International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) researcher Linda See and colleagues reported that citizen scientists performed as well as and in some cases better than “experts” over the past five years in an IIASA Geo-Wiki project that used satellite data to categorize land cover and identify places where people live and farm. The research was reported in the journal Public Library of Science on July 31, 2013.
Citizen scientists are amateur and nonprofessional scientists who participate in scientific research voluntarily. Citizen science is also known as crowd science, crowd-sourced science, or networked science.
The researchers compared 53,000 data points analyzed by more than 60 individuals, including experts and amateurs in remote sensing and geospatial sciences.
The new study shows that citizen scientists were as good as experts at identifying human impact, a concept that has emerged from ecological sciences, in satellite land cover data.
Experts were better at identifying the specific land-cover types such as forest, farmland, grassland, or desert. Experts identified land cover correctly 69 percent of the time while citizen scientists made correct classifications 62 percent of the time.
Most of the great scientists of the past like Newton, Galileo, and Einstein could at one time in their careers have been considered to be citizen scientists.
The researchers note that citizen science is becoming more important as government funding has been reduced for research and the development of the internet has allowed the participation of more people in research.