Platforms for citizen science

A CRI-Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle workshop: created by Anshu (CRI long term fellow) and Simon (MNHN), from a meeting at the Galaxy community in Freiburg. I joined the design process and it was structured so the museum and the CRI present the systems that are being developed, with a scope for a discussion about lessons and collaboration. Here are the details of the workshop on the CRI website. These are the rough notes from the workshop.

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Ariel Lindner – since the first major grant of the CRI (Citizen Cyberlab), there is an interest at the CRI in digital platforms for engagement. At the same time, they received a grant to innovate in education, and since then the CRI has become a centre for learning sciences and research with a link between learning, digital sciences, and life sciences. The principles are mentorship/empowerment, the right to err, and share. For CRI, open science means transparency and collaboration. Few of the important things for the day: gaps – distances between public and research which can grow and there is distrust, but on the other hand, kids are going to the street with an issue that is scientific. There are digital gaps, instrumentation in labs that are more complex and not available within the scientific community. We need to consider how we address the gaps – how a collaborative approach can help us to progress.

I covered the ExCiteS platforms and some of my experience from different collaborative platforms that we developed in ExCiteS. The slides are provided below.

DSC_0073Romain Julliard: citizen science: [Big] quality data and [Artificial] collective intelligence. The museum created over 15 years of experience, over 15 projects, with over 15,000 active participants a year. All part of the National Museum of Natural History role to the monitoring of biodiversity through citizen science. They see the projects as volunteers, scientific experts and NGOs facilitators. There are projects such as Spipoll which is the photography of insects pollinators – it is difficult to take a picture: quite challenging. The. A positive correlation between longevity of engagement and data quality. Finding the zone of flow as in computer game. Identify the skills that are required from the participants and communicate with them. The second lesson is the importance of the social platform and communication among the project participants to improve data quality control – participants are “policing” each other and guide the process of improvement of data quality. There is a comparative study that demonstrated that the visibility of data and the ability of participants to learn from each other is critical in term of following the protocol and producing relevant data. They learned that making data visible by all allows imitation and more homogenous data. Comments and discussion allow advice and help and quality control. There is also an improvement that is made by the contributor through versioning. There are differences to textbook statements: e.g. that data observations should be independent of each other, that there is a need to train participants in advance. They recommend imitation, allow participants to engage with each other and have shared a part in the QA. The project 65 Millions d’observateurs is a project with major funding and they are creating a common system for data collection. They have a common approach across projects – they are currently working on shared infrastructure for citizen science projects. One project is an open observatory for all species with over 146 different sub-projects. They are creating a new service unit MOSaic with Sorbonne to provide ongoing skils on technology for citizen science, with over 15 people covering a range of skills.
DSC_0074Simon Bénateau / Galaxy-Bricks: Toward collaborative data analysis – creating tools for analysing the data. The tool is aiming to allow share and make errs, and the aim to create communities. The citizen science is diverse – from high schools students to experts, working on environmental issues and on organisms. Some people with very little knowledge to quite a high level of expertise. The process includes in the network that Museum that works through protocols and data with participants. There is also for researchers and partners in the scientific community. It allows for new ways to participate and ask questions of the data. They also want to help in teaching the scientific approach, and data literacy.  Choosing Galaxy mean that there is an existing development community, they support sharing of the methodology, it is FAIR, open-source, and even provide access to high-performance computing. Their aim is to simplify the UI and allow to simplify the process of constructing an analysis workflow. Using Scratch which is a development of an analysis process that is suitable for learning. The process includes following the structure of scientific research: setting your research question, import data, process data, visualise, carry out statistical tests, and reach conclusions.

DSC_0075Eric Cherel: The Learning Planet – the team at CRI trying to build tools that can help a model campus digital infrastructure – from tactile information screens and other tools that can be used elsewhere. There are learning tools that are supposed to be empowering the community. The project system on the CRI is used to present the project – who you are working with, what you are working on, linking to different tools. The tools that are used to create descriptions of projects: from small to large and help to relate projects. The global project WeLearn is to catalyse learning. currently a browser extension – when you come across it, you mark a source as a learning source. The system tries to extract the concept from the page, but also with crowdsourcing and it creates a global map (currently in French and English). It also creates a profile of the learner, so it might be able to match learners with the material. A lot of potential to map learning resources on a massive scale. They use cartography of concepts as a way to present to people their topics and learning. They use Wikipedia to train an ML model and analysing a way to extract concepts. They work with people from data4good who helped. Linking to EdTech companies to share ontologies and abilities to manage concepts. Integrating the use of smartphone can allow capturing of books and other not online learning resources and events.  Aim to add more information to support reflexivity, recommendation, self-documented learning. Hope to reach out to EdTechm Wikipedia and open science platform.

