Ecsite 2018 – Day 2: technology advocacy, evolution, citizen science in parody trial, and DITOs

The second day of Ecsite 2018 included several interesting sessions (here is day 1) which includes a morning discussion about the role of science centres and museum in the public discussion of science and technology, a parody trial of citizen science, and a discussion on the nature of multi-country projects, where I gave a presentation of the Doing It Together Science (DITOs) as an example.

Technology advocates or whistleblowers?

DSCN2809Laurent Chicoineau (Quai des savoirs, TOULOUSE France) – his first experience with the challenges of communicating science and technology was in Grenoble with protests against nano-technology in the 1990s. At the time, the science centre explored the different views about it through an exhibition, public discussions, etc. The view from the government was that science communication was failed, as it didn’t convince the public that nanotech is good. In Toulouse, they made an exhibition in which people could choose from 15 innovations – people were more interested in medical innovation, and not in the one about enhanced- or trans-humanism. In a cartoon representation of the development of science and technology, it was asked: “why the future taste like bleach?” – it is a view of technology that emphasises clean and organised future. instead, thinking about Balck Mirror as an inspiration, and then have a story with a weird situation and then use them as a provocation to make people think and discuss potential future.

DSCN2810Ian Brunswick (Science Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin) – he takes the view that science centres should be more whistleblowers – problems such as climate change, environmental and other issues are social problems and therefore require social awareness. We should provoke people – the view that privatisation of space exploration is championed well enough – e.g. Elon Musk, so the centres should be raising challenges. If we don’t do that, we leave the critique of the future to populists. We should ask about various aspects of current technological developments – e.g. if the AI can write articles, poetry, or art. There are issues of sustainability – e.g. lead-free bullets that can be used without contaminating the water table. Or asking questions about 3D printed guns that show the potential of technology. or issues of climate change – in Climate Bureau that was pointing to a discussion about the winners and losers and profiteering from it. Each glimpse to a wider issue, we want people to make people feel.

Herbert Muender (Universum Managements GmbH, Bremen Germany) running a science centre in an area surrounded by technology and science companies and universities. The question is the topic is controversy – do the visitors understand our views? AI was mentioned and need to think about its current impact. For example, how much news is written by journalists: about 65% of news is now written or produced by bots. The understanding of what it means, and what Deep Learning mean? There is an issue that technology is running faster and faster and science centres cannot follow it up. Are they well informed about it or need to raise the information about the dangers and challenges? When it comes to fake news and science, the science centre is a trusted place and we need to consider the pro and cons. In Bremen, they experience fight over animal testing, and the scientist had to be protected by the Police, and the dialogue broke. Issues about anti-vaccination: what shall they do about it if the issue will come up? If we are talking about probabilities of 1% of a problem, how do we explain it to the public? Mentioning that media need to highlight minority position in order to raise their sales – and this is not wrong, it is how the process work and they have to accept it.

Joanna Kalinowska (Copernicus Science Centre, Poland) led the discussion: There are other positions in the spectrum and society have a great ability to absorb science – e.g. the change in the acceptance of surgery. At the London Science Museum – when there is new science, they present multiple views, and if something is controversial, they tend to take them away for a dialogue. Also created a situation that people will have to take a side and protest their side. In Science Gallery Dublin, the issue of climate science – they scientists requested the respect of the public and not their trust. They consider that the scientists don’t have their interests at heart – the one to one conversations are more effective. Another experience is seeing data that is pushed by companies that are driving specific views from companies – they also fund exhibitions and influence the funding. The limitation of the approach of Science Gallery Dublin with a more provocation approach is that beyond the creation of feeling and connections to the topic, it is the need for people to give them knowledge, but don’t link it to action – sometimes pointing to events that are linked to it. Museums and Galleries should be safe space for controversial topics. Discussions about vaccines require a safe space to be discussed and provide the range of information that is coming from it.

