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Thread: Why is there essentially zero work being done by Citizen Scientists (amateurs)?

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    Why is there essentially zero work being done by Citizen Scientists (amateurs)?

    A sufficiently provocative title, I hope!

    It comes from a sentence I wrote a few days' ago; a fuller context is (source):
    Perhaps the most interesting areas to explore are the ones hardly any scientist is working on, areas open to today's citizen scientists, who have oceans of high quality data (free!), excellent tools (also free), and Maxwell-would-die-for computing power (not quite free) available to them pretty much instantly. There are plenty of examples, right here in the CosmoQuest Forum's threads ... dark matter as something other than 'essentially zero EM cross section mass' (from molecular hydrogen to some variant of MOND, with a dozen way stations in between), to take just one class of examples.

    To close with a puzzle: with such a vast expanse of unexplored ocean, with so many fascinating things professional scientists are hardly likely to ever get around to, why is there essentially zero work being done by amateurs?
    To set the scene for this thread - which I hope will be quite wide-ranging in its scope - let's read Gugliucci, N.; Gay, P.; Bracey, G. (2014) "Citizen Science Motivations as Discovered with CosmoQuest":
    CosmoQuest is a citizen science portal that has launched several projects that allow users to participate in mapping and discovery missions throughout the solar system. We are particularly interested in how citizen scientists move through the site and interact with the various tasks. We have piloted a survey asking citizen scientists for their motivations for using CosmoQuest and link that with their site behaviors. This is part of a larger project using online and real-life interactions to study citizen scientist behaviors, motivations, and learning with a goal of building a better community with researchers, volunteers, educators, and developers. Such research is important to understanding how to engage new and returning citizen scientists across a wide spectrum of projects.
    Well, immediately one reason why essentially zero is being done by citizen scientists (I'll use that term from now on) raises its ugly head: you have to pay $9 to even read that paper! Looks like this CQuestian's observation (here), further down in the thread I linked to earlier, is correct, "I think the problem is that it is hard to make progress if you don't have a fairly complete set of skills."

    Of course, if money is not a skill a citizen scientist possesses in abundance, perhaps persistence is ... maybe this paper is available here, in the CosmoQuest site?

    Some sleuthing I did turned up just three hits:


    None of those even remotely allow free access to the Gugliucci+ (2014) paper itself.

    However, the third hit does contain enough to permit one to find this (check the forum thread for links to the source):
    Quote Originally Posted by Marshall+ (2014)
    The authors point out that this is close to the US internet user age distribution, except for slight but significant excesses in numbers of post-50s males, post-retirement people of both genders, and a deficit in males under 30. The survey respondents also tended to be more highly educated than average US internet users, with most holding at least an undergraduate degree, and around a quarter having a masters or doctorate.
    Now we're getting somewhere!

    I'll let this sink in for a while ... significant excesses in numbers of post-retirement people of both genders ... more highly educated than average US internet users ... most holding at least an undergraduate degree ... around a quarter having a masters or doctorate.

    In the next post I'll take a look at motivations, and then (or perhaps after some discussion and a few other inputs) turn to the question of why such a large bunch of people, with time and skills in abundance, do essentially zero 'hard astronomy' (as in research in astronomy that ends up being published in journals like AJ, MNRAS, or PASP).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    Some sleuthing I did turned up just three hits:
    Perhaps with a bit more sleuthing, you could have found the survey results here on Cosmoquest.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    Perhaps with a bit more sleuthing, you could have found the survey results here on Cosmoquest.
    Wow! Thanks!

    How did I miss it*?

    I wonder, though, how that summary differs from the paper? And why, given the strong tilt in the demographics towards STEM and formal degrees, was there no link to the paper (or even reference to it)?

    (I was going to write something stronger, to do with 'dumbing down' and audiences, but one lot of egg on my face is enough for today).

    *My sleuthing was, more or less, as follows: Search on the three authors' names; use various combinations of the authors' names and key words from the paper's title. Curiously, the CQ page you found explicitly mentions the other paper I was going to cite (and an earlier one too), Raddick+ (2013)

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    I don't know if any of the papers covered this, but I think it might be interesting to compare the motivations for on-line citizen scientists versus those who do non-on-line citizen science (for example, backyard bird counts or other field work), versus other types of volunteer activities.

