Call for Papers in a special issue of Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation on citizen science

Mappers launch an air balloon in Mathare, Nairobi. Photo: Sohel Ahmed, DPU, UCL.

Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation is a new open access journal, addressing the interdisciplinary field that links different aspects of remote sensing (the use of different imaging and sensing technologies) and the field of ecology and conservation. It is publishing its papers in Open Access, so the papers are free to download and share.

With the encouragement of the journal editorial team, a group of editors (Helen Roy, Tom August, Linda See, Tanya Berger-Wolf & myself) set out a call for a special issue on citizen science. Citizen science is becoming part of the way research in ecology and conservation is now carried out, and there are plenty of examples of the use of remote sensing techniques – from the Do-It-Yourself balloon mapping that you see above, as part of research that explores how human, livestock, and food is linked to an informal settlement in Nairobi, to use of drones by non-professional researchers, to the use of satellite imagery.

One of my favourite citizen science project – PenguinWatch – is an example for remote sensing, as it uses camera traps imagery that is then uploaded to the Zooniverse platforms, and volunteers help in counting how many penguins appear in the image.

The call text is:

For centuries amateur naturalists have contributed to science; for example, by recording the distribution of species. However, in recent decades, advances in technology have revolutionised “citizen science” and far more people are involved in different ways than was historically the case. We invite high-quality contributions about citizen science to a special issue of Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation. The aim is to demonstrate the diversity of citizen science, in terms of approach and research themes, and the contributions of remote-sensing techniques. We are particularly interested in innovative research that identifies the intersection between remote sensing and citizen science for conservation, such as DIY balloon or kite mapping, the use of photo-sharing apps and the integration of satellite observations with ground truth by volunteers. Papers that reveal how citizen science and remote sensing can be used to monitor Essential Biodiversity Variables (EBVs) are also welcome. The main objective is to describe the breadth and depth of engagement that is now possible using different approaches to citizen science. High-quality submissions for this special issue will be considered on a case-to-case basis for a full fee waiver, where authors are unable to pay the Article Processing Fees.
Submission deadline 15 July 2017.

NightScience 2015 – CRI Paris

NighStcience 2015 in CRI-Paris, 10-11 July –  Night Science is a mode of exploratory, innovative science, and as in previous years, it is an event that mixes talks with active hands-on experience. The event this year was marked by linking open innovation, social responsibility and entrepreneurship to science. The event was opened by as Francois Taddei highlighting the important of open ecology for sharing knowledge and solutions for problems that we face today. He also set the theme of the day by pointing to the need to link open science and social entrepreneurial ideas together.

The first session explored frugal research and responsible innovations

Melanie Marcel – SoScience – linking responsible research and innovation for social entrepreneurs. She provided an example of two social entrepreneurs from Burkina Faso who want to deal with malaria by developing a soap that include mosquito repellent to allow use without changing behaviour, but they had problems in making the ingredient in the soap stable, so through SoScience, they are linked to a laboratory who research how to make it happen. SoScience seeing themselves as part of responsible research and innovation, and have links with universities, and with companies (such as GE Healthcare). There is a chance to change the system in terms of relationship between society and science – who is it done for, and what problems are addressed. She also emphasised the examples of frugal innovations and science as part of the way to solve the challenges that she is dealing with it.

Marc Chooljian – Tekla Labs – volunteer organisation, run by PhD students in UCB UCSF. They are creating a network of building or using scientific equipment to allow more people to be involved in science. The access to the devices themselves is a major obstacles, and some scientific instruments can be made much cheaper than they are now. He noted that everybody should be a maker – building something help to understand the process, and how things work. But there are obstacles that they need to know – technical, safety, so there is a need for detailed information from other people who are familiar with the equipment. Tekla Labs trying to provide information that can be used within scientific processes. Unlike general DIY, there is a need to set standards of posting information to make scientific tools valid and suitable for producing results that will be accepted in publications. The process is to assess needs for some tools, then gather ideas (e.g. “build my lab” contest on Instructable), then test and edit, and provide designs to users. Design includes a lot of engineering experience, but once someone tried to build an equipment, they can share information back to those who are designing so they can change and update the design. A survey that was carried out in Argentina/Peru – there are many scientists who are willing to create their own equipment if the information is given. An example of contest included different pieces of equipment in instructable. Testing the devices and seeing how they are being used as to close the loop is currently a challenge. Need to happen by users who are not the developers.