DSC_0071Anshu Bhardwaj: Collaborative Tools to Accelerate Infectious Disease Research. The projects that she aims at are researchers, undergrad, industry – they will have some knowledge in the area before joining the project. In particular, she works on drug discovery. TB is an example of the issue with antibiotic resistance. Drug discovery is a complex, risky process with a high attrition rate. It takes 12-15 years from idea to drug and it is very expensive. There is a need for a wide range of skills. Within the pharma industry is that failures are not shared. Within an open-source drug discovery information and failures are shared and allowing learning. The open innovation model allows for creating a collaborative platform. Sysborg 2.0 – point of contact for idea, data, result and peer-review platform that allow for improvement. It allows a project management system, a social network to find peers. There are 13 functions and a social network type page. There is also a need to manage micro-attribution – to allow recognising small contributions. They created the portal from a range of open-source tools – Galaxy, DoProject, Moodle, etc. It includes collaboration with Infosys because of the technical complexity of developing such a project. On each project, they have developed metadata that is recorded in the system, but they created a flat hierarchy that allows anyone to update information with version control in case that people changed information that the project manager wants to change. They also have an OSDDCHem – and open chemistry initiative and that because of the complexity of following compounds as they go through the process. The system also helped in recording the structures and the molecules and different diagrams and putting diagrams in the style of chemistry communication. They have seen self-organisation of groups of students and also been able to analyse 45,000 publications. So far, they integrated 84 PIs with 88 projects and identified 11 compounds that can lead to drugs.

Marc Santolini & Thomas Landrain: Just One Giant Lab – learning and solving together. JOGL is about opening up the process of involvement in research and designing projects to people outside academia. It also links itself to the SDGs. The background to it is the experience of an open laboratory in Paris by Thomas (La Paillasse), but to get out of the physical space and collaboration. The next stage was to create collaboration online in epidemiological research (with support from Roche). An open science platform can bring people on a level playing way – from specialists, data scientists, patients etc. There are many problems that are not suitable for business problem-solving. Many don’t have such an opportunity. We need to consider the agile space of communities that don’t sustain their involvement but need to document and pass their experience forward. The challenge is that we have – about 10m active contributors to science, but 1 billion people with higher education. We need researchers without being within the formal research system. The existing collaborative research systems (Academia.edu researchgate…) are locking data and output and work by exploiting the vanity of contributors, not on collaboration. The idea of Jogl is that research/entrepreneurs/civil servants/activists might have their own problems that they need to solve, and on the other hand, there are students, patients, citizens that can contribute and build experience through participation in real projects.

Marc – there is a growth in science: increase collaboration and publication. No one can be in control of an area, so need to have designed serendipity (from Michael Nielsen). They look at team success, science innovation, open-source community, and collaborative learning. iGEM is a synthbio competition of over 300 teams, everything is on a wiki lab book network. The analysis looked at features that can help in understanding the competition, for example, team size, experience, mentorship but also with a network analysis. There is a collaboration core that can predict success.

Bastian Greshake Tzovaras: OpenHumans – sharing very personal data to use for research in a way that protects our privacy. The idea is that there is one system that stores the data safely and securely: GPS location, DNA data, Google Search History and Tweets. The first thing that it allows is analysing the data with notebooks of research that is coming out of it (predict eye colour on 23and Me data – it can allow you to try and run shared open notebook on your data without sharing it. The notebooks just share analysis and not the data. There are also projects that are using the data. An example is Dana Lewis insulin pumps that are using information about continuous glucose monitoring (nightscout) with patients controlling their data. Another example is nobism which is working on cluster headaches – they share data with code academy that know how to analyse the data. some of the reports by the students are shared and patient-led experiments. There are big issues of governance and trust. The OpenHumans foundation is a not-for-profit. Community is participating in the approval of a project which is proposed on the system. The community discussed it for a long time. The community is also asked to participate in the nomination of the board by anyone in the community. There is some mechanism to deal with the community seats

Valerie Lerouyer: BioLab, a future collaborative and experimental space at the Cite de Sciences et Industrie. Biolab should allow linking people to biology and the environment. Aiming for partnership with INRA towards research on soil and fermentation. The aim is to help with understanding the ecological transition. Aim for a different audience – children, adults. They want people to discover the microscopic world, and conduct collaborative about ecological transition and set participatory projects. The aim is to create a dynamic process and that is an issue with communication – the central aspects of the plan is as an entry to the right to dialogue, to share the results, to research, to find out out about things – create. They are going to explore living organisms in the part and the canal in different ecosystems. and ask the public to sample from their gardens and their areas. Focus on microbiology and biotechnologies and developing partnerships with secondary schools. Thinking about DIY – e.g. fermentation which is impossible to do in a lab (e.g. Kefir) to collect observations from different places.  The exhibit will open in April.