    I've been a volunteer for the majority of my life (nearly 40 years), and for a number of years worked on managing other volunteers (both through Sierra Club and through the local park system I volunteer with). Volunteer motivation is an interesting study, and often people's motivations for volunteering are less obvious than our first guesses about such things.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    How did I miss it*?
    Sometimes it just takes a different way of thinking.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    *My sleuthing was, more or less, as follows:
    I just figured if cosmoquest was doing something, they would have mentioned it in the public outreach section of the forum. So; I found this thread.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    I don't know if any of the papers covered this, but I think it might be interesting to compare the motivations for on-line citizen scientists versus those who do non-on-line citizen science (for example, backyard bird counts or other field work), versus other types of volunteer activities.
    You bring up a good point.

    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    I've been a volunteer for the majority of my life (nearly 40 years), and for a number of years worked on managing other volunteers (both through Sierra Club and through the local park system I volunteer with). Volunteer motivation is an interesting study, and often people's motivations for volunteering are less obvious than our first guesses about such things.
    I've been with a volunteer run organization all my life (and back at least 4 generations).
    So; my motivations are a bit different than yours. But; I think that the personal contact of that makes it so much different than on-line.
    I did Stardust and scored very highly. In that, I had different modivations as time went on.
    1. Interest in doing something.
    2. As I got familiar with the connections of what I was doing and how the research was going, I looked forward to actually hoping to be the first one to spot a speck.
    3. The more hooked I got, the more I wanted to increase in the standings.
    I guess it's mostly pride of oneself, but the incentive (a discovery, and some kind of competition) certainly made a big difference to me.

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    Having been a professional astrophysicist, I can tell you that it's a full time job. I find it unlikely that most people could put in the required work to contribute significantly to the field without being paid for their time. That's not to say that there aren't contributions that amateurs can make, but writing up articles for refereed journals, even if one limits themselves to publicly available archival data (instead of applying for time at observatories), takes quite a lot of time and effort. Furthermore, understanding what would be the expected quality for a research paper and being able to produce that quality (so as to ensure passage through the peer-review process) takes a lot of training. Even newly-minted PhDs lack a certain amount of experience and their papers will increase in quality with time. But, there's a lot of data, and there's going to be a lot more in the future, so I think if someone had the training and didn't need to rely on their own work for money to live on, there's no reason why someone couldn't do science. I know some astronomers who if they were to become independently wealthy would probably still do astronomical research.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    Well, immediately one reason why essentially zero is being done by citizen scientists (I'll use that term from now on) raises its ugly head: you have to pay $9 to even read that paper!
    I would say that this is not a good reason against citizen scientists actually doing a bit of work (List of citizen science projects). People kind of expect to pay for published work .
    In fact given the millions of people involved in these projects we can say that citizen scientists do an enormous amount of work. We could even include the millions who run network computing, e.g. BOINC, as citizen scientists.

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    There was just a recent paper that came out that established if you could get a thousand people in a square kilometer to participate, you could use their cell phones to search for ultra-high energy cosmic rays. If you could get a thousand pockets like that spread all over the world, you could do as good a job as our best instruments for detecting cosmic rays.

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    Thank you NEOWatcher, Swift, Amber Robot, Reality Check, and Ken G for joining my party.

    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    I don't know if any of the papers covered this, but I think it might be interesting to compare the motivations for on-line citizen scientists versus those who do non-on-line citizen science (for example, backyard bird counts or other field work), versus other types of volunteer activities.

    I've been a volunteer for the majority of my life (nearly 40 years), and for a number of years worked on managing other volunteers (both through Sierra Club and through the local park system I volunteer with). Volunteer motivation is an interesting study, and often people's motivations for volunteering are less obvious than our first guesses about such things.
    I've just added a post to the Ideas for Citizen Science in Astronomy - hot off the arXiv press thread. The Marshall+ (2014) paper* has quite a lot on exactly the question you ask (comparing the motivations for on-line citizen scientists versus those who do non-on-line citizen science), at least so far as astronomy-related Citizen Science projects are concerned. I haven't checked yet, but I think that, among the references (or what papers those references in turn cite), there are other papers which report results of relevant research. Also, the references on this page may include some that you might find interesting; it's from the VOLCROWE site, a research project which "is generating new economic models and empirical evidence in response to the changing nature of volunteering in the digital economy and is helping to understand the motivation to volunteer for online citizen science initiatives."