David Ott – Red Labs: humanitarian Fab Labs by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). One of the oldest humanitarian organisations, focusing on victims of armed conflicts. The ICRC was inspired by the Fab Labs from MIT, taking the ability of maker/DIY culture in humanitarian action, seeing it as support operations and empower beneficiaries, allowing the ICRC work with the crowd to solve problems that they encounter. There are challenges in how to transport such a lab or use existing equipment in the place, securing the lab (ICRC suffered from looting of their stores in the past). Potential use is for prosthetics although making it work can be challenging in terms of specifications. There are stringent requirements on medical devices in terms of quality and certifications. Another issue is scaling up in terms of speed and quantity – what happen if you need thousands of objects?  He suggested an ‘ideal humanitarian thing’ with the following qualities: Do no harm, functional, parametric (you can change it easily in size and other properties easily to change design), editable, scalable, tool independent, material independent. They are looking for more use cases, and start with a ‘mini Red Lab Kit’ and then consider collaborations with national RCs.

The second session focused on the pursuit of Open Science

MichaĂ«l Bon covered the ‘Self Journal of Science‘. Scientists are forced to publish in ‘impact factor’ journals – there is a need to free ourselves from this tyranny. Science is defined as unambiguous, transparent, falsifiable, need to be based of well-defined statements that are then tested in experiment, but all this need to lead to a publication that is therefore central to the process. The idea of the Self-Journal of Science is to try and create a repository of scientific information that allow people to collaborate. People put their papers, and each user can vote on the paper and its significant. There is also potential to make comments on specific parts of the articles and have a debate and discussion about the different parts of the paper. The interface will change the nature of the article, the people who comment have the same authority/importance as the article itself. The aim is to create a new logic of scientific process of sharing information and knowledge.

Samir Brahmachari (CSIR-OSDD) described his experience in Open Source Drug Discovery – for 50 years TB drug discovery was neglected, and there is a very small effort through bodies like the Gates foundation to create new drugs. When you don’t have resources you are focusing on frugal innovations and that was what he focused on. OSDD is crowdsourcing with a difference – started in 2007, collaboratively aggregate the available information (biological and genetic) on TB with the aim to create a computer model that will allow drug discovery. An attempt to follow the model of aircraft design in which the model allows a lot of experimentations in the computer and then to go to production only with the most promising drugs. To make a community, they created training, open web 2.0 platform, and communication. The platform doesn’t allow people to know the position in society (teacher/students) so all ideas are taken seriously. They put effort into making functional self-organising groups (manual created by students). Thousands of papers were read by students and used to annotate genes. When the most active students received computers as a prize, the advertisement on the back of the laptop brought more volunteers when they went to college. Infosys supported a full open source stack. People that contributed more than 1% became authors (45). OSDD education value was that some continue to a PhD. Within the participants on 5% had PhD, and many people came from less endowed institutions.

Denisa Kera talks about “Subalterns” laboratories – she looks at DIYbio in Singapore – her interest is from philosophy and designer, from an STS perspective. Science can be done differently in places like Indonesia, potentially creating new forms of laboratories that are looking somewhere between kitchen, lab, party, gallery and workshops and were all sort of stuff happening. People hacking coconuts,  with participants that from Indonesia, Taiwan, ex-Yugoslavia, Nepal, Singapore, Switzerland, Japan and other places. Such labs are happening at the edge of the system – Georgia, Indonesia, Thailand etc. There is ‘epistemic violence’ in R&D – it is transferred & applied in the South, adopted by the public by forcing it to society. It heavily dependent of material donation or through Corporate Social Responsibility to make it happen. There are also issues with researchers from the North interpreting ‘Local Needs’ and finding solutions. Instead we can think of open science, open access and open hardware. Open can also mean ‘post-colonial’ science. She also look at how open hardware travel between North and South, how it is used after the first build, as objects have longer life.