We need to consider what the protest is about – for example the French protest about nano-tech was there mostly about the model of industrial development and the role of public research in society. Science is not neutral or value-free. Another view: science centres do not have the expertise to judge on an issue, and they don’t have the ability to set the views. Issues of public

Public engagement with evolution: beyond giraffes and genes

DSC_0736.JPGJustin Dillon (University of Exeter) seeing evolution as a fundamental concept in science and the job is to engage people with a proper understanding of evolution. From our own experience, there are different ways of understanding how it works and what works and what doesn’t work. The session will allow different conversations with panellists.

Tania Jenkins (EvoKE- Evolutionary Knowledge for Everyone | SCNAT) Coordinating the Evoke project, and there is a basic understanding in scientific circles about giraffes and finches, and similar things. In the public imagination, it is about human evolution of religious beliefs. The evoke is trying to demonstrate that it is relevant to everyday life – from vaccines to climate change and biodiversity, The project is about engaging many researchers in information and formal education – COST Action 17127 is dedicated to the citizen engagement with evolution. The discussion that she led was solution-oriented – thinking about analogies: not believing in evolution, but about engaging in something like language. There is a potential interaction with kids and can classify things. There’s a major misconception that evolution is slow, not only antibiotics, and the way things evolve and not the linear view of evolution.

Maartje Kijne (Naturalis Biodiversity Center Leiden) Running a workshop with families, and doing work on their ancestors (in terms of human evolution) and dealing with people that are critical with evolution and with science. The discussion concludes that we recognise critical people – they deny what you’re saying, or ask for a proof. With people who deny things, you can explain the scientific process, seek common ground, point that evolution is not disconnected from faith. No awareness of micro and macro aspects of evolution.

Yamama Naciri (Corvatoire & Jardin botaniques de Genève) Geneticist, and working on the interface between population genetics and in the reconstruction of the trees of life, and specification. In the botanical gardens, they are thinking about the creation of an evolutionary trail – how interaction can increase the participant experience. Discussed in the group that facilitators have an important role, and engage in a discussion. Having evolutionary biologist in the exhibition can allow them to give facts, and less engage too deeply in a discussion and step back when things are too antagonistic. It is really important to explain the rules before the beginning of the workshop or the tour. Can be valuable to work with small children, especially with immigrant communities.

Henrik Sell (Natural History Museum, Aarhus) and would like to discuss how to make an exhibition about evolution – many people that visit the museum believe in evolution, and about 10% reject it – the visitors already believe in the issues that are presented to them. How to engage with people who are not accepting the theory? Should their view present? Especially when it comes to human evolution there are people who express their view that it is incompatible with their religious belief and then shut down. Use examples that are contemporary, e.g. demonstrate with dogs evolution. Provide historical perspective.

Citizen science on trial (parody trial)

DSC_0738.JPGSharon Ament (Museum of London) convened and chaired the session – A case of this magnitude requires a jury, that will make a decision about the case. The question that we are asking: is citizen science a robust model that is going to stay, or is it just a fashion that is going to go away like many other fashions in the past.

Aliki Giannakopoulou (Ellinogermaniki Agogi SA) plaintiff – arguing the citizen science – this case is not about citizen science but about citizen scientists. They are white, male, untrained, and anonymous. In many cases, there are bad intentions, and when it is implemented, it leads to ethical and legal questions. Are we take advantage when it is supposed to be democratic? Is it in a world that so many people are left behind is citizen science creating a barrier? scientists in most citizen science do not even interact with people. Citizen science is serving institutional goals of getting work for free, participants are not engaged in other public engagement activities. Not enough evaluation of citizen science is available, not enough about the ethical issues with it. We live in a time of big data – are people that are downloading an app really contribute to sign? The ICT doesn’t make people into scientists? What about the risks and the security of the participant.

DSCN2816Brad Irwin, (The Natural History Museum, London) defence  – an outdated opening statement – we heard that citizen science is the domain of old white male scientists. One of the most important new forms of science engagement. Will demonstrate that citizen science is contributing to world-class science, and engaging the public that takes part. It is engaging the public in dealing with the big issues that are facing the world. People are involved in collecting the data and finding ways to address these problems. It is here to stay.

