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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Attention Citizen Scientists--Science for Citizens Now Open for Business!

As promised, Darlene the Science Cheerleader has unveiled her latest web effort to engage the general public in science projects and policy. Science for Citizens.net (SfC) is a place where individuals interested in doing some sort of science project from home can "go shopping" for a project that appeals to them. The site offers projects in a wide variety topics, including animals, archeology, astronomy and space, biology, birds, chemistry, climate & weather, computers & technology, ecology & environment, food, geology & Earth science, insects, nature & outdoor, ocean & water, physics, science policy, and sound.

The site includes a search and advanced search function, with options that allow the user to filter for free or low-cost projects, activities for kids, outdoor activities, "hot projects," or do-it-yourself (DIY) projects that require the participant to build/make something. The page also allows you to sort by level of difficulty and zip code.

Just for grins, and given the interests of this site, it won't surprise you that I looked at "astronomy & space" and "science policy." One project that came up was the "Galaxy Zoo," which is a no-cost effort that allows the participant to classify galaxies according to their shape. Note to Dar: it wasn't immediately obvious where the search results were--they appear beneath the search window. Also, the very first item listed was the "laser harp," which was a "hot project," but not something that's really astronomy space--possibly because SfC doesn't have a lot of projects to recommend yet--but I guess right now the page needs to refine its search engine. I didn't find any projects related to science policy, but I'd be mighty curious to see what those look like. That said, there is a tab for groups or individuals to add a science-from-home project, but you need to become a SfC member to do so. Other tabs, dedicated to video and other resources, do not have content yet, but to be fair to Dar and her partners, SfC is still in its "beta" phase. Presumably the SfC team will be adding content as they go forward.

Other tabs on the page include blogs by the site's creators (Dar and her partners) as well as SfC members. If you have comments related to the theory or practice of being a "citizen scientist," these blogs are for you.

Since the content is still in its embryonic phase, one might ask what the point of SfC is, or who would be interested in using it. I'll answer the audience question first, then get back to the philosophy behind the site. I see SfC as being a great clearing house for parents, students, and even non-child families interested in doing some sort of science project from home--I can see home-schooled kids, especially, finding this site useful as more projects are added.

What has interested me about Dar's work in this area is her belief that the nation is better off having more individuals conversant with, and able to understand and practice, science and engineering. It has become increasingly obvious as our society's technologies progress that more and more social and political decisions will be affected by, or directly related to, science and technology. It would be of great value to our elected officials, and to the citizenry from which they arise, if more people understood how science and technology work, and can make reasoned, informed arguments for or against the use of particular sci/tech. Scientific laws/facts about the world and universe around us are what they are. How we choose to use or act upon them are not neutral--they involve human values and other issues...but, again, if you don't know the science behind something, the most you can offer is a knee-jerk reaction based on emotion or propaganda from someone who DOES or (worse) DOES NOT understand the science and tries to manipulate one group or another based on pure emotion. Dar is trying to combat that sort of demagoguery, and I firmly support her in that quest.

So if you have a need for, or interest in, encouraging your (or your kids') inner scientist, Science for Citizens.net will give you the resources to tap into that interest. And along the way, you just might find yourself becoming better informed about the increasingly complex future that awaits us.

2 comments:

Michael Gold said...

Bart: Thanks so much for letting your readers know about Science for Citizens and for your thoughtful comments and suggestions. As you point out, we're very much in a beta testing phase, so Darlene and I appreciate folks kicking the tires and telling us what they like or don't like, what's working or isn't working, etc. And yes, we're busy working on adding functionality and content--many of the tabs and promos that you see now are just placeholders for what we'll be offering in the near future.

As for our audience, while lots of projects in our listings will be valuable to students (and their parents and teachers), we're hoping to engage people of all ages, interests, and inclinations: hardcore birders and recreational nature-lovers, serious amateur astronomers and casual stargazers, intrepid field researchers and stay-at-home computer jockeys, do-it-yourself-ers who like to get their hands dirty and dreamers who like to dig into the wonder and ideas of science.

I hope you'll continue to keep an eye on us. And I hope some of your readers will stop by to find some interesting citizen science projects to participate in (or add some to our listings), become members, and write blog posts about their citizen science activities.

BTW, the project search should be working more reliably now. If you choose "Astronomy & Space," you shouldn't see any more laser harps or other off-topic suggestions.

--Michael Gold
Cofounder
Science for Citizens
michael@scienceforcitizens.net

Bartacus said...

Howdy, Michael! Dar has been keeping posted on your progress. I, in turn, have been trying to find and refer space-related activities to Science for Citizens. Good luck with your endeavors!

/b