Josh Schertz

Professional Citizen Science

I have been thinking a lot about citizen science over the past few days, revisiting many of the astronomical and cosmological projects that have been successfully running for the past few years. I wanted to checkup on the progress they have made, and learn where they thought the next few years would take them. During this research, a seed was planted in my mind. The idea that I (and like minded people) could take citizen science to a whole new level; that of professional citizen science. Would it be possible to turn citizen science on its head, and instead of focusing on the data, focus on the end result?

Citizen Science

Wikipedia describes citizen science as the scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions. Citizen science can be categorized into main two groups: active and passive.

Active citizen science involves a user manually providing input or data to the project. The most successful of these active projects is the Zooniverse, which operates projects ranging from galaxy classification to animal identification.

Passive citizen science involves users providing data to researches without any direct input. This type of project can also be called volunteer computing. One of the best examples of passive citizen science is the BOINC project ([email protected] is a similar project, albeit with a narrower focus), where users volunteer their computers to run computationally intensive research tasks, returning the results after completion.

Both of these areas provide great scientific research, but I believe they have a limited scope that will diminish over the next decade, especially for the traditional active projects. For example, take the Zooniverse object classification projects. With the rise of easy to use machine learning systems (Google's Tensor Flow), there are fewer and fewer reasons to outsource classification problems when a researcher can just code up a simple system that would achieve better classification results in a fraction of the time.

What is a Scientist?

This line of thought made me question what exactly a scientist is.

What happens when a non-scientists completes a scientifically based research report without the aid of an official scientist? Would that non-scientist become a scientist, or would they still need an official STEM degree before they could get that distinction? If this were so, wouldn't this be counter to everything occurring within the self-learning movement?

What makes a scientist a scientist. Does a non-scientist doing STEM work utilizing the scientific process become a scientist?