We’ve written before about the potential of citizen science to improve on the work of professionals. Here’s another example: marine research.
Research in the Caribbean comparing the abilities of two teams of divers–one using traditional scientific methods, the other using a volunteer technique–found that the amateurs were capable of producing equal, if not better, data. After 44 underwater surveys over two weeks, the volunteers found 137 species of fish, compared to the professionals’ 106.
A paper in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution says the research shows how citizen science can help more experienced researchers cover greater ground. “Due to logistical limitations, vast sections of the world’s aquatic ecosystems are rarely, or never, surveyed by professional scientists,” it says. “The large pool of volunteer enthusiasts has potential to substantially augment the census capabilities of professional researchers.”
“The results of this study are important for the future of citizen science and the use of data collected by these programs,” says Ben Holt, at the University of East Anglia, in the U.K., who led the research. “Amateur enthusiasts typically do not have the resources or training to use professional methodology. Our study demonstrates the quality of data collected using a volunteer method can match, and in some respects exceed, protocols used by professional scientists.”
Holt notes that heightened environmental impacts make including citizen scientists all the more important. “Environmental changes are having a big impact on ecosystems around us so we need to harness new ways of measuring the effect.”