Anirudh Krishnakumar: Dynamic Digital Drivers for Open Collaborative Science – MindLogger is a data collection platform that is aimed to build apps for citizen science without any programming. Allowing different data collection: a survey that allows people to create different response option, collecting different types of information (audio, video) and sensors features. It provides different elements – markdown text, slider, date, time range, table counter. Allowing people to give information in different ways – e.g. a set of fields that allow data entry. There is an option of active geolocation but actively elected by participants. They want to provide support with a wider library of citizen science projects – so if someone created a survey, someone else can pick it up. There is a thought about integrating MindLonger with ETH Zurich/ Citizen Cyberlab SDG toolkit. They would like to see different use cases and experimentation with the tool.

Joel Chevrier: Look at your hand when you write. Recently started research neuromotor in handwriting in children. Joel is using sensors – the interest in how you can measure movement with accelerometers and some examples of assessing movement and understanding movements. You can teach the system on different gestures, and the system is learning the link between colour and letter. The system is linked to Centre Pompidou. The fact that we can work with devices can also help in providing more accuracy to the assessment of the way people are moving (e.g. for patients with motoric issues). Research questions include the degree in which we can use movement and monitoring of grasping actions that allow us to understand the handwriting of children.

Some general insights: use of open source library is valuable, and there is a need to pay special attention to software packages that are used outside your discipline, but then also consider where the knowledge on how to use it will come from. There is a clear need for a community manager and someone who will continue to encourage activities with the system. OpenHumans is a good example that is based on minimal development. Use of APIs is a good way to interact and not on integration and complex connections.

The workshop was supported by my short term fellowship at the CRI in Paris.

 

Launching a citizen science course – week 1

Today, I gave the opening lectures of the new UCL course ‘Introduction to Citizen Science and Scientific Crowdsourcing‘. In a way, it was more work than I originally thought, but I also thought that I’m underestimating the effort – so it’s not completely unexpected.

Although I am responsible for the first installation of Moodle, the virtual learning environment, at UCL in 2003, I have not used it in the context of an online course for remote learners. I have experienced the development of the Esri Survey123 module with Patrick Rickles and the excellent team at Esri that done most the work. It’s actually quite a challenge. Luckily, the e-learning support team of UCL was happy to guide us and set us on an appropriate path of developing the material for the course.

Having the course materialising is also closing a part of the original ExCiteS proposal that was left open. Here what the proposal for Challenging Engineering said: “In the fourth year, the research group will begin to consolidate the technology (with the first PhD students completing their studies) and will develop a further focused research proposal utilising the lessons from Adventure 2… In this year, a module on Citizen Science will be offered for MSc and PhD students at UCL.”. The project officially started in September 2011, so the fourth year was 2016 – so launching it in early 2018, within the 2017/2018 academic year should be considered to be on time in academic proposal terms!

Compared to things that I’ve done in the past, I have to note that the evolution of what is considered as boring technology – e.g. Microsoft PowerPoint (MSPP) – is instrumental to the ability to put this course together. Below you’ll see the opening segment. In actual terms, the extra effort to turn it into online teaching material was not huge – record voice over in MSPP, save as a video, upload to YouTube, link to Moodle (or here). I do hope that we’re getting it right with the course, but I’ll see as we develop it.

The rest of the lecture is available on UCLeXtend.

Defining principles for mobile apps and platforms development in citizen science

Core concepts of apps, platforms and portals for citizen science

In December 2016, ECSA and the Natural History Museum in Berlin organised a  workshop on analysing apps, platforms, and portals for citizen science projects. Now, the report from the workshop with an addition from a second workshop that was held in April 2017 has evolved into an open peer review paper on RIO Journal.

The workshops and the paper came to life thanks to the effort of Soledad Luna and Ulrike Sturm from the Berlin Museum.