    *I strongly urge you to get the version which was submitted for review, rather than the v1; not only are there rather a lot of changes, but many of the changes are directly pertinent to this topic; also, it may end up being Marshall+ (2015)

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    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    Sometimes it just takes a different way of thinking.


    I just figured if cosmoquest was doing something, they would have mentioned it in the public outreach section of the forum. So; I found this thread.
    Thanks.

    It certainly does point to a different way of thinking! I had also searched on "Publications"; with over 3000 hits, it was a bit daunting to proceed. However, I did discover that there is - apparently - no high-level page which lists, or points to, CQ publications. There's one for Moon Mappers (here), which also has these words: "Coming Soon… A list of conference presentations, proceedings, abstracts, and papers about CosmoQuest education and public outreach." But that's it (that I could find, anyway).

    So maybe it's a WIP (Work In Progress)?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Amber Robot View Post
    Having been a professional astrophysicist, I can tell you that it's a full time job. I find it unlikely that most people could put in the required work to contribute significantly to the field without being paid for their time. That's not to say that there aren't contributions that amateurs can make, but writing up articles for refereed journals, even if one limits themselves to publicly available archival data (instead of applying for time at observatories), takes quite a lot of time and effort. Furthermore, understanding what would be the expected quality for a research paper and being able to produce that quality (so as to ensure passage through the peer-review process) takes a lot of training. Even newly-minted PhDs lack a certain amount of experience and their papers will increase in quality with time. But, there's a lot of data, and there's going to be a lot more in the future, so I think if someone had the training and didn't need to rely on their own work for money to live on, there's no reason why someone couldn't do science. I know some astronomers who if they were to become independently wealthy would probably still do astronomical research.
    Cool!

    It is just these sorts of things (issues, topics, whatever) that I hope this thread spends a lot of time examining, discussing, etc. I'll surely be coming back to your excellent post, Amber Robot, many times!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Reality Check View Post
    I would say that this is not a good reason against citizen scientists actually doing a bit of work (List of citizen science projects). People kind of expect to pay for published work .
    In fact given the millions of people involved in these projects we can say that citizen scientists do an enormous amount of work. We could even include the millions who run network computing, e.g. BOINC, as citizen scientists.
    Also cool!

    What better way to start making some key distinctions?

    The kind of 'work' I want to explore - of the citizen science kind - is not "please-use-my-computers'-spare-cycles-for-free" kind*. Rather, it's the sort which leads to independent research, results from such, and publications reporting such.

    Perhaps a bit out of the sequence I had in mind, but might as well get this 'on the table' now.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nicole Gugliucci
    Which leads me to ask, where the ladies at?! Okay, that’s not necessarily a well formulated research question, but as a female astronomer and a feminist, I’d love to have just as many women join us as there have been men. What is the reason behind such a disparity? This survey wasn't designed to ask that question, but it is something to keep in mind for the future, especially since CosmoQuest's core staff is overwhelmingly women.
    (source)

    Pick a different demographic from the results - age over 54, say, combined with 'has a masters or PhD' perhaps - and consider publications; it may seem outrageous to even ask, but what is the reason behind the disparity between 'number of CQ-related publications, by core CQ staff, and CQuestians'? (poorly formulated question, to be sure). This is, sorta, a theme I'll be returning to (no, not any male/female/transgender/whatever one!)

    Of course, we will surely encounter Open Access and Open Science many times in this thread; for now, don't you regard it as just a teensy bit odd (shall we say), Reality Check, that the citizen scientists who created the data (for want of a better word) must pay to read the papers which rely upon it? Papers which could not even exist but for the entirely free time and effort of just those people?

    *except, perhaps, to illustrate how such projects actively discourage citizen scientists from doing the kind of work I want to discuss; see, for example, POGS (and this thread in particular)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    [...]

    In the next post I'll take a look at motivations, and then [...]
    Well, not exactly my next post, but yes, time to a look at motivations.

