In case you missed it, Caren Cooper et al. just published a fascinating research article on PLOS One (it’s open access, so check it out!) detailing her investigations on the contributions of citizen scientists in ornithological (bird) research. In this article the researchers aimed to “evaluate the use and confidence of citizen science in advancing understanding in an important area of ecology and global change research” by attempting to:

  1. Quantify the scientific contribution of citizen science to research on birds and climate change
  2. Assess whether professionals held volunteer-based research in equal regard to research by professionals
  3. Evaluate the extent to which citizen science was readily visible or noted in the focal studies

In other words, the authors were attempting to see how important citizen science was to a particular area of research, and whether or not the contributions of citizen scientists were sufficiently acknowledged in publications. What they found was that data from citizen scientists were useful (and even critical in some projects) for this area of research. Unfortunately, the lack of consistent terminology acknowledging these contributions may have undermined the perceived impact of citizen scientists in this area of research. They went further to suggest that other research areas such as invasive species research may also benefit greatly from the “invisible prevalence” of citizen scientists.

Talk about timely! MJ Epps et al. just published a research article on the cryptic invasion of Asian camel crickets in North American houses. Fortunately, the researchers were upfront about their use of citizen scientists as they, “launched a continental-scale citizen science campaign to better understand the relative distributions and frequency of native and nonnative camel crickets in human homes across North America.” Oh, and you can read intriguing their open access article here: Too big to be noticed: cryptic invasion of Asian camel crickets in North American houses.

The problem of finding citizen science papers in this research area described by Caren Cooper et al. is by no means unique to citizen science and ecological research. All research areas suffer from insufficiently annotated publications making finding the right articles a growing challenge. While one solution may be to encourage researchers that utilize citizen scientists to use the term “citizen science” in their research publications, this will not solve the annotation issues that thrive in the existing and growing body of research literature.

Given how citizen scientists have solved protein structures, mapped neurons in the brain, and analyzed astronomical images on an unprecedented scale, perhaps the solution to the annotation issue in research literature lies in citizen science as well.