RIO is worth noticing: is “The Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO) journal” and what it is trying to offer is a way to publish outputs of the whole research cycle – from project proposals to data, methods, workflows, software, project reports and the rest. In our case, the workshop report is now open for comments and suggestions. I’ll be interested to see if there will be any…

The abstract reads:

Mobile apps and web-based platforms are increasingly used in citizen science projects. While extensive research has been done in multiple areas of studies, from Human-Computer Interaction to public engagement in science, we are not aware of a collection of recommendations specific for citizen science that provides support and advice for planning, design and data management of mobile apps and platforms that will assist learning from best practice and successful implementations. In two workshops, citizen science practitioners with experience in mobile application and web-platform development and implementation came together to analyse, discuss and define recommendations for the initiators of technology based citizen science projects. Many of the recommendations produced during the two workshops are applicable to non-mobile citizen science project. Therefore, we propose to closely connect the results presented here with ECSA’s Ten Principles of Citizen Science.

and the paper can be accessed here. 

Into the night – training day on citizen science

dscn1936Last December, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) awarded funding to UCL Extreme Citizen Science group and Earthwatch as part of their investment in public engagement. The projects are all short – they start from January to March and included public engagement and training to early career researchers.

“Into the Night” highlights the importance of light pollution, a growing environmental stressor to both wildlife and humans, through collaborative and co-designed citizen science research. The project aims to increase awareness of this issue through two public workshops exploring the potential of two citizen science focal points – glow-worms and human wellbeing – explicitly linking ecological and human impacts. The project will culminate with a set of public activities (pilot data collection and educational) to coincide with Earth Hour (25.03.2017).

The project aims to build public engagement capacity through PhD internships with Earthwatch (Europe), CEH, Natural England and UCL, and forms a dedicated training day on the design and implementation of citizen science for 50 early-career researchers and PhD students.

The project is led by UCL (in collaboration with North Carolina State University – NCSU) and Earthwatch, bringing together leading research and practice in citizen science. It is the result of two co-design workshops, with over 30 participants from environmental science, social science, public health, National Parks, and NGOs. Based on this preparatory work, and with active training of early career researchers, we will run two focused workshops which will take place in dark sky reserves. These workshops will focus on two preliminary ideas for citizen science projects: a countrywide survey of glow-worms and the impact of artificial light on their activities, and the influence of lightscapes and dark green spaces on human wellbeing while balancing safety and concerns.

The two projects will generate public awareness and provide the public with opportunities to have debate and dialogue on the subject, as well as involvement in data collection and analysis. Results will be shared through social and traditional media. The outcome will advance ideas for a national citizen science project, which UCL and Earthwatch will take forward.

The training day run in Oxford on the 2nd February and during the day I gave two 45 minutes sessions. First, I provided an introduction to the field of citizen science, how to design a project, and how to evaluate such a project.

The session provided a brief overview of the types of citizen science that are relevant in addressing environmental challenges. We looked at classifications of citizen science projects, explore their potential goals, the process of recruitment and retention as well as the need to start project evaluation from an early stage. At the end the participants engage in a short exercise to consider how these elements can be used in the design of a citizen science project.

The second talk focused on technology.

The talk aim was described as follows: Current citizen science seems effortless…just download an app and start using it. However, there are many technical aspects that are necessary to make a citizen science project work. This session provided an overview of all the technical elements that are required – from the process of designing an app, to designing and managing a back-end system, to testing the system end to end before deployment. Again, at the end of the session, a short exercise considered the design of an app for a citizen science project that addresses light pollution.

 

Editorial in Human Computation Journal – Creativity and Learning in Citizen Cyberscience

As part of a special issue of the open access Human Computation Journal, I am the co-author of the editorial Creativity and Learning in Citizen Cyberscience – Lessons from the Citizen Cyberlab Summit. Following the summit (see blog post here), Egle Ramanauskaite took the blog posts and edited them with her notes, which led to a summary and analysis of the summit. cyberlab

Here is the abstract:

“This article summarizes the Citizen Cyberlab (CCL) Summit, which took place at University of Geneva on 17-18th September 2015, and introduces the special issue on “Learning and Creativity in Citizen Science”. As the final event of a 3-year EU FP7 CCL project, the Summit sought to disseminate project results and reflect on the issue of citizen science (CS) as a participatory environment where opportunities for self-development and various types of creativity can arise. A
number of interesting themes emerged at the intersection of the work presented by project collaborators and external partners, including the different types of creativity that are evident in CS, the role of the community as the main medium for innovation and participant learning to occur, and the common challenges concerning the design, initiation and management of CS projects.
The current issue presents work done during the CCL project, as well as external project contributions, for which the main focus is on learning and creativity in CS. The set of articles addresses diverse aspects of the topic, ranging from empirical research on the phenomena themselves, to tools, platforms and frameworks developed specifically for citizen cyberscience (CCS) with creativity and learning in mind, and distinct CS cases where these phenomena manifest in previously undescribed and unexpected ways. We hope that the issue will be useful to researchers and practitioners who aim to study, evaluate
or design for learning and creativity in a range of CCS projects”

You can find the paper here.