DSCN2821The first witness for the persecution: Justin Dillon – is citizen science real science? the answer is No – science is a relatively complex process of systematically building knowledge, and make a model of how the world works, and then experimenting on real-world phenomena. If the prediction of the model matches the experiment, the model is held, and otherwise, it fails. That is what scientists do. Counting the number of eggs in a nest is is not science – looking at galaxies on the screen is not science. Need to remove the science from citizen science. Volunteers who are doing valuable work for scientists who don’t want to pay – citizen slavery or citizen technician.  What about the quality of the data? (laughter from the witness) scientists require so many volunteers is that because of the quality of the data is so poor, and therefore need to have so many of them to get it right. Generally, the quality of the data is poor. Final question: are citizen scientists acknowledge on publications? You would expect them to be on the list of authors – since the scientists are not considering as real scientists, they leave it to a footnote. Using the brochure of Spotteron to point that the people who are doing citizen science don’t look like scientists.

Defence interrogation of the witness: made a claim that people don’t have better things to do with their time – is there something better thing than to contribute to science? Answer – maybe they can’t do something better. The citizen scientists are not scientists and therefore can’t do science – and using the example from a paper by Dillon on “moving from citizen to civic science to address wicked conservation problems“.

Walter Staveloz – are citizen science project inclusive? 80% are white middle-class people, other people are not included. The whole approach is to tell people what to do because scientists know better – this is the deficit model all over again. Need further steps to make people know what they are doing, which a lot of time is not the case. Defence – regular science is white, can we first change the paradigm. Citizen Science can create an illusion that they participate in something meaningful way in science, and many times when people collect data they don’t know what do with it.

Matteo Merzagora – advocate a science that is useful for the whole society. Science needs to be independent and challenge societal values, not like what RRI call for science that is aligned with society. I want to challenge technology development. When we talk about citizen science we assume activists. Actually, citizen science is a trojan horse for market-driven science. The knowledge that Google is producing is based on co-production of knowledge? Is the new way of using us is done in collaboration with citizens, and it is market driven and an example of the issue.

DSCN2823Jim Browton (NHM) – the NHM in London is trying to get with citizen science – believe in the universality of experience and building knowledge. The citizen science project – Microverse is aimed at micro-fauna of cities and help people to discover real health issues that affect communities in the UK. The participation of schools is not in volunteering, so is that citizen science?.

Marianne Achiam – Citizen science can be exclusive – this is not a problem of citizen science, there are projects that are skewed and we should not leave the field. A project in the University of Copenhagen that is focused on ant include a significant outreach. Properly design citizen science can be inclusive indeed. Evaluation is important, and research is more important – we missing knowledge on how citizen science work and how it should work.

DSCN2828Caren Cooper – it is incorrect to say that citizen science is not real science: half of what we know about climate change on migratory birds is from citizen science, also an amateur astronomer who published a paper. There are many types of citizen science: there are citizen science projects that are community driven, and they are hard to quantify.

Prosecution questions: does this make the participants – they are citizen scientists and not scientists. It’s a different way to contribute to science.

Final prosecution statement: propose to ban large project and focus on the small projects, be really participatory and stop calling it citizen science. Defence: citizen science – we heard from people that are writing one thing in the trial but write up something.

The verdict: the case for the defence, to be clear the jury of the opinion is that citizen science is important, but the jury wants to say that citizen science should be inclusive of all communities and need to work to do it so. The science element should be robust. The citizen bit needs to be participatory and meaningful.

Multi-country science engagement programmes

This was a short session (45 minutes) that discussed four examples of multi-country projects in the area of science communication. Details about the session are here. The session was in a short Pecha Kucha style, with 15 slides that progress every 20 seconds, and I’ve used it to describe Doing It Together Science (DITOs) is a 3-year project, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme, that is aimed to increase awareness of and participation in citizen science across Europe and beyond. It is focused on communication, coordination, and support of citizen science activities. Therefore, the project promotes the sharing of best practices among existing networks for a greater public and policy engagement with citizen science through a wide range of events and activities.