    Quote Originally Posted by Marshall+ (2104)
    What motivates citizen scientists? The two demographic studies referred to above also covered this question; [...] A desire to contribute to science was found to be the dominant primary motivation, [...] The AAVSO demographic survey (Price & Paxson 2012) found similar results: over a third of variable star observers cited involvement in science and research as their primary source of motivation. [...] Both groups of citizen scientists are clearly quite serious in their reasons for taking part: their motivations are actually very close to those of professional scientists, as many readers of this review will recognize.
    ("The most up to date PDF file should be downloaded from this http URL"*).

    For the rest of this thread, I'll be assuming that these (primary) motivations reported are, in fact, correct; further, I am mostly interested in discussing what follows from that, for at least the subset of citizen scientists for whom these motivations are primary (or at least important). Particularly for those citizen scientists who have a couple of decades (or more) of work experience (many, perhaps most, of whom are/were directly or indirectly involved in STEMM), who have at least a bachelor's degree in science, etc (but not exclusively for that subset!).

    And there's quite a bit more to draw on, from the Marshall+ (2014) paper (and those it cites), which I'd like to discuss, if only as background to getting to talking about why there is essentially zero work being done by citizen scientists (in astronomy at least).

    * I cannot faithfully copy all the formatting; for example, "contribute" and "involvement in science and research" are italicized in the original

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    Maybe there is a contradiction between the real world, where real work is done and the virtual world where Cosmoquest lies. It is so much easier , being in your armchair , roaming the virtual world than engaging some research work. Even just observing stars with my telescope is a challenge for me because of internet. Yes , I am kind of an addict !

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    ...I'll take a look at motivations, and then... turn to the question of why such a large bunch of people, with time and skills in abundance, do essentially zero 'hard astronomy' (as in research in astronomy that ends up being published in journals like AJ, MNRAS, or PASP).
    Essentially zero, yes. But I do recall a couple of members from many years ago, after the 97-page thread on Arp's conjectures, went off and did their own research on something or other and I believe got published. The PI would have been "dgruss" - David Russell, I think. A high school teacher at the time.

    I think Amber Robot's point about astrophysics research being a full-time job is very pertinent. I'd love to dive into the mass of wonderfully free data that is out there and develop something that was previously unknown, but time is a highly limiting factor. Also, grad students are typically given worthwhile projects or problems to investigate by their adviser or mentor. Amateurs do not have the broad knowledge of the advising tenured prof to know what makes an interesting and worthwhile project to work on. I think they could really use a mentor.
    Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cougar View Post
    Amateurs do not have the broad knowledge of the advising tenured prof to know what makes an interesting and worthwhile project to work on.
    This is partly because it takes a lot of reading of papers in a field to understand deeply what new research is worthwhile. This kind of reading and learning of the current state of a scientific sub-field is pretty time consuming as well. Spending time and money to go to conferences and talk with professional astronomers is also a major way to develop ideas and forge collaborations. This last part is non-trivial too. Much of modern astronomical research is done by a collaboration of scientists, each with particular expertise and knowledge/experience. Finding cutting edge ideas is hard enough, let alone finding cutting edge ideas that can be done without the aid of other scientists. That's not to say that a professional astronomer wouldn't work with an amateur one, but if, as an amateur, you wanted to approach professionals with your idea, you'd really better have done a lot of homework first.

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    Quote Originally Posted by galacsi View Post
    Maybe there is a contradiction between the real world, where real work is done and the virtual world where Cosmoquest lies. It is so much easier , being in your armchair , roaming the virtual world than engaging some research work. Even just observing stars with my telescope is a challenge for me because of internet. Yes , I am kind of an addict !
    Too true, galacsi, too true.

    And I'll use your post, if you don't mind, to say a few words about 'amateur observing'.

    Amateur astronomers - with their own telescopes, cameras, etc - have a long history of doing far-from-zero-work, of the serious good-enough-to-be-written-up-and-published (in referred journals) kind. And that tradition continues today; here are a few examples [1]:



    Given the long history, no surprise to learn that there are well-established procedures (e.g. for reporting discoveries), communities (e.g. variable star observers), projects (e.g. Whole Earth Blazar Telescope), and quite a few pro-am collaborations.

