SciLit Week: Citizen Science workshop inspires public to just get their hands into some science already

In conjunction with Science Literacy Week, the UBC Library hosted a virtual workshop on citizen science tools. The workshop was led by Ekatarina Grugric, a UBC digital scholarship librarian in the humanities and social science division, and Eleri Staiger-Williams, a reference librarian at the Woodward Library.

But what is citizen science?

Grugric explained ‘citizen science’ is an umbrella term for tasks that allow the general population to get involved with scientific pursuits.

This is not a new concept, according to Grugric, as science wasn't a profession until the 18th century. Before that all 'scientists' were actually citizen scientists, she explained, as science simply consisted of members of the public acting on their curiosity about the world. As a result, citizen science looks very different in 2020 than it did in the 1700s.

Technology has dramatically increased the ways for which the public can engage with and contribute to science. Staiger-Williams explained how you could contribute within video games such as in Borderlands 3, which has a mini-game that, when played, helps map microbes. You could also allow scientists to use your computer's power to help create supercomputers, or you could watch live streams of penguins to assist with data collection on penguin behaviour.

“Always make sure to reflect on the level of commitment you are able or willing to take on and whether you are comfortable with the data privacy policy of a given project,” reads the workshop’s website.

General participation in science often helps move forward scientific issues that are relevant to the public. For instance, Staiger-Williams pointed out that during the height of the Flint, Michigan water crisis in 2016 it was in fact a citizen-science project that discovered the outbreak of Legionellia, a harmful bacteria that can impact the respiratory system, in the community’s water source.

Public participation can also inspire people to pursue research and increase positive public attitudes towards science research.

After walking through an overview of what citizen science constitutes, as well as tools and projects for aspiring citizen scientists, they opened up the floor for attendee participation, inviting participants to ask questions and engage with projects highlighted during the workshop. Perhaps due to the awkwardness of Zoom, there was little attendee participation, and the hosts opted to end the meeting early.

Despite the workshop’s early end, attendees were encouraged to reach out with any questions or assistance we required in getting involved.

No matter what way you get involved in citizen science — whether that be playing computer games, going bird watching or lending your computational power — bringing the general public into the process of science can help spur innovation and move science forward.

All of the information discussed has been condensed on a website created by UBC Library. The website will remain up and be periodically edited.