The Anatomy of Citizen Cyberscience

Why do people get involved in citizen science?

Becky Parker

When I was young, and watching the RI Christmas Lectures, was inspired by Carl Sagan, where he went and had tea on Mars. Can remember where I was sitting, what he said, and thought that would be amazing! Moved from girls’ school to comprehensive, and was only girl doing double maths, physics and chemistry. Was so interested in astronomy, went to Norman Lockyer observatory, and go look at the stars. Ended up in physics. Had Tony Legget, Nobel Lauriate, and to courses on foundation of quantum mechanics. Thought, this is so amazing, why don’t students love it? Went into teaching, and want to inspire students? Very lucky, have a good school, head that supports projects.

Julia Wilkinson

Gave up science at school, girls weren’t encouraged to do it, and has regretted it ever since. Apollo missions inspired her to get into astronomy. Passion for astronomy has lasted all her life, got back into it 10 years ago when bought a telescope. Three years ago, was looking for a way to get more involved, saw Stardust@Home, and thought, I can contribute to real science. A few weeks later, found Galaxy Zoo, and that was better as observed galaxies through telescope, so this was what she wanted to be involved in. On the back of this, now studying science with the Open University. Has experience with volunteers, and has noticed a lot of overlap in terms of way that citizen science works with volunteers. See same patterns of behaviour. Voluntary sector, constant need to motivate volunteers, lots of challenges, feedback etc. That’s what cyberscience does, but if you let volunteers know exactly what’s happening with the data, that increases morale.

Richard Haselgrove

Interest first formed in childhood, parents both involved in early days of electronic computers, so grew up with them. Went to standard school career, university, and that’s as far as it went at that stage. Moved into the public sector. Left science and computing behind until arrival of personal computer, in around 1980. Could then start to experiment with computing for more general purposes. Now, linking of communities by technology taken for granted. Read in press about SETI@Home, reconnected with scientific interests. Computer a volunteer, but he wasn’t. Now he’s nearing retirement, is more able to volunteer himself as well. As people have more time to commit, volunteers do gain a lot of experience, what draws him further in is developing knowledge that he can pass on to arriving volunteers and to new projects. Can’t always get involved with the science behind a project, but can help with the project from a how you deal with volunteers, the platform, etc. We as volunteers have an impact on scientists, and have a lot of valuable insight to feed back into the projects.

Christian Beer

Started with SETI@home, was doing internship in web development and someone there showed it to him. Have run it on every computer he’s had since then. Got interested in BOINC, and also the science, not just how they are searching for aliens, how the volunteers work together. Contribute not only computer power, but also knowledge in programming. Motivation to learn how to programme. Also wanted to give the knowledge away, but it’s not giving it away, it’s multiplying it. Social part is great motivation.

Bruce Borden

Interested in similar stories that I’m hearing – we don’t know each other, but I have a lot of things in common with what’s already been said. Am a retired scientist, advanced degree in maths, worked for an engineering firm doing mathematical analysis. Concepts of maths and how to do simulations are comfortable. When he retired, asked same questions about what he was going to do with the rest of his life, how could he spread the knowledge he has. Had discovered SETI@home, thought it was an intriguing idea. A few years later, got interested in Folding@home, Standford University’s programme. Also influenced by previous volunteer work, spend two years when he was younger teaching maths as part of the Peace Corp. Important aspect now is that he’s hooked by the science. Also important is managing volunteers, keeping them enthused, and this is an area that is grossly neglected. Need to take care of volunteer’s feelings about what they are doing. Wide range of how we have to deal with volunteers based in part on their skill level, there is a wide range of people, need to deal with them in slightly different way. Skills I can deliver in addition to teaching about the science or maths, or computers, work with the forum primarily with an educational goal.

Ian Hewliss (?)

Qualifications are simply that he watched a TV programme about climate change, and invited viewer at the end to run some software. Thought it was easy, but others found it harder. Rang BBC climate change project and started helping people with technical problems. Sense of community builds up, because people feel what they are doing is relevant, and it references what other people are doing. He is a physics graduate, since then used that to model behaviour of satellites, so now does radio comms. Accidental cyber-scientist. What’s his motive? Hard one to answer. Word ‘citizen’ implies a community. Used to talking about ‘citizens’ in a political way, right and obligations, there are two communities in which citizen word is relevant – one is to ask, why do people participate? Also community of a particular project. Debate to be had about balance of rights and obligations of participants.

[Then followed a discussion, which I’m too tired to transcribe! Still, interesting stuff.]