 

Opportunistic Citizen Science in central California

iNaturalist MapAs I’ve noted in the earlier post, I’ve travelled through central California in August, from San Francisco, to Los Angeles. Reading Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction‘, made me think about citizen science, but this was my holiday – and for the past 4 years, as I finish setting the email away message, I disable the social media apps and email on my phone, and only use it for navigation, travel apps like TripAdviser, weather, taking images, and searching for the opening times of the local supermarket (more on this in the next post). In addition to the phone, I do use a digital camera with an integrated GPS receiver which somewhat surprisingly, displays a map of the world with data from HERE . As I was travelling along, I wasn’t aiming to take part in any specific citizen science project, just to experience the landscape, and understand the places and people.

Yet, I had several encounters…

DSCN1815 DSCN1822 On t he way back from a visit at Yosemite valley, by coincidence, we decided to stop at a vista point along the road, and as I was getting out of the car, I realised that the sign looks familiar. There was a board with information about the Rim Fire  and the need to protect the forest from tree disease and fire. But one familiar sign, which I’ve seen in photos, and just read about it, was now in front of me. Here’s the description from Hannibal’s ‘Citizen Scientist’:

…A succinct two-and-a-half-minute video explains it here: monitorchange.org.
“The concept uses little more than a camera phone and a stout piece of bent steel to start,” reads the site. Droege figured out that using photo-stitching software and images periodically captured from the same place, he could create a mural of change over time…
DSCN1818Droege’s idea is being put to use by a sui generis citizen science group in the Bay Area, Nerds for Nature. …In their emphasis on improvisation and community the Nerds embody the grassroots spirit of citizen science. Two Nerds projects using Droege’s camera-bracket idea currently underway are both trained on documenting and observing fire recovery … in the Stanislaus National Forest in Yosemite … if you happen to be hiking in either place, here’s what you can do to be a cool Nerd. Find a bracket and take a picture. On Mount Diablo, post it to Twitter using the hashtag #diablofire01. At Yosemite, use the hashtag indicated at each bracket. For example, #firerim01. The Nerds will harvest the photos and “create time-lapse views of change.” The effects of fire on the ecosystem here are imperfectly understood, probably subject to climate change, and of the utmost interest to figuring out the deep truth of the landscape, so you will be doing a good deed.” (p. 348-349)

DSCN1821So I had to take a picture with my camera, as well as a zoomed-in image to see a little bit better how the recovery is happening around the burnt trees. I have tweeted the images (and I hope that the project will prove successful) but only after I’ve went back to use social media. If you follow the hashtag, you’ll see the steady stream of images…

DSCN1814I have also captured many pictures of birds, flowers, and animals that we came across (see the map at the top of the post), from a bird that landed on the side mirror of the car, to Sea Lions we’ve seen on a boat tour to the Channel Islands. Last Friday, I finally organised the pictures and uploaded them to my iNaturalist account. I’m not familiar with the wildlife in California, and I didn’t know that in these three weeks, I’ve seen American Robin, California Scrub-Jay (in the picture), Turkey Vulture, Cottontail Rabbit and much more. A truly amazing experience of uploading the images into iNaturalist is to see, within an hour, identification for most of the species. Not only that, my observations were added to “Wildlife of the Santa Monica Mountains”, “California Birds”, and pleasingly  “2016 National Parks Bioblitz – NPS Servicewide” collections. It all happened very rapidly. It’s odd and pleasing to contribute to citizen science by basically uploading holiday photos.

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The last encounter was planned. Being close to Los Angeles was an opportunity to meet Lila Higgins and her wonderful team at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum who are doing extensive outreach through citizen science. One of the most impressive areas in the museum is the Nature Lab with its wall of invitation to many types of citizen science, and an interactive, continually updated map of observations from iNaturalist in the area of L.A.. The lab is full of exploration areas, each of them inviting the visitors to explore nature through ‘memory maps’ – and in many cases, join citizen science activities such as observing birds, insects, or listening to the sounds at night.

