March 01, 2017

Volunteer Citizen Scientists, Unintentional Legal Consequences

The popularity of Crowdsourced Citizen Environmental Science (CCES) continues to increase dramatically as technical innovations enable affordable data collection, and the concomitant spread of internet access and personal devices facilitate public participation. Citizen environmental science includes situations where members of the public volunteer to participate in the scientific process. Citizen scientists may formulate questions, develop technologies and applications, conduct experiments, and collect and analyze data as well as interpret results. Through the use of crowdsourcing, geographically distributed volunteers are encouraged to solve complex problems collectively. The combination of these two approaches results in CCES that is often conducted with the intention of positively impacting natural resource management policies and practices. CCES can generate a larger dataset in a shorter period of time and generally at a much lower cost than traditional scientific projects carried out by formally trained professionals. Additional benefits to citizen scientists are knowledge gain, increased political activity, an expanded social network, pride in one’s work, and future participation in citizen science projects.

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