Jason Bland covered the Citizen Cyberlab activity SynBio4All. It aims to open the world of synthetic biology to the public and allow people to learn, support and study. They aim to create a SynBio community, started by design a community platform that will support learning and engagement. SynBio takes an engineering approach to DNA manipulations. SynBio has many applications – drug production, food, material and fuel, and potential synthetic organisms. He used an example of the project ‘The Smell of Us‘ which was part of iGEM competition. This year there is also development of a MOOC, for high school students, about SynBio.

Joel Chevier – a lab in your pocket. He thinks of the smartphone as a lab tool, to play with children. Smartphone is a great pocket lab. If you look at the smartphone and what is does in daily life make it very accessible – you want real-time, interactive, fit everybody perception, networked and sharing information. Will play science with it, and the game is to see the world around you, and see what is happening around you and also other people. Game such as draw a large circle on the floor, and see the blue point on the screen – the person outside look at what people do and see how the point is moving in space. He created a website for these activities.  Possible to also consider more sensors – e.g. thermodynamics through pressure & temperature.

The third session looked at the combination – frugal and digital education 

Guy Etienne discuss the activities in Haiti, how it is used for community development and learners empowerment. He noted that the world is fast-moving, and is very complicated. We need to adapt our strategy to different places. Society too often penalize young brains in terms of disadvantaged groups in society by depriving them of opportunities. Everything that student learn need to think how they use it to change their community for the better. The goals: critical thinking, rational judgement, strength of character, empathy (very important between religious groups and other divisions in society), operational leadership and change-maker skills. There are big political and economic risks – so need to have support of parents, community, government and students. The government resist change, but because the school is funded through tuition fees from the students, it allow the school to become a social enterprise, and to aim to generate funds to modernised the space, and use non-traditional sources (soap / acid from batteries for chemistry) to deliver education. The school is using sensing as part of direct engagement with science – using weather stations, seismographic stations to educate the students about the measurements that are direct to them. Instead of final exam in science, they are running a science fair that is aimed at teaching science for change-makers citizens, which mean demonstrating how science is relevant for their community. The school now have a robotics laboratory – so every student in the school will have to learn what they are and how to create them. In science fairs, they have 4000-5000 visitors. They aim to change the teachers of the future – change the mentality of students, attitude and abilities.

Ange Ansour – see teachers as constant tinkerers. The programme of the CRI that emphasise learning through research.

Celine Nartineau and Vanessa Mignan explored e-Fabrik, focusing on digital problem-solving initiative for youngsters and disabled people (I’ve seen that in ECSITE 2015). Linking young people from disadvantaged communities with disabled people in a fab lab, to consider solutions together. The lessons: working outside the comfort zone is rewarding.

Barbara Schack – access to education and culture with mobile media centre. Setting a media centre in Haiti after the earthquake helps in strengthening communities. Refugees spend on average 17 years in refugee camps and there are 50 million people in such status, so we need a new staple for these people – as part of humanitarian support we need to think of reading. Learning and access to information, playing. They work with UNHCR – they create with Philippe Stark an idea box that unfold to everything that you need to learn, play and create (video below, and the website is  They would like to work more places, and a priority is to support refugees from Syria and Iraq in Jordan and Lebanon.

Yogesh Kulkarni, (Vigyan Ashram – a center of Indian Institute Of Education (IIE) Pune). – talks about energetic schoolchildren in India. Need to teach students to identify development need of the community. Example is lack of social space in a village, and through participatory design and building the garden was built. It was design with Google Sketchup plan and use a lot of recycled materials. The students learn through ‘Socrates method of questioning’ after every task and linking that to the curriculum area. Questions on food, energy, engineering. Fab Lab provide the space to mix traditional tools and skills (e.g. carpentry) with recent tools (3D printer, Google Sketchup)

The fourth session was Innovation, Agoras and Citizen Empowerment

Cindy Regalado (ExCiteS, Citizens Without Borders) – describing the development of Barney, a kite that was developed in the Public Lab Barn Raising. DIY for her is about ‘for whom, by whom and for what?’ DIY is about critical making – the possibility to intervene substantively in systems of authority and power, and reflecting on infrastructure, institutions, and communities. She emphasised the importance of communicative spaces – they are allowing people to create a social process and the meaning of something can be only understood when it is used. creating communicative spaces is challenging. We need to consider to what lead people to frugality and need – not to assume that it’s all positive. Also need to consider privilege, acknowledge the technology hype and consider the true potential. She used examples from Public Lab to demonstrate her concepts. The DIY itself will not solve problems, but only expose the systemic and structural issues with society?