Representation of the people in science: Women in civic and citizen science – event summary

Image of UCL and the speakers in the event

On the 19th March, as part of UCL activities to the that accompany the UCL Exhibition “Disruptors and Innovators: Journeys in gender equality at UCL”, we hosted a panel of talks on how to open up science and engineering to new audiences, especially the representation of women in science. The event was called “Representation of the people in science: Women in civic and citizen science“. The event was sponsored by the Doing It Together Science project.

The event was chaired by Dr Charlene Jennett, a researcher at UCL Interaction Centre. Charlene opened the evening with a short introductory talk on citizen science and her research into this fast-growing phenomenon. Introducing an all-female panel – pointing that this is an opportunity to welcome everyone to science through citizen science – you can go outside and observe nature, or if it is a cold evening, go online and participate in projects on the Zooniverse. There are even games that can be played to contribute to citizen science – The Sea Hero Quest is a project that contributes to dementia research through a game. Citizen science is creating collaboration between citizen and scientists, and we should see it as a way to link people to science.

Following Charlene, Dr Cindy Regalado from UCL Extreme Citizen Science introduced “Doing It Together Science” project.  This is EU funded project, and the people in the room are part of the project by joining the event. This project is special – the different people and organisations that are involved in it came together with the question “what do we want to do” and this created a group of special organisations. People in the project a passionate about doing science together – creating engagement space, curiosity and interest in biodesign and environmental sustainability. We do that through a range of events and also producing different tools and information that allow sharing knowledge between organisations. Facilitators across the projects are sharing information and work together to create many types of events – over 400 of them already. Examples of that include the work of University Paris Descartes (UPD) in Paris, they run activities to engage people to create games for science. In Poland, there are” train the trainers” activities to introduce other people about sustainability. In RBINS in Brussels, people who are excited about stick insect – scientists and amateurs share their interest. People in Medialab Prado run events that are two weeks long and create new ideas and innovations. In Geneva, a biofabrication event took place, bringing people who experiment with biotechnology. The Kersnikova Institute in Ljubljana explored in Freaktion bar issues of science and ethics – provoking questions instead of simple ideas of science. A Polish delegation visited London to learn about citizen participation in air quality monitoring, and at UCL we use Public Lab’s DIY tools for environmental monitoring and invite people to do DIY biological research – enabling people to see for themselves that they too can do science. Finally, the Science Bus toured Europe and allow us to reach out groups that are usually under-represented in science engagement activities.

The next talk was given by Dr Louise Seaward, Research Associate on the Bentham Project, will introduce us to the project and Gill Hague, one of the volunteer transcribers [See Louise report of the evening on the Transcribe Bentham blog]. Louise described the Transcribe Bentham project – a flagship humanities project at UCL where a significant number of the most active volunteers are women. The project asks volunteers to transcribe papers written by UCL’s intellectual inspiration, the philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). The project is about the writing of Jeremy Bentham. Transcribed Bentham launched in 2010 and is the first crowdsourcing project in humanities – the idea is to ask volunteers to type and transcribe papers. Volunteers worked for 7 years and almost 20,000 pages of writing. Transcribe Bentham show manuscripts by him, and volunteers are free to choose a paper and work on it. Some of them are very difficult – the handwriting is very bad and he made changes, crossing text, changing his mind. Within the project system, there are tools to markup side notes and very complex ways of marking the page. The project is creating happiness for scholars – the purpose is to create a scholarly edition of everything that he wrote – the project is running since 1959 and it’s not halfway through, this is also a resource to the wider community – allowing other people to learn about Bentham and his writing. Most of the work done by around 30 super-transcribers and they are finding the project interesting. Currently, 58% of participants are men. People have higher education and based in the UK and US. Gill then described her experience with the project – she had a career in IT, TV, and legal services, and as a freelancer working from home, she had to be available at a call and wanted something more interesting to pass the time than watching daytime television.

