CROWDSOURCING SCIENCE: You're Invited!
Data points are to science what donuts are to Homer Simpson's diet: the building blocks. The more data we have, the more pixels in our view of the world, the more accurate our theories of what's going on.
Enter crowdsourcing. Suddenly huge new flows of data are arriving thanks to citizen science projects. No lab coat? No problem. If you're interested and conscientious, you could be contributing valuable data that would otherwise go uncollected for lack of funds. Some programs take you into the field. Others can be done in bed with a laptop. Some require a day or more of training; others just a quick online tutorial. Here's a sampling of what you can do:
Tag creatures in photos of the ocean floor. Analyze whale sounds. Find cancer cells in tissue images. All at zooniverse.org.
Help refine our knowledge of the moon's surface. See the Moon Mappers project at cosmoquest.org.
What's in the water that flows off our streets and into rivers, lakes, and oceans? Many cities use volunteers to test water quality. Texas has the Texas Stream Team. New York state has WAVE (Water Assessments by Volunteer Evaluators). Try searching for your city or state + water + quality + volunteer.
If you live along a coastline, NOAA likely offers a Beach Watch survey program, using volunteers to record dead wildlife that's washed up - often an early warning alert for what's going on in the water.
If you're a birder, ebird lets you add your observations to a worldwide database, contributing to our knowledge of ranges and migrations.
The Audubon Society's Christmas bird counts are well known, but did you know there are ant surveys? Beaver counts? Projects tracking frog and toad migrations? A search for your favorite animal + survey will likely turn up a program.
For more ideas, check out Wikipedia's List of Citizen Science Projects.
*Photo Credit: Colleen Young/BeachCOMBERS