    But I'm with galacsi here; I'd like to focus on citizen scientists' 'hard astronomy' work, of the kind which can be done 'in your armchair'. And, in passing, a note about a sometimes-overlooked aspect of online databases, broadband internet connections, etc: these have enabled many people to become serious citizen scientists (of the astronomy kind), who could not have ever become 'amateur observers'. There are the costs and mechanical (etc) skills you need for serious amateur astronomy; there is the falling-away-of-barriers for those with disabilities; freedom from tyranny of the night (and bad weather); etc, etc, etc.

    [1] Mousis+ (2014) is quite informative on this topic (it'll cost you "$39.95 / €34.95 / £29.95" to get the original, but fortunately the 'accepted for publication' version is on astro-ph):
    Quote Originally Posted by Mousis+ (2014)
    Instrumental Methods for Professional and Amateur Collaborations in Planetary Astronomy

    Amateur contributions to professional publications have increased exponentially over the last decades in the field of planetary astronomy. Here we review the different domains of the field in which collaborations between professional and amateur astronomers are effective and regularly lead to scientific publications.We discuss the instruments, detectors, software and methodologies typically used by amateur astronomers to collect the scientific data in the different domains of interest. Amateur contributions to the monitoring of planets and interplanetary matter, characterization of asteroids and comets, as well as the determination of the physical properties of Kuiper Belt Objects and exoplanets are discussed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cougar View Post
    Essentially zero, yes. But I do recall a couple of members from many years ago, after the 97-page thread on Arp's conjectures, went off and did their own research on something or other and I believe got published. The PI would have been "dgruss" - David Russell, I think. A high school teacher at the time.
    Jokimäki+ (2008) [1]?

    I think Amber Robot's point about astrophysics research being a full-time job is very pertinent. I'd love to dive into the mass of wonderfully free data that is out there and develop something that was previously unknown, but time is a highly limiting factor. Also, grad students are typically given worthwhile projects or problems to investigate by their adviser or mentor. Amateurs do not have the broad knowledge of the advising tenured prof to know what makes an interesting and worthwhile project to work on. I think they could really use a mentor.
    Wonderful! Thanks Cougar; this expresses, very well, a central issue/concern/factor/etc!

    I hope we can spend quite a bit of time (!) digging into these aspects ...

    Before then, however, I'd like to give a few more examples of the difference between 'essentially zero' (in my OP) and 'zero'; i.e. more examples of (astronomy) papers, published in referred journals, whose lead author is (was) a non-professional citizen scientist. Based on work of the 'from the armchair' kind. Also, a somewhat deeper dig into capabilities and motivations, etc. This will also include discussing some of the things in Amber Robot's most recent post (another excellent one).

    [1] My thanks to a fellow citizen scientist for reminding me of this!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    Right. Ari Jokimaki used to participate on the Bad Astronomy forum as well. Apparently his collaboration with Russell was forged there--I mean here.
    Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    Amateur astronomers - with their own telescopes, cameras, etc - have a long history of doing far-from-zero-work, of the serious good-enough-to-be-written-up-and-published (in referred journals) kind. And that tradition continues today; here are a few examples [1]:

    I haven't reviewed your whole list, but I read the abstract for this one and it appears to be written by a professional astronomer using the VLT.

    I haven't read the paper, so maybe it includes some data from an amateur astronomer and their telescope, but I think it would be interesting to know how many astronomers have first-authored an article for a major astronomical journal (i.e., ApJ, AJ, MNRAS, etc.).

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    Yeah, pretty much what everybody said. (I slightly tiptoe through minefields here, having been all of the above at overlapping times, and being aware that in some positions what one says can have repercussions...)

    The scientific publishing process is one with its own peculiar rules and customs, so that a publication that makes it through refereeing has a lot more in it than the data and conclusions would suggest in themselves. Many amateurs contribute significantly to such results; from the ones I've read in some detail, it is most common to have someone experienced in the academic arts shepherd the process along until someone who has the requisite drive gets enough experience to do it all solo. Another issue is that autodidacts easily risk missing a piece of knowledge that they didn't realize would be relevant (not having encountered it yet) and may be fish-slapped by the referee about this (hardly a problem confined to that situation, of course).

    The quandary here is real - there are people who have the interest and capability to contribute to science, but there is a real argument that until their results are made public they cannot contribute to Science at large. It is a fair question to wonder what barriers here could be lowered.

