Every day, across the country, ordinary Americans known as “citizen scientists” make critical contributions to the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by collecting, analyzing, and sharing a wide range of data—from weather phenomena, to sightings of migrating birds, to the timing of flower blooms at different latitudes. Now, the White House is preparing to honor some of the Nation’s most effective contributors to these important but sometimes-overlooked public servants.
Public participation in scientific research, also known as citizen science, is not a new phenomenon. In fact, before the establishment of discipline-specific training programs in the 18th and 19th centuries, most scientific research was carried out by amateurs. Many of our country’s most prominent scientists got their first taste of science by participating in citizen-science projects, and even today—despite the ascendance of a professional scientific corps—society has much to gain by including non-experts in the scientific enterprise. Among other benefits, public engagement in science can help citizens critically consider science-related public policy questions, make more informed decisions regarding the pros and cons of new technologies, and provide knowledgeable input about how tax dollars should be spent.
Today, advances such as Internet-based social media platforms and other information technology resources are increasingly allowing individuals to share information over large distances, enabling like-minded citizens to participate in research projects at unprecedented levels. Many practicing scientists today are discovering that citizen scientists play an indispensable role, by helping to collect and analyze data at unparalleled rates and over wide geographical distances.
To recognize the substantial contributions and achievements of citizen scientists across the Nation, the White House will host a Champions of Change event on Citizen Science on June 4, 2013. The White House Champions of Change program highlights the stories and examples of ordinary citizens who are doing extraordinary things for their communities, their country, and their fellow citizens. This event will focus on individuals or organizations that have demonstrated exemplary leadership in engaging the broader, non-expert community in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) research. Of particular interest are efforts by individuals or organizations to include women, the economically disadvantaged, persons with disabilities, and racial and ethnic minorities underrepresented in STEM.
Do you know a citizen science leader who is using citizen science to help catalyze positive change in his or her community? Members of the public are invited to nominate candidates for consideration.
Click here to nominate a Citizen Science Champion of Change before April 30, 2013 (under “Theme of Service,” choose “Citizen Science").
Joan M. Frye is a Senior Policy Analyst at OSTP