White House Explores How ‘Citizen Science’ Can Help Society

Doing experiments isn’t just for the birds, and it’s not just for the professional scientists, either. Long before anyone ever thought of “crowdsourcing” or “open innovation,” thousands of volunteers were stumping around in the snow and sleet every year for the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, helping to assess the status and health of bird populations across the United States by collecting data and donating their observations to the scientific community.

This sort of activity is called “citizen science,” and it simply involves members of the public using the scientific method to explore the mysteries of the natural world and advance our understanding of it. By asking questions, making observations, collecting data and publishing the results, people can discover remarkable things about our shared world, from testing streams to watching the stars.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration took steps toward “accelerating citizen science” to address societal challenges, issuing a memorandum from Dr. John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and releasing a new crowdsourcing toolkit for government agencies. The OSTP and the Domestic Policy Council also hosted a forum at the White House.

“I think citizen science is a perfect example of an approach that truly lies at the nexus of three important things — science, technology and policy,” Holdren said on Wednesday.

“New technologies, from low-cost sensors and other types of monitoring instruments to increasingly ubiquitous and powerful smartphones to the rapid expansion of high-speed Internet connectivity, are facilitating citizen science on a scale that was simply unimaginable just a few years ago,” he went on. “We can harness this new technological infrastructure to advance both scientific discovery and the realization of policy objectives that will lead to —> Read More