    (Relevant acknowledgements - my first publication was shepherded by the late Doug Hall as I described, while I was an enthusiastic 15-year-old looking at variable stars; and the OP here pointed me to the Jokimaki et al. catalog, which I've just about finished some followup imaging on the overlapping-pair subset from).

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    Quote Originally Posted by ngc3314 View Post
    The quandary here is real - there are people who have the interest and capability to contribute to science, but there is a real argument that until their results are made public they cannot contribute to Science at large. It is a fair question to wonder what barriers here could be lowered.
    I think it is important to note that some of these barriers are social in nature. There's no actual reason why an amateur couldn't contribute as much to the science of astronomy as a professional can. The contribution should be judged on its merit, not the history/training/education of the contributor. However, there is a definite expectation of what is considered a properly and thoroughly studied piece of work, and I would guess that most amateurs are not familiar with what that expectation is.

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    (Nods in violent agreement). Yes, completely. That's what I should have said in more detail.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ngc3314 View Post
    (Nods in violent agreement). Yes, completely. That's what I should have said in more detail.
    I guess the point I was trying to make was that, unlike other fields, the *universe* is the final arbiter of "truth", not the astronomical community, so if an amateur or outsider can produce a quality piece of scientific work that holds up to the scrutiny of the universe itself (i.e., observational data) then it has to be respected by the professionals.

    This is why when people come here with new-fangled theories in the 'against the mainstream' section, I always ask to see some plots. If you can show me how your theory fits the observables then I can judge its usefulness. If you can't at least fit what we do observe to be true, then you are not practicing science. For example, have an alternative theory of cosmology? Great! Show me your theory's prediction for redshift versus distance.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Amber Robot View Post
    I haven't reviewed your whole list, but I read the abstract for this one and it appears to be written by a professional astronomer using the VLT.
    Yes, you're right.

    I am not very familiar with these fields, and my main interest was (and still is) in briefly covering the contributions of amateur astronomers (who have their own telescopes, etc) before getting onto discussing galasci's 'armchair' kind of citizen scientist.

    Digging a bit deeper, it seems the community (or communities) has its own, well-established, protocols for publication of results. For example, AAVSO members publish in The Journal of the American Association of Variable Star Observers, amateurs who observe Jupiter (for example) publish to/through the International Planets Watch (IOPW), the Whole Earth Blazar Telescope is organized around campaigns and observations by amateurs published accordingly, and so on.

    Anyway, I don't think it's all controversial to say that amateur astronomers (own telescopes, etc) have done, and continue to do, considerably more than 'zero work in astronomy'. And having accepted that, I want to look at why it's not true for the 'virtual' kind of amateur astronomer (citizen scientist).

    I haven't read the paper, so maybe it includes some data from an amateur astronomer and their telescope, but I think it would be interesting to know how many astronomers have first-authored an article for a major astronomical journal (i.e., ApJ, AJ, MNRAS, etc.).
    Yes, me too.

    But, with respect, look at what you just did here ... by implication (even if unintended), the only real work an amateur astronomer/citizen scientist is judged to have done is that published in ApJ (etc), and then only if they are lead author. [1]

    Worth repeating the sentence I used to kick this whole thread off: "To close with a puzzle: with such a vast expanse of unexplored ocean, with so many fascinating things professional scientists are hardly likely to ever get around to, why is there essentially zero work being done by amateurs?"

    [1] Yes, this is discussed, and clarified, further in later posts

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cougar View Post
    Right. Ari Jokimaki used to participate on the Bad Astronomy forum as well. Apparently his collaboration with Russell was forged there--I mean here.
    Thanks for the confirmation.

    This leads to an interesting question for Amber Robot: as all three authors of that paper are (or were, at the time; I've no idea what they do now) citizen scientists, does Astrophysics and Space Science count as "a major astronomical journal"?

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    Amber Robot's and ngc3314's posts are all excellent, and highly pertinent.

