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Q&A: “Traveling Across Citizen Science in Portugal through Old Publications and Museum Collections”

Extended answers from Cristina Luís (CL), panelist from “The Promise and Pitfalls of Citizen Science,” Panel 2: Historical Perspectives

Question: There was a large Jesuit university in Coimbra. Is there any evidence they were involved in citizen science? Any evidence of the religious involvement more broadly?
CL: We have evidence of the scientific activity developed by several Jesuit priests who taught natural sciences at the Colégio de S. Fiel (a primary and secondary school). The works developed, with a great prevalence for the study of insects, are published in the journal Brotéria, which is being analysed.

Question: Considering the complications of the term “citizen science” (both in terms of citizenship and definitions of science) is there alternate language we could/should use to better describe the world of scientific inquiry before professionalization?
CL: This is and excellent question, but without a simple answer. On this subject I would advise reading: Strasser, B. J., Baudry, J., Mahr, D., Sanchez, G. and Tancoigne, E. (2019) “‘Citizen Science’? Rethinking Science and Public Participation”, Science & Technology Studies, 32(2), pp. 52-76. doi: 10.23987/sts.60425.

Question: Have you found a particularly powerful 'hook' for getting people involved in biodiversity citizen science?
CL: Unfortunately, so far, I have not found that "hook". However, usually people are more motivated because, among others, there is some knowledge gain, curiosity, contribution to science and environmental preservation, and, when using biodiverity recording applications, there is an interest in making virtual collections. Here is an example of a study on this subject: Peter, Maria & Diekötter, Tim & Höffler, Tim & Kremer, Kerstin. (2021). Biodiversity citizen science: Outcomes for the participating citizens. People and Nature. 3. 10.1002/pan3.10193. 

Question: At Smithsonian Environmental Research Center we give folks the opportunity to take more central roles as the scientists rather than as technicians. They develop questions, methods, conduct analyses, and even present work at professional conferences. Are we a throw-back to the 17th and 18th centuries?
CL: That is excellent! More than a throw-back to past centuries, I would say you are an excellent example for the present and the future in what concerns public participation in scientific research.

Question: On the top of your head, who are some of the outstanding citizen scientists of today?
CL: All those who, for example, contribute to all the projects within the Zooniverse platform. But nowadays it is hard to individualize. There are plenty of people outstandingly collaborating with scientists.

Question: In present time can the case of kids engagement in digital technology be one such example? And in same way people's engagement in advancement of knowledge in other fields?
CL: Many citizen science projects make use of digital technologies to enable participation, and many of those projects are directed to children. There are also some examples of citizen science projects that introduce gamification to increase participation of kids.

Question: How should historians incorporate your research in searching for examples of knowledge making?
CL: If searching for examples of knowledge making, historians should look, e.g., for cases where there are calls made for the contribution with data for a specific research.

Question: To what extent is the history of citizen science a history of inequality?
CL: In my view, citizen science tries to counterbalance inequality by opening science to the participation of everyone. 

Question: Why are the stories of citizen science in some countries still largely unknown?
CL: In fact, the stories of citizen science has not been explored in most countries. It is a subject largely unexplored. 

Question: What we know about past Citizen Science projects seem to depend upon the survival of archives. Did past Citizen Science projects tend to create archives, or are there types of projects that we don't know about because its archive did not survive?
CL: Absolutely. Archives are essential for any study of the past and this is also the case for the study of the history of citizen science. We will only know what existed in the past if some information has survived into the present.

Question: Can you talk more about the importance of collections for citizen science, both as it was understood historically and for aiding present-day initiatives?
CL: Museum collections are excellent repositories of information about, e.g., the network of collectors, and the information collected may be used for comparison with the present.

Question: One of the themes from yesterday was about community science (which empowers the community) as opposed to citizen science (which is individual volunteering to support science). How do you think this distinction may (or may not) apply to your subject?
CL: In the research I am conducting there are examples of both individual and community volunteering involvement. In many cases, particularly in the current cases, although there are many cases of individual involvement, generally individuals contribute with the vision of contributing to the benefit of the community.