Campbell Paine breaks through the bush with a ready camera. A sudden movement in the distance catches his attention and raises the camera, focusing the bird. Fast move – Click here – and the photo of the bird is saved and stored, ready for upload.
Paine is one of thousands of people around the country who are actively involved in so-called civic science every day: enthusiastic amateurs whose efforts help maintain and conduct research projects.
Increasingly, scientific institutions and governments are discovering the benefits of using a cohort of people who want to participate in a scientific process, and greater efforts are being made to encourage others to participate.
In a world where some people depart from scientific principles in favor of pseudoscience and denying facts, scientists hope to decipher the scientific method and encourage scientific knowledge.
What is civic science?
Although the term has been used in a wide variety of contexts, the definition is well-grounded to mean a person who helps researchers collect or interpret data, especially for large datasets that could not be collected or screened in the past.
Although this was done very ad hoc before, the movement is becoming more organized. The 2018 Queensland Citizenship Project Review found that there were 138 separate projects using state power to collect data in this state.
The Australian Citizenship Association was founded in 2015, a year after the meeting of key scientific figures in Brisbane, it pointed to the need for a more organized framework for civic science projects.
Erin Roger, president of ACSA, who works for CSIRO, said the need for targeting has become apparent.
"Because this is such a rapidly changing space, sometimes there is duplication or lack of orientation between different projects," said Dr. Roger.
"Sometimes projects can be called civic science if they are not really civic science, which is why we are in favor of civic science projects and show that their potential is enormous."
Dr. Roger, who has a PhD in terrestrial ecology, said that some nature conservation projects that volunteers used were under the banner of civic science, which was not the case.
Importantly, the project must collect data that can be passed on to researchers for further research or somehow use scientific methods to answer questions.
"Let's say they monitor something in this area, that's civic science," she said. "But as long as they plant trees or lift weeds, this is not considered a civic education."
Dr Roger said that far from search and snobbery, such definitions were necessary to ensure people use time efficiently and achieve measurable results.
"We risk tearing people away if they can't see the scientific results of their work," she said.
"People may be disappointed by thinking," I spent many hours doing this, but with what effect? ". Communicating information back to participants is an important part of this process. "
Campbell Paine was an Australian Army officer for 31 years until his last retirement, and was interested in bird watching throughout his career.
Sent abroad in places like Papua New Guinea, he sent photos of local birds to his family in Brisbane, and his daughter Jasmin was also an avid birdwatcher.
Describing this as a "break period", he recently spends his free time wandering about six hours in the bush, photographing native birds.
This hobby has become an obsession, but it benefits researchers. Mr. Paine sends many of his photos to an application called QuestaGame, which asks users to send photos of wildlife with information about when and where the photo was taken.
The application has a game structure – users earn points, and Mr. Paine is proud of the fact that he is one of the highest rated players in the world thanks to his professed "passion for competition".
The collected information is sent to scientists who use it to track species populations to obtain a broad picture of biodiversity.
"Framing me with the term civic science is done by others, not me, which I think shows how everyone can be involved in what others think is valuable," Paine said.
"It's a competition between a bird and me to take a good picture of him … I like this challenge."
Dr. Roger said that photography is a common way to use volunteers to obtain data because almost everyone had a camera in their pocket.
"Birdwatching is classic because it has a large group of people who are not professionals but know a lot about birds, especially in their local areas," she said.
Recreational divers also take many photos, photos of which have proved necessary for researchers at the University of Queensland as part of the Manta project.
The project tracks the movements and number of manta rays on the east coast of Australia, but UQ PhD student Asia Armstrong said they would never be able to get results without an army of underwater eyes.
"That's where citizen scientists were invaluable to us," said Armstrong.
"Our budgets and research staff are stretched so far … we couldn't do half the things we would have done if we hadn't made that contribution."
Pros and cons
There were concerns about the increasing use of the scientific community by scientists.
Many recently published articles have raised concerns about deviations from standard test protocols or other issues such as sample size.
Study published in Nature in 2017, he stated that the quality of the data collected by citizen scientists was good but often incomplete.
In particular, the data collected by the citizen-scientists tended to where they lived and what things they were interested in.
Dr. Roger said that an organization like ACSA is needed to ensure scientific data collection.
"I think it's about the project, not the participants," she said.
"So that you can secure the methodology by performing a series of activities and guiding the volunteers through the entire process to get the best result possible."
In an extensive review of the civic science sector in 2018, the Queensland Department of Environment and Science found that two-thirds (66.6%) of the civic science projects implemented at that time had "unclear" research results.
And a review of 2018 published citizen science projects in Journal of Science Communication they found that some scientists were too much anxious about the type and quality of data volunteers could collect.
