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Research Underlines the Value of Citizen Science


lunarcraterI’ve blogged a lot about the incredible value citizens have delivered to a whole host of scientific problems, whether it’s mapping the oceans on Plankton Portal or mapping their local habitats at Yard Map.  It has undoubtedly been one of the most successful ways for organizations to engage with stakeholders via social media.

It seems almost to go without saying, but if any emphasis should be required, it may come via a new study led by the University of Colorado Boulder.  The focus of their study was the CosmoQuest website, whereby members of the public join with professionals to try and spot craters on the moon from amongst photos taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The data from the crater spotting is then fed into future studies around cosmic collisions in the early solar system, whilst of course also providing valuable information for future lunar missions.  The motivation for enrolling the crowd came from the sheer volume of craters on the lunar surface.  It’s estimated that there are hundred of millions of craters on the moon, so the more eyes available to spot them, the better.

So how did the crowd do?  Well, it turned out that they were just as effective at spotting lunar craters as experts in the field with up to 50 years experience.  So pretty well all in all, and certainly well enough to please the researchers.

“What we can say is that a very large group of volunteers was able to chart these features on the moon just as well as professional researchers,” said Research Scientist Stuart Robbins of CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, who led the study.

“More importantly, we now have evidence that we can use the power of crowdsourcing to gather more reliable data from the moon than we ever thought was possible before.”

If you’re interested in citizen science, then I can recommend the following talk by Dr Chris Lintott and Dr Brooke Simmons about the future of citizen science, delivered to Oxford University’s Oxford Martin School.

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