In 2014, the term citizen science is inserted among the new words in the Oxford English dictionary, which defines it as "the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by an audience, that adheres to a collaboration project with professional scientists ".
In reality, it is a term coined as early as the mid-nineties by Rick Bonney (ornithologist) e by Alan Irwin (sociologist). Bonney provided the following definition of citizen science: “A tool through which non-experts contribute to research, and that scientists can use to disseminate ". Second Bonney, through citizen science, citizens can contribute to research not only by collecting and sharing observations and measurements, but also by making sure that research deals with the problems most felt by society .
To be even more precise, we find citizen science activities dating back to 1900, with the proposal of the ornithologist Chapman of the first Christmas Bird Count, which replaced the custom of challenging each other by killing as many birds in Christmas hunts, with that of counting and registering them on the basis of the different species, with the collaboration of many participants .
An even earlier example brings us to 1847, when Matthew Fontaine Maury (oceanographer, astronomer, science communicator) published the Wind and Current Chart of the North Atlantic, sending it to sailors all over the world, with an invitation to continue to record the oceanographic data in a standardized logbook provided by him. The annotation work of thousands of sailors was thus analyzed and helped to organize new charts that made navigation safer and faster.. Matthew Fontaine Maury wrote: “Any ship crossing the seas with these papers and journals on board, can henceforth be considered a floating observatory, a temple of science ".
In recent decades, citizen science has become a real scientific methodology and a powerful tool for public engagement. Current projects range from astrophysics to medicine, from natural sciences to neuroscience. A great boost certainly came with the advent of information technology and new technologies.
According to the scheme of 2013 of Muki Haklay (geographer), there can be four levels of citizen participation in a citizen science project :
- Crowdsourcing: Citizens act as "sensors", for example with an application on their smartphones that periodically sends the GPS coordinates of the place where it is located.
- Distributed intelligence (distributed intelligence): Everyone is asked to have a minimum of basic training and then collect data or perform simple interpretation activities.
- Participatory science (participatory science): This level of participation brings us back to Irwin: the definition of the problem is established by the participants, and under the guidance of scientists and experts, a method of data collection is developed. An excellent example comes from situations of protest against the impacts on health and the environment, where citizens ask for the help of scientists. Participants often come to suggest new research questions that can be explored with the collected data.
- Extreme citizen science (extreme citizen science): It is an integrated activity where, following scientific protocols, the motivations and interests of the participants are supported. Participants can potentially be involved in the analysis, publication or use of results. It is an "extreme citizen science" and requires scientists to also act as facilitators. An example is when a scientific project makes use of the collaboration of "makers" (the digital artisans of this century) in which they are able to build new monitoring and data distribution objects.
There is great excitement both internationally and nationally! The need to network emerges, to share experiences and projects trying to make citizen science mature in order to make it a vehicle of knowledge even in environments where economic and/or cultural resources are scarce .
We reportECSA (European Citizen Science Association) as a reference at European level. On the site you will find many ideas and very interesting projects. In Italy we are working to build an Italian citizen science association thanks to Citizen Science Italia (CSI). If, on the other hand, you want a practical example in our area, you can take a look at Monica, ENEA monitoring project.
The development of scientific citizenship in our country, it was a very dear topic also for Pietro Greco (chemist, journalist, science communicator), to which we certainly owe the recognition of having promoted the idea of a "democratic society of knowledge" by facilitating constructive dialogue between technicians, scholars and civil society.
We like Citizen science! People like it because it allows encounters between different languages, because it allows us to participate, because it allows us to understand. Only with understanding and participation can certain prejudices be overcome, closing the gap between those who do science and those who do not.
We conclude by humming Gaber's lines:
“Freedom is not standing on a tree,
it is not even the flight of a bluebottle;
freedom is not a free space,
freedom is participation!”