By Cindy Regalado

In 2011 logged on to learn more about crowdsourcing which was new at the time following an article in the Sunday Times that mentioned the project, and she saw the value in Bentham writing based on previous knowledge in economics and in legal work. She then set out to transcribe one page, and then found the content very interesting, with journeys unfolding and Bentham views on the experience. Having involved in the legal process for a long time, she found Bentham views on legal issues interesting. She can find it as something that she can join more or less as much as she can and interested to do – sometimes 10-15 hours in a week. She very much like the idea of getting an acknowledgement in the next edition of Bentham publication and that is very satisfying. Transcribing is fascinating and there is good feedback and response from the team.

Jo Hurford, local artist and community leader, was part of a group of concerned citizens to approach UCL’s Extreme Citizen Science department to learn how to gather scientific data about deteriorating air quality and further environmental concerns in the context of HS2 development around Euston station. Jo opened up and noted that people who attend UCL have good opportunity to learn new things – and the work that UCL and Mapping for Change are doing with community groups has been mentioned in the report by the chief medical officer recently. The experience of the Euston communities is showing the limitations of citizen science approaches but also the new lessons that are learned from it. The community members knew about air quality issues from reading the news – they suspect that they were living in a polluted part of London – and experienced a building site for 3 years already. They wanted to have a baseline of air quality while the HS2 bill passing through parliament and wanted to know more about it. The community wanted to keep trees in the area of Euston until HS2 have a clear plan for the development of the area. The campaign to try to protect the trees fails. However, using the construction routes they positioned diffusion tubes and found that half of the monitoring locations were above the EU regulation. There are projects with big impact on the area (e.g. making Gower St two way) and they learn through citizen science and tested the particulate matter and seen that air purifiers do work in filtering them – so they ask for air filters for residents that are badly affected by the change to the plan. There are discoveries through collaborations with UCL – for example, Google Scholar is new, but the information that you get from academic publications is overwhelming, and she contacted specific people and look at different academic papers and use them to show the link between poor air and the health impact. When they spoke to HS2 in the House of Lords they used some of their information, but they weren’t convinced by the argument. Because people in power don’t listen to communities, and they have created scarves on trees and explaining the different trees in an area that doesn’t have enough green spaces. They protested against the tree panel of HS2 – they ignore personal views. The community transport working group suggested alternative schemes, but at the middle of the night, the HS2 contractors cut the trees. They organised painting of the cut off trees, and campaigning toward Sadiq Kahn – they did different activities – from chaining to trees to demonstration next to the GLA building. We need to participate in democracy and participate in science – we need to use it to bring evidence and to be listened to.

Next, Dr Alice Bell, science writer and director of communications at climate charity 10:10, drawn on her research on the radical science movement to discuss science activism and community-based research in the 1970s and 80s. Alice has a double interest – day job in addressing climate change through energy issue and hobby interest in the history of science, that talk about similar things: citizen participation in science and technology. In the 1970s we’ve seen the radical science that can be related to citizen science. Today people create DIY solar panels and creating DIY solar panels from the offcuts from solar panels and with some crafting, you can make your own and learn about it. Community events – making is connecting: people doing something together mean that they also talk about other things. Back to the 1970s, she discovered about civic science from the material that came out of clear up at the university library and found the “science for people” – magazines that were produced in the UK. One interesting example is the women’s collective issue that points to the problems that women experience in science with snakes and ladders that help male scientists and work against female scientists. Maybe the public don’t like science and technology because they have a reason – ideas about fixing science to make it batter. As a result, there were projects that are about citizen science. In the 1970s, Battersea air smell was rancid, and there are very little records of it (the Battersea smell) – the radical science group carried out a survey about the smell and the local council said that they can’t smell anything. The group helped citizens to collect evidence. The Sheffield occupational health group provided the ability to build and construct evidence – lots of groups didn’t have the ability to create the evidence that can be used about issues in the workplace. Today, in 10:10, there are projects to help communities and people to access energy and this is a way to do something about climate change: if you dismiss schools as places of social interaction, you miss a major site of activity. We can do these things not only top down through forcing people – we need to shift it in a way that worth saving and a place that community participate. There are examples of people that become experts and developing ideas about using unused energy to the train – new ways of powering electric trains through solar energy. This happens because a local community got interested in setting out energy system in a school and then developed their ideas further.

