Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Citizen science

Natural history museums are such a natural fit for playing a leading role in the rapidly developing citizen science movement. source: The Feed, SBS.

Paul Flemons, Museums a natural leader in the citizen science movement, The Feed SBS, 6 October 2016

Citizen science manager at the Australian Museum Paul Flemons talks about how important everyday people have been to their scientific discoveries.

The advent of the internet, social media and mobile devices has seen the democratisation of many professions previously the domain of only those with suitable training and credentials. Science has been no exception, witnessed by the rise of the citizen scientist and the practice of citizen science.

Yet the involvement of the enthusiastic and highly motivated individual in science, particularly through natural history museums, is not a new phenomenon. The Australian Museum (AM) has been engaging volunteers in science for decades, yet the term citizen science has only received broad recognition in recent years, a response to the growing numbers of people looking for ways to contribute meaningfully to things they care about.

In the 1960s, AM Entomologist Courtenay Smithers was working with citizens to understand the distribution of butterflies on hilltops around Sydney. In the 1990s the Birds in Backyards program was started by the AM’s bird researcher Richard Major, who continues to be active and innovative in the citizen science space with projects that engage the citizen scientist, such as Hollows for Homes and Cockatoo Wingtags which are both highly engaging programs rooted solidly in answering meaningful research questions.

In 2011 the AM and the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) joined forces to create DigiVol, the world’s first citizen science website for scientific data capture as part of virtual expeditions into the collections of museums across the globe. DigiVol has been a pioneer in this area, currently being used by more than 25 institutions internationally and inspiring similar initiatives around the world, most notably the Smithsonian’s Transcription Centre. DigiVol has hosted more than 700 citizen science projects, capturing almost 400,000 specimen records and field note pages from more than 20 countries around the world.

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