Citizen Science and Credibility

Citizen Science


In 2010 the story of the humpback whale that traveled half the world between Atlantic & the Indian Oceans -via the Antarctic- formed part of the media blitz that started the mass popularisation of “citizen science”.  My previous research, directing the Antarctic Humpback Whale Catalogue, included developing internationally collaborative science as well as photographic documentation from the public  (see here: or here: Allied Whale Research Group, College of the Atlantic). But I am not sure I would join others in calling this citizen science (more like data donation). 

What defines the contemporary movement? Is it really a mutualism: what is required to “DO science”/ be a “scientist”? How can it happen without scientific supervision? These are some of the questions addressed in doctoral research I supervise around a case study marine citizen science project. (See also current research & Marine Meter Squared project (Sally Carson)).

A content analysis by  Mandy Hu (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) in her internship with me looked critically at the Citizen Science movement:  Citizen science is expected to be a powerful tool for involving the public in science, and through such engagement expressly valuing public input and knowledge, thereby bridging the gap between science and society. However, few have characterised which components of citizen science  are essential for optimising such benefits for both science and society.  Critical components might include the duration of the project and citizen interaction, qualitative and quantitative aspects of citizen contributions, effort of contribution, feedback, and implementation of other communication devices for continued engagement etc. Identifying trends in these characteristics across projects will allow for initial assessment of their functionality. This project involved a content analysis of characteristics of a broad range of citizen science projects worldwide, with further assessment from available web resources and interviews with project administrators, and focused on the success and failure of methods for increasing civic engagement. (MS in revision for publication)

Credibility – Climate Communicator Creds? 


Credibility Enhancing Displays (CREDS) in evolution & human behavior studies are costly rituals for increasing credibility of what is on offer. They serve to intensify belief systems, through acts such as scarification. Is this a vital missing link in climate change communication? Do we need authority figures and behaviour-change advocates in the science of climate change to don facial moko to express how committed their beliefs are? What will it take to inspire personal responsibility to act to remedy climate change? Maybe the answer is with our ancestors.

Potential co-supervisors could include the Dept of Marketing / CSAFE / Psychology, to investigate parallels with research on changing thought and behavior (e.g. in identifying barriers to adopting energy efficient technology), and  the gap between what people say & what they do (surveys always reveal that greater weight is given to societal issues then is reflected in behavioral practice).