The last speaker was Professor Sarah Bell, director of Engineering Exchange. Sarah’s talk was as follows: “I’m here because of my work with the Engineering Exchange at UCL, which is about providing opportunities for better engagement between engineering researchers and local communities in London. We work on a model of two-way engagement. The Engineering Exchange give a pro-bono engineering service and we work with community groups and engineers to generate new research projects together. We’ve covered topics such as demolition and refurbishment of social housing, green infrastructure, air quality, traffic congestion.
Our work is relevant to tonight’s discussion for a few reasons. Firstly, I’m a woman, as are many of the people I work with. Secondly, engineering is vitally important to democracy in a complex technological society. And finally, there seems to be a connection between opening up engineering to women and opening it up to the wider public.
Firstly, I am a woman, and I lead a programme at a research-intensive university that is doing some form of what might be called civic science, or indeed civic engineering.
Which inevitably brings me to civil engineering. I’ve just recently become a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, the oldest professional engineering institution in the world. The ICE is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, so is 100 years older than women’s suffrage in this country.
The first woman to be admitted to the ICE was Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan in 1927, 9 years after the ‘Representation of the People Act’, which we are talking about tonight, and 8 years after the 1919 ‘Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act’. It was the 1919 Act that meant they could go to university and enter the professions. It became illegal to disqualify anyone from entering a ‘civil profession or vocation, or admission into any incorporated society’ on the basis of sex or marriage. It is not a coincidence that access to education and the professions followed on so quickly from the right to vote. They are equally, if not more, important to democracy. And so in the 1920s Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan could earn her BS in Civil Engineering at Edinburgh University, sit the entry exams for the ICE and join the engineering profession.
And haven’t we moved a long way since Dorothy’s time? No. Not really. Only 9% of all engineers in the UK are women. I am one of only 2% of the Fellows of the ICE who are women. In its 200 year anniversary, 12% of Members and 2% of Fellows of the Institution of Civil Engineers are women.
I’m one of the 2%. Which is actually significant – personally and strategically. For most of my career, I’ve wondered if I was really an engineer. I’ve always struggled a bit on the edges of the profession. But now, there’s no doubt. I am mainstream. You don’t get more mainstream than Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers. It’s nice to have my own work recognised in this way, but it is even more important for the work itself. The Engineering Exchange, which we might call civic engineering, is civil engineering. This is not some radical, outsider practice, it’s mainstream.
And that’s how we’ve positioned ourselves. The Engineering Exchange takes a very conservative line. We are not activists. We are engineers and researchers. As academics, we are encouraged to work with industry and government – the people with power and money. I’ve always pitched the Engineering Exchange as supporting the third leg of the stool of democracy – the public who are impacted by decisions by industry and government. Our basic premise is that by widening access to engineering knowledge, we will improve the overall quality of democratic debate about technical issues. The engineering profession claims to serve the public, so we provide a mechanism for engineers to do that.
And I often wonder is there a connection between my gender and the work I choose to do. This has been a long-standing question for me. I am Professor of Environmental Engineering. Around half of my undergraduate cohort in Australia back in the 1990s were women, and here at UCL, I ran an MSc programme in Environmental Systems Engineering that had consistently more than 50% women. Even given the low numbers of women in the profession, within engineering, women tend to cluster around particular specialisms, which might be related to why we end up more engaged in civic facing work. In the case of environmental engineering, given the public value of what we do, there’s a logical progression from working on environmental issues to engaging with the public in citizen and civic science programmes.
So why is there this clustering of women in public facing engineering? I don’t know the answer. It can’t be because ‘women are nurturing and caring’. It might be because of that outsider experience I mentioned, which operates in two ways – firstly to exclude women from more conventional career paths, and secondly to make us more aware of others who are excluded from the structures of power that operate in our society. If you are in the middle of the engineering establishment, with all the other powerful men, you are less likely to see those on the margins. They are just not in your field of vision. If you are hanging around the edges, you might make friends with others on the outside, and build your own career accordingly. As a woman, I’ve developed a critical framing of my own professional experience in order to stay sane, and this critical framing of my profession has opened up creative possibilities that may be less obvious to those who are actively embraced by conventional constructions of engineering.
So the Engineering Exchange is doing engineering differently. The good news is that the engineering establishment recognises our value. Our budget and our achievements are modest, we are much less powerful than the big firms and government departments. But we are able to do interesting work in partnership with communities, and in our own way are contributing to opening up a very powerful way of knowing the world to wider publics and local communities. ”