    However, before discussing them, I'd like to follow-up on what I said earlier:
    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    Before then, however, I'd like to give a few more examples of the difference between 'essentially zero' (in my OP) and 'zero'; i.e. more examples of (astronomy) papers, published in referred journals, whose lead author is (was) a non-professional citizen scientist. Based on work of the 'from the armchair' kind. Also, a somewhat deeper dig into capabilities and motivations, etc. This will also include discussing some of the things in Amber Robot's most recent post (another excellent one).
    For the first, Jokimäki+ (2008) has been cited, and this (an Issue in GitHub, on the Marshall+ (2015) paper) references two more:


    Related to Galaxy Zoo, here is a list of papers with citizen scientists as co-authors (at least up to December, 2013; there's at least one since). And Planet Hunters, Wang+ (2013), Schwamb+ (2103), Gies+ (2013), and Schmitt+ (2014) (certainly not a complete list). I do not know if there are any such papers related to any CosmoQuest project (anyone?).

    Given the demographics of amateur astronomers and citizen scientists, it is no surprise to learn that they have developed software specifically for processing data, either from their own cameras (e.g. Registax), or from publicly available surveys (e.g. AKO, the Amateur Kelper Observatory).

    I'll finish this post with a quote from Marshall+ (2014), and discuss it - together with posts by several CQuestians (especially those by Amber Robot, Cougar, and ngc3314) - later:

    Quote Originally Posted by Marshall+ (2014)
    In this section we look at some cases where the process of enquiry, the science itself, has been led by citizens. [...] we focus on some collaborative projects where the asking of science questions by citizens is supported and guided by professionals.

    In principle, this is an area of great potential. The constraints of funding proposals and management of research groups can often mean that professional scientists focus very narrowly on particular topics of research, specializing in particular techniques or datasets. Steering away from this course implies taking risks with time management, and allocation of resources to an ultimately fruitless research area can be detrimental to careers. Citizen scientists are largely free of these managerial and budgetary constraints, and are able to devote their attentions to whatever topics interest them. Moreover, we might expect outsiders to ask some unusual questions, and make connections and suggestions that highly focused professionals may not have thought of.
    Last edited by Jean Tate; 2014-Oct-25 at 10:18 AM.

  29. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cougar View Post
    I think Amber Robot's point about astrophysics research being a full-time job is very pertinent. I'd love to dive into the mass of wonderfully free data that is out there and develop something that was previously unknown, but time is a highly limiting factor. Also, grad students are typically given worthwhile projects or problems to investigate by their adviser or mentor. Amateurs do not have the broad knowledge of the advising tenured prof to know what makes an interesting and worthwhile project to work on. I think they could really use a mentor.
    Quote Originally Posted by Amber Robot View Post
    This is partly because it takes a lot of reading of papers in a field to understand deeply what new research is worthwhile. This kind of reading and learning of the current state of a scientific sub-field is pretty time consuming as well. Spending time and money to go to conferences and talk with professional astronomers is also a major way to develop ideas and forge collaborations. This last part is non-trivial too. Much of modern astronomical research is done by a collaboration of scientists, each with particular expertise and knowledge/experience. Finding cutting edge ideas is hard enough, let alone finding cutting edge ideas that can be done without the aid of other scientists. That's not to say that a professional astronomer wouldn't work with an amateur one, but if, as an amateur, you wanted to approach professionals with your idea, you'd really better have done a lot of homework first.
    Contrast this with the most recent post in this thread (other than my own):

    Quote Originally Posted by Amber Robot View Post
    I guess the point I was trying to make was that, unlike other fields, the *universe* is the final arbiter of "truth", not the astronomical community, so if an amateur or outsider can produce a quality piece of scientific work that holds up to the scrutiny of the universe itself (i.e., observational data) then it has to be respected by the professionals.
    I don't mean to pick on you, Cougar (far from it!), but why *must* ideas for projects (etc) to work on (in astronomy) come from professionals? The wonderful mass of free data out there does not come with a EULA which declares that you must only dive in if you already have a worthwhile and interesting project in hand, preferably one signed off on by a prof!

