'Crowd science' 大眾科學
Are you patient? Do you have attention to detail, free time and access to a computer? Well, then a scientist might welcome your help. Researchers in the UK say it's becoming crucial to count on Joe Public to help them with their projects. They need people to examine data and submit their observations online.
British teenagers Sasha and Matthew are taking part in a study of penguins from the comfort of their homes. The pair look at pictures and tag photos identifying adults, chicks and eggs. Every click of their mouse is helping to build up a detailed picture of penguin colonies. They, and thousands of others, are helping scientists to understand why some colonies are growing and others are decreasing. Within the first four hours of Penguin Watch going live, 'citizen scientists' labelled more images than the research team had in five years.
Dr Tom Hart, Penguin Watch Coordinator at Oxford University, says: "When you go beyond what a scientist can analyse to what a mass audience can do, then you scale it up beyond what any other project could do."
The British Science Association says families are helping out with rigorous research. It made a difference to the Planet Hunters Project, which ran for five years. Volunteers looked at dots which showed how the brightness of a star changed at different points in its solar system.
According to Dr Robert Simpson from Oxford University, who took part in the project, the volunteers discovered planets and these are now in published papers. He says with pride: "We can go and look at these planets with other telescopes and we know they exist because of those helpers."
But how do scientists guard their research against accidental or deliberate mistakes in observation? Dr Simpson isn't worried. "We get lots of people looking at the same things," he says. The researcher warns that people who are maliciously clicking on the site are very obvious and can be identified very quickly. So, there's no fooling the scientists.
And to make sure things go well, the Penguin Watch paper will go through a peer review before being published. After that, every 'citizen scientist' will be credited.