WSW: Encore Magazine Profiles Citizen Scientists

Mar 4, 2014

Lindsey Parkinson, an intern at the Kalamazoo Nature Center, releases a blue jay, after it was banded last fall
Credit Encore Magazine/Erik Holladay

Writer Tiffany Fitzgerald examined some of the work being done by "citizen scientists" in Southwest Michigan. 

Her story was published in the February issue of Encore Magazine. Fitzgerald told WMUK's Gordon Evans that the work done by volunteers is very expansive, and can include anything from ecology to chemistry. The work includes testing household items, and looking for species and vegetation in their own backyard. 

Fitzgerald says common traits among citizen scientists include attention to detail and a desire to be a part of their environment and examine it. She says they don't just look at something, they want to know how it works and they like to document it. 

Volunteer Margaret Hahn uses proper technique to rescue a bird from a capture net
Credit Encore Magazine/Erik Holladay

There is no age limit on being a citizen scientist, Fitzgerald found retirees who spend "more than half of their waking" hours on projects. But it's also something that younger people can do. And Fitzgerald says that is a way of getting kids interested in science. 

Fitzgerald says professionals need a large amount of data to develop a hypothesis. She says the work of citizen scientists helps gather more data than professional scientists could hope to do on their own. 

Technology is making it easier to be a citizen scientist. Fitzgerald says smart phones can be used to record data quickly and upload it soon after returning from the field. She says scientists from Michigan Technological University have developed an application specifically to store interviews and photos. They are also working on others apps, including one for beach monitoring. 

Fitzgerald says there are limits to the work that volunteers can do. Citizen scientists work on data collection, but professionals are needed to study patterns and develop a hypothesis from that data.  

A potential citizen scientist has many opportunities to get involved. Fitzgerald says people who are interested have many resources available. The Kalamazoo Nature Center, the Audubon Society, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Sea Grant are among the organizations where people can find a way to participate as a citizen scientist. 

Fitzgerald says citizen science isn't anything new. People have always been interested in the world around them, and wanted to explore it. She says technology is making that easier.