By Sheldon Greaves
We spent this past weekend in the company of my family up in Oregon, a surprise party to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday. I have four younger brothers, all of whom married very well, and then proceeded to be fruitful and multiply. This was the first time we had seen a number of them in several years.Â
The happy mob of nieces and nephews are just reaching the age where playing the eccentric uncle really starts to get fun. During the visit I also had a chance to see what is happening in the world of education, since several of those present are teachers by profession, and to see how my siblings are thinking about education and making opportunities available to their kids. It probably comes as no big surprise that education is a very big deal in our family.
So I got a chance to see the science-oriented shows that kids are watching, to learn about the controversies with local school boards about what does and does not get taught, textbook purchases, and so on. What I found remarkable as I took all this in is how much science educational stuff for kids is just out there, floating around on the airwaves, all over the internet. You can hardly escape it.
But what I didn’t see is much of anything about actually doing science. I had heard that the state of our educational system is such that for various reasons time and resources just aren’t allocated for those kinds of activities they way it once was. And, I will concede that this informal weekend “survey” does not qualify as rigorous in any statistical sense, nor will I dispute the fact that the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.”Â
Still it gave me something to think about during the few quiet moments while we were there. Â Although most amateur scientists don’t get into science expressly for the sake of teaching, I’ve met very few who would pass up an opportunity to explain this effect or that experiment, often at considerable length. It seems to come naturally. Perhaps then it will not seem outrageous if I suggest that this is an aspect of citizen science that gets left out of the discussion too often.
As readers of this column already know, one of my complaints about the shape of “citizen science” today is that it lacks the foundational mandate that citizen science conducted by institutions must include paths forward. The result of a project should not just be more science, but more scientists. There is actually no need to wait for this to happen, as scientists and as CSL members, we should look for opportunities to educate any curious party of any age. I know if someone wants to help me learn some important aspect of science, I won’t complain.