Exposing the Science in Citizen Science: Fitness to Purpose and Intentional Design

Julia K. Parrish, Hillary Burgess, Jake F. Weltzin, Lucy Fortson, Andrea Wiggins, Brooke Simmons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Citizen science is a growing phenomenon. With millions of people involved and billions of in-kind dollars contributed annually, this broad extent, fine grain approach to data collection should be garnering enthusiastic support in the mainstream science and higher education communities. However, many academic researchers demonstrate distinct biases against the use of citizen science as a source of rigorous information. To engage the public in scientific research, and the research community in the practice of citizen science, a mutual understanding is needed of accepted quality standards in science, and the corresponding specifics of project design and implementation when working with a broad public base. We define a science-based typology focused on the degree to which projects deliver the type(s) and quality of data/work needed to produce valid scientific outcomes directly useful in science and natural resource management. Where project intent includes direct contribution to science and the public is actively involved either virtually or hands-on, we examine the measures of quality assurance (methods to increase data quality during the design and implementation phases of a project) and quality control (post hoc methods to increase the quality of scientific outcomes). We suggest that high quality science can be produced with massive, largely one-off, participation if data collection is simple and quality control includes algorithm voting, statistical pruning, and/or computational modeling. Small to mid-scale projects engaging participants in repeated, often complex, sampling can advance quality through expert-led training and well-designed materials, and through independent verification. Both approaches-simplification at scale and complexity with care-generate more robust science outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)150-160
Number of pages11
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Plant Science


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