Another area where citizen science can benefit traditional science is through the wealth of knowledge it is able to contribute.
“Scientists cannot be everywhere all the time,” Andrew says. “But if you have a large group of people out there systematically collecting the same observations, it means the data they collect can be incredibly powerful; it’s a much more complete understanding of the phenomenon you’re studying if you have lot of observers all collecting information.”
Citizen scientists may also be experts in their subject area, such as fishing.
“I work in fisheries and if you want to know where to find an animal, how it moves and what it eats, talk to fishers,” Andrew says. “There are people out there that have been catching animals for a lot longer than I have and they have knowledge in their heads, local knowledge, about these species that can be incredibly valuable.
“Photographs can be especially valuable. We’ve had several instances where photographs have verified range extensions for sharks and rays in Australia and the Pacific. Last year, divers recorded a small eye ray at the Yongala, and the diver involved is now a co-author on that paper. Digital cameras are tougher and cheaper, and add that to a smartphone that can add GPS coordinates and a date stamp to the record, they’re incredibly powerful, pocket-sized data collection tools.”
Therefore, one of the best parts is that you don’t need to have a formal science background to become involved.
“I think citizen scientists need to have interest,” Andrew says. “They just need to be interested about whatever the subject is and be willing to work with people and donate some of their time.”
In fact, many of history’s scientists were actually citizen scientists.
“Before there was organised, institutionalised research the scientific process was done by gentlemen researchers, and it was men in those days, gentlemen scholars from rich, wealthy families who were interested in butterflies or birds, or whatever it was, writing books on their observations of natural history or astronomy,” Andrew says. “Science then was citizen science.”