Some of the issues that came through the Q&A session:

Louise pointing to that Bentham material available online and in some ways he is showing his forward thinking. Gill has found information in the Sunday Times, and then followed it – and the website said that anyone can do it, and doesn’t need to ask for permission. Sometimes there is interesting correspondence that describes the social history and brings history to life and make this real and it is enjoyable and serving the purpose. She didn’t find the technology problematic and her background in law and IT helped in getting going.

Science for People that jump out – how much work done about what it is to be scientists and how they started looking at the option of co-operative science: instead of the very hierarchical structures – everyone is equal and co-manage each other. Then have community-based cooperative laboratories,. Thinking about the workers in science – cleaners, administrative, and everyone to make it

There was also a question about reaching different populations, including people in jail. Also about the collaborations across disciplines and the nature of expertise.

And at the end, Cindy carried out a quick evaluation of the evening

Citizen Science Inquiry event and book launch at the Open University

Citizen Inquiry is a new book, edited by Christothea (Thea) Herodotou,‎ Mike Sharples,  and Eileen Scanlon – all are education technology experts at the Open University. To celebrate the book, the Institute of Education Technology organised a citizen science impact symposium.  These are my notes from the day.

The day opened with Eileen Scanlon covered Citizen Science at the Open University. Eileen provided context about the role of the Open University in providing an alternative way of learning science. Concepts about teaching science and how to understand the experience of the learner. There is a series of innovating pedagogy reports – the 2017 report will come out soon. Eileen examined how the introduction of technology change science learning and teaching. Technology should be understood more widely: development of experimental kits that were created to allow students to explore science at home, with thousands of students joining in the 1970s. The OU has used television as a way of linking learning to the courses that they lead, and today they link to other popular programmes, with a lot of interactions on the web and using online technology. They’ve done the SO2 pollution national experiment from 1971-1979 with acknowledgement to the contribution of the volunteers in a paper by Rose and Peare 1972 (p378). The work involves teaching science in a social experiment and carried out with first-year students. Further work was carried out by Peggy Varley – drosophila that were captured in matchboxes with insects. Later versions of the introductory course included moths traps. The aim was to engage students with science. In 2007-2009 another activity at the OU is iSpot that focused on geographical aspects of species distribution and developed by Jonathan Silvertown. The OpenScienceLab is to open science to people across the spectrum of learning. There is a journey between informal and formal learning and can travel in both directions (e.g. iSpot evolved into supporting a MOOC in ecology). There are massive challenges for new learning – informal to formal, passive to active, solitary to sharing and from learner to teachers.

I was asked to provide a keynote, and provided a talk about learning in contributory, collegial and co-created citizen science, drawing especially on the experience of the ExCiteS group.