In particular, they cited examples in which scientists who reviewed articles developed by non-scientists demanded that the articles become "more scientific" by adding jargon and complex methodologies.
Chief scientist from Queensland, Professor Paul Bertsch, said that gaining more clarity in science projects about citizens is important for the sector's legitimacy.
"Demand from citizens [to be involved] will continue to grow, so we need to make sure that scientists are wondering how they can engage society to enrich their projects, "he said.
The Manta project has developed a database of over 1,300 rays based on over 7,000 observations of recreational divers, making amazing discoveries.
Earlier it was thought that the reef's rays were not moving too far from their family ranges. However, photos taken by divers revealed that some rays traveled over 1,000 kilometers, from South Stradbroke Island in Moreton Bay to just south of Townsville.
"Finding that animals are able to move more than 1,000 kilometers within their family range has a huge impact on areas that may have smaller jurisdictions, and areas where targeted fishing takes place," said Armstrong.
"So this information can really impact the management of species conservation."
Meanwhile, Mr. Paine said he photographed a regent gingerbread around Tin Can Bay, the fourth sight of this bird in the region for 150 years.
"Then I photographed a second and then a third observation, so sometimes you are lucky, but being aware of what is happening there makes you valuable to this scientific community," he said.
In Victoria, Phillip Island Nature Parks launched the "Seal Spotter" program, which uses drones to take high-resolution photos of seal populations.
Volunteers are asked to count the stamps on the photos, with the data necessary to monitor the population of the stamps to develop a management strategy.
In Western Australia, the UWA is conducting an ongoing birdwatching project called 'Cockatoo Cockatoo', which aims to expand the range and use of black cockatoo habitats in the Perth metropolitan area.
Over the past four years, the residents of Perth have been entering data through the BioCollect app or on the project website.
Citizens' science projects around the world have produced great results. In January, NASA confirmed that it had discovered an exoplanet – a planet orbiting another star thousands of light years away – using civil science.
Researchers asked volunteers to review the data recorded by Kepler's telescope and confirm that the planet was there. They said the only way this could happen was by the large number of people working on this problem, too many for NASA to respond simultaneously.
In Denmark, scientists discovered 10 types of bacteria, telling students to put rocks and sticks found in their local forests into saucers of milk. If the milk has curdled, they found the bacterium and sent it to the laboratory for testing.
With the growing willingness of society to participate in civic science projects, official institutions and governments have begun to actively channel funding to the sector.
The federal government announced in 2016 over $ 4 million for 13 civic science projects, and then the next year with $ 1.9 million for five more projects.
The Queensland government has since stepped in, announcing last month that it is splitting $ 580,000 into 21 projects, many of which are community-scale smaller-scale projects.
Queensland Science Minister Leeanne Enoch said she is directing money to these projects because they want to increase the level of scientific knowledge in the community.
"Everyone understands that the skills we will need in the future are based on STEM skills," said Enoch.
"We know that we will see more biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence; in the future additional STEM skills will be required, which is why we invest in space. "
The University of Sydney has such faith in civic science that he has created a "knot" to oversee all university projects that fall under this banner.
The node is based at the Charles Perkins Center, which focuses on health and medical research.
Alice Motion, the node's director, said the center's philosophy was to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration, and civic science played a major role.
She said that the use of civic science in their research enabled trial and error that would have been unavoidable if it had been done in a laboratory.
"If hundreds or thousands of people produce new drugs, finding one that works should be faster than a team of five," she said.
Dr Motion accomplishes this in his Breaking Good civic science project that teaches high school science students how to manipulate molecules to replicate existing drugs and create new ones.
In 2016, students in the program recreated the valuable drug Daraprim for just a few dollars, which initiated an international conversation on the availability of medicines.
Dr Motion said that civic science's ability to raise awareness of general science among ordinary people cannot be overstated.
"The biggest kind of commitment you can have in learning is to be able to participate," she said.
Professor Bertsch agreed and said that the issue of demystification of science for non-scientists is a constant problem in the modern world.
"We live in the information paradox I call," he said.
"We are flooded with information, but in fact the translation of information into knowledge takes place in the scientific process.
"It's about showing the public that there is a process that has been going on for centuries that takes information and turns it into knowledge."
Professor Bertsch made a distinction between civic science, which had scientific goals, and the problem of denial of climate change or the vaccination movement, in which both chose data to promote a pre-determined outcome.
"[It’s] simply by gathering information and making it look like knowledge, and that really undermines the discussion about science and citizens' confidence in science, "he said.
For people like Campbell Paine, concerns about methodology and results are accidental about having a good time.
"I opened my eyes to different things, but the best thing was to discover things about which one I didn't know existed, but two were in my yard," he said.