Silvertown (2010) defines a citizen scientist as a “volunteer who collects and/or processes data as part of a scientific enquiry,” yet experience prompts the notion that this is a half-truth. Delaney et al. (2008) puts forth the reason: there have been many scientific surveys completed by citizen scientists, but with a dearth of projects that test an explicit hypothesis. In essence, the participation of citizen scientists does not meet the level of rigor necessary to produce results acceptable by a peer-reviewer, due to the errors that may occur and the uncertainty that comes with uncontrolled sampling procedures. Moreover, like the sphere of politics, only the highly motivated would volunteer as citizen scientists, as is the case for any cause – thus, invasion biology receives a set of inspired helpers, but those helpers constitute only a sliver of the potential volunteering population. The gap in technology and lab experience further stratifies the population of citizens that would volunteer their services. That said, projects that involve updating previous data on the status of species, or that seek to collect large volumes of field data over a large geographical area, can only succeed with citizen scientists at the forefront. These volunteers allow more samples to be taken over a larger range, thereby increasing the accuracy of results and the validity of models (Delaney et al. 2008).
In regard to the cane toad, the subject of my literature review, the applicability of citizen science is debatable, though there are definite areas where large amounts of observant volunteers would be beneficial. Firstly, citizen scientists could assist in reducing the impact of cane toads. Specifically, volunteers could become involved in high-value site protection, or island protection of species; conversely, they could focus on preserving particular conservation areas.
Secondly, citizen science could be instrumental in researching solutions to the cane toad dilemma. While participation in research on genetic control is impractical due to a knowledge and technological gap, short-term control mechanisms could be developed. These include improving trapping success, and the installation of barriers and inhibitors. Additionally, in terms of proposed chemical control, due to the continental scale of the problem, citizen scientists, if correctly instructed, could administer alarm pheromone to water bodies with established cane toad populations – these pheromones would reduce the size of toads at metamorphosis and generally increase mortality rates.
Thirdly, while the cane toad invasion front can by no means be halted (at least at present), citizen scientists could use their large numbers to work to reduce the spread of the cane toad. One option is to develop a type of community control, incorporating different strategies for the wet and dry seasons. This community effort could also be directed to the elimination of southern and western pockets of toads – those transient populations comprised of the forerunners of the invasion front. Along the same lines, the community umbrella could be involved in mapping and data management, both of which are important in policy-making and in directing scientists to the most pressing research sites.
Finally, citizen scientists knowledgeable on the cane toad invasion could work to increase public education and awareness. Potential methods for doing so include the distribution of school education packages, quarantine education, fundraising, and review.
In my opinion, citizen scientists would be most useful in mapping the progression of the cane toad invasion front and working to ‘slow down’ said front while the national government and scientists find a ‘biological solution’ to the invasion. The main obstacle to this outcome progressing to fruition is the need for quality assurance and validation of the initiatives of citizen scientists in order for the scientific community to accept the collected data.
Silvertown, J. 2010. A new dawn for citizen science. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 24(9): 467-470.
Delaney, D.G., Sperling, C.D., Adams, C.S., Leung, B. 2008. Marine invasive species: validation of citizen science and implications for national monitoring networks. Biological Invasions 10:117-128.
I think that if the citizen scientists are trained then even the “real” scientists are just as likely to make an error. Science is based on passion and desire for that topic. Anyone taking the time to help cares and wants to yield the best and correct results.
I never disagreed with you. Notwithstanding, passion does not automatically generate statistically significant results.