The next presentation was by Thea Herodotou about the LEARN Citsci: a project that involved UCDavis, OU, Oxford, NHM, CalAdacmey and LA County. The project is looking at citizen science and focuses on youth participants (5-19) and the learning outcomes – what they learn through participation. There are multiple overlapping settings – how the goals help and hinder their learning. The project looks specifically at NHMs and the citsci projects that they’re doing. They look at Basu and Barton Citizen Science Agency which was adapted by Heidi Ballard. The objective of the project, in particular, the OU, trying to describe the learning settings where citizen science takes place – describe the physical or digital space where it’s happening, what are the roles of young people in projects, and also social interaction, family communication, staff, scientists etc. Looking at relevant activities – one day. They examine iNaturalist application in a bioblitz and the way it is used. They also examine Zooniverse and looking at NHM project – miniature fossils that are being used in the project. In year 1 the focus is on describing settings, and then move to capture learning, then redesign new citizen science programmes and then data analysis. The intended impacts include how to design online and offline citizen science programmes to scaffold learning and participation for young people.

The final morning talk was by Liz FitzGerald – about Situ8 – a tool to let annotate physical places with digital information, it is now a web platform. A hub for Geolocated media, originally created as a generic platform. Situ8 was with limited resources and initial prototype as a smartphone app and became a web portal. Allow people to register and by anyone. Used it in an OU field course, and in S288 module for Practical science – with measures of water quality. The platforms support data, images, text, video. They also allow exploring the data that was collected. Supports both qualitative data collection (poems or recording of information) and scientific data. They are addressing the copyright of the data and control over the downloading permissions. They use MO – Media Objects – and the platform is very generic.

Mike Sharples –  talked about nQuire – the original version, which provided a tool for schools to developed and get involved in inquiry-based learning in schools. Open learning allow for sophisticated exploration, including the virtual microscope at the OU that allows the exploration of moon rocks. The system doesn’t work due to changes in technology. The OU approach is starting from mobile and inquiry-based learning, and how to engage citizens and a wider range of participants. The successes include “citizen inquiry” as a proposal which became a reality (originally mention in an ERC synergy proposal that wasn’t successful). Citizen inquiry is becoming a framework that is recognised that combines with citizen science and inquiry-based ideas. They also developed tools – the nQuire platform, supported by Nominet Trust. The nQuire0t platform is a more open activity which includes spot-it, sense-it and win-it missions. They have 1106 users and 187 projects. The nQuire-it platform is supported by an app that unlocks the sensors on the mobile phone that the system opens to a user. Challenge – how to get to the mass scale that is beyond surveying. There are issues of recruitment, think of engagement – such as a low barrier to entry and intimidating to newcomers. The introductory screen of many websites assumes existing interest. Also how to gain value from contributing positive feedback, join a community of practice (in future learn). The next issue is sustainability – how to keep a community going: identity (we’re rock hunters/cloud spotters), development – is there a sequence of forming, storming, norming, performing relevant to cit sci, and what guidance, curation and mentoring. Finally Maturity, including considering the maturity of a community and its mitosis (breaking up to new group). Need to thing of places for people to interact with each other, support each other.

The third challenge is how to do good science with valuable outcomes that is appropriate, reliable, robust and ethical.

Good citizen inquiry need to do valuable learning, linked to teaching, have a large scale data set, good element of engagement and serendipity, involvement of trained scientists and accurate data collection and analysis.


Some of the book chapters:

Maria Aristeidou provided the analysis of the nQuire It platform, identifying the design requirements and then evaluated the implementation. Participants self reporting didn’t report on the inquiry process and suggested recommendation and guidelines

Gill Clough talked about geocaching about the use of geocaching then and now – she done a study in 2007. She done a detailed mixed survey of closed and open questions, and she discovered a lot of learning – 84% learn something online. Geocaching have become a subscription app, not expensive, and the commercialisation led to debate in the community. GPS is also available on the phone, and it is relying on them.

Stuart Dunn and Mark Hedges look at citizen humanities and transmission of knowledge. Looked at crowdsourcing in humanities projects notice different types of projects that are close to the classical crowdsourcing. Crowd gets methodological proficiency, domain expertise about the subject – but outside universities. They also identified collective knowledge and practical skills.


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. 

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:
“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.

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.

…Ladybird (Ledybug) observations …
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’.