James Carlson talks about the ‘Bucket-works’ in Milwaukee (the School Factory) – they now have 100s of members, 90 start-ups, and 2 weddings from their original organisation! He see 8 varieties of collaborative spaces – hackerspace, makerspace, co-working incubator, arts collab, project collab, open democracy areas, citizen science and open health space, and community kitchen and open food. These types have things in common – models of resources and business. They become active through community interaction. All these are having bias towards lots white men, they are not linked to communities nearby them, individual transformation focus, trends to wards engineering science skill-sets not social, emphatic skills. The door is the most important technology, and need to convince people to join in and to go through the door. Need to help people to go through transition, learning how to participate in the context of collaboration, practice experimentation and failure and learning how to self-direct learning – and even the social interaction. How do we map the learning process for participants? How to we help to bring it to small places. There is too much economic focus in terms of driving, and need to have a more emphatic approach that highlights society. James’ presentation is available here.

Amber Griffiths (Foam) – Connecting Society with Science. Everyone funds science through their taxes, and science is better when more people contribute, there is an overwhelming lack of scientific literacy (from minorities -> to the educated pale/male/stale politicians), and science matters to people’ life. Within this context, scientists have love-hate relationships with citizen science. Examples from exploring frog disease, or mapping magpies which follows just the patterns of population. Can we move beyond the unidirectional model of citizen science and encourage people to develop their own ideas? There are ways to help – physical space to do the work, nudge to start and support, and access to existing knowledge. The London Biohackspace is an example for a community space and there are also Foam lab in Cornwell where people can create open spaces. One problem with physical spaces is that they are intimidating – male, already established social relationship, but they can be more collaborative. Access to existing knowledge is increasing with open access, that you still need to know that it exists, where to find it, and how to judge it.

Eleanor Rusack describes UNITAR GeoTag-X. GeoTag-X allow to harvest media (photos/video/audio) about disaster and then analyse media collaboratively and then share it. The process is all with volunteers, and identifying experts volunteers. Photos that are collected are set into categories and are then classified. They also provide outputs that can be used by the Humanitarian Data Exchange.

Nicoals Huchet talked about ‘bionicoHand – a prosthetic arm created in a Fab Lab.  Started in 2002 when he lost his hand and started using prosthetic hand. The personal interest and exposure to fab labs he started developing a new type of prosthetic hand based on Arduino. He feel much more confidence with disability, and not about creating a business or making it cheep. In 2014 started sharing the information on websites and it started to be replicated. MHK – My Human Kit is based on technology and open source, social and educational involvement, social entrepreneurship,  linking disability and art and also contribute to humanitarian goals. He is working with INSA, fab labs and companies – working with geeks, disabled people and medical professionals.

Jaykumar Menon (McGill) closed with discussion on open innovation, humanitarian issues and human rights. He started with the Pasteur Quadrant set the basic research and applied research – according to human needs and interest. He had experience in the area of human rights and moved to the innovation world – and working to develop a network called Zakti, which is an innovation think-tank. He is interested to look at planetary scale issues and think of how to address them. The methods are suitable for open innovations: prizes, crowdsourcing, open innovation and complex collaboration. Used example of iron which is the biggest deficiency and impact 3 billion people – thinking about mixing it in salt as a way to double fortified salt (in addition to iodine). There are also issues with pharma, with a broken system in terms of R&D, development and production that OSDD demonstrate new ways of solving, so there are new ways of solving problems.

Final thoughts: As in the previous events, NightScience is a great event to hear about fascinating achievements and ideas from across the world that bring together science, society, innovations, education and technologies in a very helpful way. You leave such event with the spirit lifted.

Yet, a thought that was running in my head is that many of the issues are partially coming from desperation with the current systems in the world – inequalities, market fundamentalism, cutting public spending and expectations that individuals and groups in society will fend for themselves or else they are left without help. The solutions are mostly tinkering with the existing system and are very gentle in exposing its failures or trying to cause proper disruption that can change the state of things. My work included in this same critique.