Thousands of citizens are amateur scientists as 1000 eyes definitely see more
I came upon this nice article recently and as I am a nature lover I decided to tell you about this.
Volunteers and their achievements
A 16-year-old girl from the Canary Island discovered on the 6 of November 2018, an asteroid while working on her home computer. Alejandra Artiles was helped by her professor and used software to be able to analyze the images from an American telescope.
A young man from the Asturias region of Spain, Jorge Alvarez, made a special photo with his mobile phone. He was the first person to send information to the program called Mosquito Alert. The mosquito he photographed was an Aedes Japonicus and it was the first sighting of this mosquito in Spain. This mosquito is the transmitter of very bad illnesses like Dengue, and different forms of encephalitis.
A few winters ago an amateur ornithologist alerted the scientific community that the swallow was not migrating to then return to Cadiz in the spring. Fact is that the swallow was not leaving and that is probably due to climate change.
These are 3 examples of where the normal burger (civilian) is contributing with his or her observations to scientific studies.
Mr. Francisco Sanz, who is the executive director of the foundation Ibercivis says that often the volunteer is a real expert in his or her field.
How people became scientists
The pioneers were the bird observers. The program to observe the migratory birds in America was founded in 1883. In the ’50s Francisco Bernis and Jose Antonio Valverde mobilized hundreds of amateurs to document the concentrations of water birds in Spain. Their work formed the basis for the protection of Donana National Park, the Ebro Delta, a world heritage site, and the Natural Park of Albufera in Valencia.
In 1954 the Spanish Society of Ornithology ( SEO ) was created. Many of the volunteers became members over the years. Today the society has 3.700 members and they participate in 12 active programs of SEO/Birdlife. They observe and register their observations thru applications on their computer and mobile phone.
These can be easy studies, like counting the birds they see, or more sophisticated ones such as alerting the communities of massive bird flocks which emigrate so those individuals involved with banding studies can mobilize and document the migration before the young birds continue on their way.
One does not have to be a specialist but one has to be able to distinguish between the different bird’s species. These volunteers are people who feel a love for their environment and want to help to preserve it. They donate freely of their time and resources to participate in these studies.
The data which is collected is passed on to the professionals of the .org and evaluated for suitability to be included in relevant scientific studies and other environmental issues.
The help of modern technology
Because most people have a computer nowadays, it has become a lot easier to be in contact. Individuals using smartphones, private telescopes, a weather station, and even binoculars have increased the number of observations and all this forms a human and technological network which surpasses the capability of the official groups.
They often come up with something, thru their investigations that had not been common knowledge before. They can report on a situation which scientists had no idea about. All this is possible because of the network of thousands of extra eyes that observe their surroundings.
As in Europe, Spain has advanced and become more democratic in its form of investigation. The public science observatory was founded by Ibercivis with financing from the Spanish Science and Technology Foundation. Since 2011 more than 200 projects have been registered and more than 50.000 people have participated.
Many and unusual projects
There are a large variety of projects available. Counting the sunspots, documenting when suicidal behavior is observed on the internet, observing the Iberian Wolf and counting how many there are, informing on the effects of earthquakes, observations on plagues and reporting wildfires. Even reporting bad smells world-wide. The list is much longer but I think this will give you an idea of the different projects people collaborate with.
Some of these projects have to do with problems like the spreading of the flu. In Spain, there are 1000 people who signed up for this project and 25.000 people from 7 more European countries. People from Zaragoza University have created Gripe-Net. There you can place your observations on the flu in your surroundings.
Some famous people and their inventions
When you come to think of it, in old times scientist were wealthy men of leisure and amateurs. These were Individuals from the early part of the 20th century and earlier.
William Herschel was a musician who was also a hobby astronomer. In 1781 he discovered the planet Uranus with his simple telescope.
Then we have Benjamin Franklin. When the affairs of state left him some free time he liked to invent things like the bifocal glasses and also the lightning rod.
Albert Einstein wrote his General Theory of Relativity when he was working in a patent office as a pen pusher.
During most of history, the scientific body was composed of “gentleman of means” who studied nature and the cosmos out of passion. Only later on it became a job for which they would receive a salary from universities or investigation centers.
We need to celebrate and honor the intrepid explorers and builders of our current scientific knowledge but more importantly, we need to continue this into the 21st century. We all need to observe the conditions around our own little part of the world and collaborate with the scientific community to keep our world the beautiful place it is. This is especially important for our environment, which is subject to abuse and can use all the extra help it can get. Let’s keep our eyes open.
Source: Newspaper Sur, story by Ines Gallastegui
Photo Source: Pixabay
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