hidden, scientific truths. Importantly, these citizen scientists often work in collaboration or under the direction of professional scientists, but the focus, as Colombian sociologist Orlando Fals Borda wrote to his professional colleagues, is “not to monopolize…knowledge…but respect and combine your skills with the researched or grassroots communities, taking them as full partners and co-researchers.”
As further explained by a green paper from the European Commission, “[citizen] participants provide experimental data and facilities for researchers, raise new questions and co-create a new scientific culture…As a result of this open, networked and trans-disciplinary scenario, science-society-policy interactions are improved leading to a more democratic research…” Successful examples of crowd-sourced science includes EyeWire, a game that when played by millions of internet users “[helps] the EyeWire team develop advanced artificial intelligence and computational technologies for mapping the connectome.” Another includes the Open Air Laboratories (Opal) initiative in the UK, involving more than 850,000 volunteers to “gather data on a range of issues, including air quality, urban spaces and pests.”
How digital notebooks enable people to do more, better
As described, citizen science integrates “three basic aspects:” (1) the participation of citizens, (2) their action and (3) sound research that contributes to the “growth of knowledge.” Importantly, the citizen science projects emerging today can involve hundreds of thousands of researchers, doing work very similar or completely different from one another. In this complicated milieu, there must be a mechanism by which coordinators can organize the citizen researchers, direct their actions and ensure that the research being conducted is both useful to the scientific community at large and also accurate. Luckily, digital notebooks serve as a powerful means through which senior researchers or coordinators of these large-scale projects can ensure the three aspects of citizen science are implemented. Following are more specific ways digital notebooks support the work of citizen science:
- Participation: Digital notebooks have been known to support the collaborative efforts of professional scientists. Thus, digital notebooks can be similarly used to keep track of citizen science participants and map their continued involvement in order to identify those most capable of contributing to the research, while motivating others. Nature reported on a fruit-fly paper with 1,000 authors, but as Sarah Elgin of the Washington University in St. Louis told the publication, “Putting together the efforts of many people allows you to do good projects,” and the same point can be made of citizen science. Digital notebooks thus help researchers monitor and recruit more participants.
- Action: As seen with the UK Opal and EyeWire efforts, there are many different aspects of a given scientific research question or project and digital notebooks can be essential for organizing this many parts. Among professional researchers, digital notebooks have been used to increase individuals’ productivity and that these software are easily searchable, user-friendly and secure means they can also be applied in the realm of citizen science to organize projects and ensure that information is carefully recorded. For example, each collaborator can have a specific password to access his or her own project on a digital notebook platform, information that will have a timestamp, further assisting coordinators in organizing the collected data.
- Research: When hundreds of thousands of people are involved in research efforts, the data collected is often very large and can be overwhelming. With a digital notebook, this data can be organized, easily extracted and most importantly, can be used to better understand the collected data. For example, digital notebook software can run “complex tasks that generally require coding skills.” Thus, information from multiple experiments from across a region can be scanned and a table built identifying certain commonalities. In this way, digital notebooks also ensure that sound, novel and inspiring research continues to be produced.
Cutting-edge materials and technologies provide the necessary support for scientific endeavors, and the digital notebook is no exception. Please visit our website today to determine how the BIOVIA Notebook can support the scientific work in your laboratory or firm.