“Encourage Public Participation in Science”

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In yet another instance of “citizen science” creeping further into the mainstream, we have this interesting commentary from gulfnews.com by guest author Nidhal Guessoum:

For many years now, a worldwide trend known as “Citizen Science” has developed. In various such projects, laypersons collect and analyse data, monitor a variety of natural phenomena, help develop tools, particularly software and smartphone apps, for scientific projects, and disseminate knowledge from those projects in educational and cultural venues.

Some such “citizen science” projects are episodic, such as the ‘100 hours of astronomy’, where the general public was enlisted to classify one million galaxies from a research database in 100 hours, or the ‘World Water Monitoring Day’, where people test local water sources and report the information to a common website. Other such projects are yearlong and ongoing, such as the SETI@Home project, where over 3 million people use a software to analyse data obtained by dedicated telescopes in search for extraterrestrials (SETI stands for ‘search for extra-terrestrial intelligence’), or the ‘Protein-Folding Fun’ project in which participants play a game aiming at finding new, stable structures for proteins that might prove useful in curing various diseases.

Scientific research seems to have come full circle. When the scientific revolution occurred, a few centuries ago, many researchers were amateurs who explored nature out of curiosity and almost incidentally made major discoveries. Most famously, William Herschel and his sister Caroline discovered the planet Uranus and made other major contributions to astronomy. Then, research became a complex endeavour wherein only people who had undergone many years of training and obtained advanced degrees could participate in scientific projects.

But now, the scientific community has realised that it can open its doors and make good use of the skills and resources that amateurs often possess in abundance. Last September, the BBC conducted an “Amateur Scientist of the Year” competition chaired by Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist. So what makes amateurs and students useful for scientific projects?

The rest of the article is worth a look. Read it here.

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