[Taxacom] De-extinction & Rhachistia aldabrae

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Thu Oct 23 18:52:50 CDT 2014

I think that the reluctance of many professional scientists to engage with "citizen science" projects has a simple explanation. To be generous to them, it is because their time is limited and they get nothing out of it compared to other things that they could be doing instead (unless they get paid for "outreach", but that is a whole other can of worms). I used to wonder why few scientists were at all interested in creating and maintaining a page on Wikispecies, listing their publications. Isn't it good to advertise one's publications? But then I see that they all rush to sites like Mendeley and ResearchGate, for, I suggest, 2 reasons: (1) these are perceived (probably wrongly) as more "official" and "bona fide"; and (2) all visits to their page/publication get quantified, so they can get some "kudos" by having more visits than some of their peers, etc. I suspect though that ken is correct in that some of them really don't want to have their
 identifications challenged by amateurs.


On Fri, 24/10/14, Walker, Ken <kwalker at museum.vic.gov.au> wrote:

 Subject: Re: [Taxacom] De-extinction & Rhachistia aldabrae
 To: "John Grehan" <calabar.john at gmail.com>
 Cc: "Taxacom" <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
 Received: Friday, 24 October, 2014, 12:15 PM
 Thanks for your question and I am not surprised that you see
 no association between “"natural history amateurs” and
 “citizen science”.  It is a typical scientific
 I recently read a definition of “citizen science” used
 by the global biodiversity player “Earthwatch”.  It
 read: “Citizen science is the structured research
 undertaken as an active partnership between scientists and
 the wider community”.
 The world is awash with social media and yet many in the
 scientific community believe that without the overriding
 intervention of scientists to formulate structured research
 projects, then the independent efforts by amateurs is not
 real science.
 One of the model project often quoted here in Australia as a
 good example of “citizen science” is the “Great Koala
 Count”.  A scientific institution has developed a
 recording mobile phone/tablet app that “citizen
 scientists” download and then walk around recording where
 they see koalas.  It also records the absence of
 records every 15 minutes.  The project runs over a 2
 week period and has been repeated over a number of
 years.  The scientists love it – amateurs spending
 their time gathering distribution data about a single,
 easily identifiable taxon.
 However, some of the amateurs who have contributed to this
 project have raised interesting issues.
 1.    No one can ask a question on the app. 
 The scientists appear they are not willing to engage with
 the public.
 2.    The app itself does not deliver any results
 of the survey.  Indeed, there is no link from the app
 to the website where the results are delivered.
 3.    The results website has simply reused an old
 survey excel format as for every record it repeats the name
 of the taxon recorded – A koala!
 I define citizen science projects such as the “Great Koala
 Count” as a “Top Down” project and it fits perfectly
 with the definition of “citizen science” as used by
 Earthwatch.  Personally, I prefer the “Bottom Up”
 approach to “citizen science” where amateurs employ
 serendipity to record and share data. I call this “adding
 value to a hobby” and that’s my “working” definition
 for “citizen science”.
 Although there is now over 5 billion images on Facebook and
 Flickr, most natural history images on these sites are
 useless to science because: (1) They will rarely be
 identified; (2) They do not provide the minimum Darwin Core
 dataset of identification/spatial/temporal data; and (3) The
 data is never on-shared with biodiversity databases (such as
 ALA in OZ or globally GBIF).
 However, when similar images are shared on “citizen
 science” websites dedicated to natural science (Project
 Noah, iNaturalist, iSpot, BowerBird etc) they impose the
 Darwin Core standards by insisting a record contains
 spatial/temporal data per record.  With such data,
 observations using “macrophotography of "bugs": bigger,
 smaller, red, blue or yellow" are indeed good “citizen
 science” and do add value to biodiversity.
 For me, the essence of science is making observations and
 asking questions. In my previous Taxacom post, I gave
 examples of serendipity leading to biosecurity action
 (Carder bee) and the finding of a presumed extinct insect
 (ladybeetle). In both these examples, the photographers
 noticed something that looked unusual, took an image, asked
 a question and shared their images on a “citizen
 science” website. Both records definitely caught the
 attention of scientists.  For interest, here is a link
 to a distribution map on ALA for the exotic South African
 carder bee (Afranthidium repetitum) showing the “citizen
 science” records as the mostly northerly and most
 southerly dots on the map ( http://bie.ala.org.au/species/Afranthidium+repetitum
 ).  Isn’t this a contribution to science? 
 But, it did not begin that way when two “natural history
 amateurs” observed something and asked a question on a
 social website that engages the public with
 scientists.  When do ““natural history amateurs”
 become “citizen science”?
 Why do scientists have problems accepting the value of this
 form of data recording?  Why are scientists hesitant to
 use the most effective marketing tools currently on the
 planet – social media?  I can tell you that dealing
 directly with the general public is a lot more “scary”
 than writing Taxacom posts.
 To finish, I will relate a colleague’s reluctance to
 engage with a socially interactive citizen science
 website.  When I asked him for his assistance to
 identify animals within his speciality and he works at a
 publically funded institution, he refused because he said:
 “I do not want any member of the public challenging my
 identifications.”  How typical is this of the general
 scientific community?
 I hope I have answered your question: “This made no
 reference to 'citizen science' and I did not see any
 implication of such.”  Perhaps I live on planet X but
 I do see a reference or an implication to “citizen
 science” in Jason’s post.
 Cheers Ken
 From: John Grehan [mailto:calabar.john at gmail.com]
 Sent: Friday, 24 October 2014 12:51 AM
 To: Walker, Ken
 Cc: JF Mate; Taxacom
 Subject: Re: [Taxacom] De-extinction & Rhachistia
 Admittedly I only read postings in a fragmentary way and I
 know I sometimes miss items, but I am confused by your
 reference to Jason Mate saying the the efforts of citizen
 science can be dismissed as " are taking pictures of "bugs":
 bigger, smaller, red, blue or yellow." What I read was that
 he said that "The decline in "natural history" amateurs is
 global and cannot be compensated by the explosion of
 macrophotography since they (mostly) are taking pictures of
 "bugs": bigger, smaller, red, blue or yellow." This made no
 reference to 'citizen science' and I did not see any
 implication of such. It was only a criticism of a particular
 mode of information gathering or sharing. I would be
 grateful therefore for how you made that link the way you
 John Grehan
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