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Birding…
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…Ladybird (Ledybug) observations …
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or audio recording at night

At the time of the visit, two interns were working on classifying flies which were captured in a citizen science project across the city, and their view in the microscope was projected overhead. The live exhibits in the lab are also full of hints and information on how the visitors can join in and contribute to the collection. It was good to see the utilisation of the opportunistic and directed data collection that the museum provides – the synergy of professionals and volunteers which is integral to citizen science. Personally, the visit motivated me to upload my photos to iNat.

On reflection, I can see the potential of opportunistic observations and participation in simple activities such as sharing photos. I did had to prepare the photos before uploading them to iNat, mostly to adjust the time-stamp from UK to California (I forgot to adjust the time at the beginning of the journey), but this was fairly simple and easy. I’m also pleased to micro-contribute to the monitoring and understanding nature in the places that I visited…

Reading ‘Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction’ in place

9781615192434At the beginning of the year, I received an email from Mary Ellen Hannibal, asking for a clarification of the ‘extreme citizen science’ concept. Later on, Mary Ellen provided me with an early copy of ‘Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction‘, and asked if I will be willing to recommend it. I read the first part of the book before travelling to Sci Foo Camp, and was happy to provide a statement (I wouldn’t overstate the value of my endorsement when she received ones from Bill McKibben and Paul Ehrlich).

The part that I read captured my interest, and I finished reading it on the way to Sci Foo and shortly after it. I’ve enjoyed reading it, and at many points I stopped to think and absorb the rich information that Mary Ellen provided within it. At the beginning, I was expecting an account of the personal experience of doing citizen science and understanding its place in the world – much like Sharman Apt Russell ‘Diary of a Citizen Scientist’ (a wonderful book which I highly recommend!). However ‘Citizen Scientist’ is a very different type of book, with a much richer internal ‘ecology’. The book is weaving five themes – the impact of the mass extinction that we are experiencing around us; a very personal account of losing a parent; the history and development of ecological knowledge of coastal California; Joseph Campbell’s literary framework of the ‘hero’s journey’, and the way it can be linked to John Steinbeck and Ed Rickets work around Monterey; and the current practice of citizen science, especially around the Bay Area and coastal California. These themes are complex on their own, and Mary Ellen is doing a great job in exploring each one of them and bringing them into interaction with each other. As I went through the book, each of these was explained clearly from a well researched position, with the experiential aspects of citizen science – including the frustration and challenges – beautifully expressed. As you read through the book, you start to see how these themes come together. It most be said that most of these themes are worrying or raise the notion of loss. Against this background, citizen science plays the role of ‘hope’ at the corner of Pandora’s box – offering a way to connect to nature, nurture it and redevelop a sense of stewardship. A way to preserve the cultural practices of the Amah Mutsun tribe, nature, and a sense of connection to place.

Near Yosemite I felt very lucky that Mary Ellen got in touch and shared the book with me – it was just the right book for me to read at the time. After the Sci Foo Camp, I have stayed in central California for 4 weeks, touring from Mountain View in the Bay Area, to Ripon in Central Valley, to Oak View in Ojai Valley, near Ventura and Los Angeles. Reading the book while travelling through places that are linked to the book gave the visits deeper and richer context and meaning. Many of the encounters throughout journey were linked to the topics that I mentioned above – you don’t need to be any kind of hero to experience these! Some of these encounters include the following.
DSCN1924First was the fascinating session at Sci Foo Camp, in which Tony Barnosky discussed the issue of global tipping points (which are discussed in the book) and their wider implications, with few days later travelling towards Yosemite and experiencing the change in very large landscapes following fires and thinking ‘is this a local ecological tipping point, and the forest won’t come back?’. Then there was a visit to San Francisco Golden Gate Park, and passing by the California Academy of Sciences (Cal Academy, the San Francisco Natural History Museum), whose story is covered in the book. Another reminder of extinction came while travelling down the famous California State Route 1, which was eerily quite and empty of other cars on a weekend day, because of the Soberanes Fire that was devastating the forest nearby (and has not stopped). Or stopping by the Mission in Santa Barbara and thinking about the human and natural history of the coast, or just looking at the kelp on the beach and appreciating it much more…

I’ll try to write more about citizen science and its hopeful aspects later, but as for the book – even if you don’t travel through coastal California, I am happy with what I’ve said about it: ‘an informative, personal, emotional and fascinating account of a personal journey to ecological citizen science. It shows how our understanding of our environment and the need for urgent action to address the mass extinction that is happening in front of our eyes can be addressed through participatory science activities’.