    Quote Originally Posted by Marshall+ (2014)
    The ability of the Zoo volunteers to carry out their own research, moving far beyond the mere "clockwork" required by the main interface, is best illustrated by the discovery of the Galaxy Zoo Green Peas (Cardamone et al. 2009). These small, round and, in SDSS imaging, green, systems are dwarf galaxies with specific star formation rates which are unprecedented in the local Universe, matched only by high-redshift Lyman-break galaxies. Volunteers not only identified these systems, but organized a systematic search and further review of them. This effort included the use of tools designed by SDSS for professional astronomers to acquire and study spectroscopic data.
    You may be uncomfortable with the accuracy of this characterization, this version of history (something I'll have more to write about later), but it's certainly true that some citizen scientists (of the galacsi, 'armchair', kind) stumbled across Green Peas (as they quickly became known), and self-organized a 'citizen-led' inquiry into them. Of course, at the time, they had no idea that they are 'dwarf galaxies with specific star formation rates which are unprecedented in the local Universe, matched only by high-redshift Lyman-break galaxies' (though some may well have suspected something like that), but they certainly didn't let that stop them from researching them!

    Note the phrasing, however, "the discovery of the Galaxy Zoo Green Peas (Cardamone et al. 2009)". From this, you might get the impression that Cardamone was a citizen scientist, or at least that the "et al." includes citizen scientists. Not so; citizen scientists are not to be considered equal to real scientists (at least insofaras writing scientific papers is concerned), their role is described thusly: "This publication has been made possible by the participation of more than 200000 volunteers in the Galaxy Zoo project. Their contributions are individually acknowledged at http://www.galaxyzoo.org/Volunteers.aspx" [1]

    That there are peculiarities (for want of a better word) about the writing, submitting, and getting a paper published in a major astronomical journal is certainly well-known to astronomers, as the posts by Amber Robot and ngc3314 attest. But is such an end-point the only means citizen scientists have to make their work known? Is such publication the only means by which such work can be validated as "truth"?

    In my next post (or a later one, at any rate), I'd like to look at a specific, citizen-led Galaxy Zoo project, one which is not described in Marshall+ (2014), or indeed in any paper published or submitted to an astronomical journal (major or not) [2], The Irregulars Project.

    [1] I expect - hope - that this will spark some discussion!
    [2] At least as far as I know; I'd be delighted to learn that I'm wrong.

  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amber Robot View Post
    I guess the point I was trying to make was that, unlike other fields, the *universe* is the final arbiter of "truth", not the astronomical community, so if an amateur or outsider can produce a quality piece of scientific work that holds up to the scrutiny of the universe itself (i.e., observational data) then it has to be respected by the professionals.

    This is why when people come here with new-fangled theories in the 'against the mainstream' section, I always ask to see some plots. If you can show me how your theory fits the observables then I can judge its usefulness. If you can't at least fit what we do observe to be true, then you are not practicing science. For example, have an alternative theory of cosmology? Great! Show me your theory's prediction for redshift versus distance.
    In a previous life, I must have been a butterfly; I am very easily distracted by any new, bright, shiny thing!

    So, The Irregulars Project can wait a bit longer; I was somewhat puzzled by what you wrote, Amber Robot, so I went to the ATM section, and browsed around a bit [1].

    OMFSM! What, in Zwicky's name, are those people thinking!! Surely none of them can be from the demographic Nicole described: significant excesses in numbers of post-retirement people of both genders (OK, that's consistent) ... more highly educated than average US internet users (probably best to not comment on this one, except, perhaps, to say 'cat videos') ... most holding at least an undergraduate degree (not, one would hope, in any branch of science, certainly not a 'hard' science) ... around a quarter having a masters or doctorate (one would hope that the intersection is the null set!).

    Perhaps I did not browse long enough, but I found exactly zero of the ATM ideas proposed to be supported by any research (work) of the kind I want to discuss in this thread. No ATM proponent seems to have even heard of the fantastic wealth of high quality observational data (from surveys, and more), available for free, much less downloaded any of it, and conducted their own analyses using it. I guess I should have known; as a long-time fan of, and reader of, Tom Bridgman's Dealing with Creationism in Astronomy (he's a CQuestian, self-identified as CrankAstronomy) and Stuart Robbins' Exposing PseudoAstronomy (he's the PI of the highly successful CQ citizen science project, Moon Mappers), I should not have been the least bit surprised to find no serious data analyses ("look at this photo!" doesn't count, obviously).

    So, for any reader who has been hanging out in the ATM section for a while, the kind of 'hard astronomy' work/research I'm discussing in this thread is about as different from what you've encountered in the ATM section as it is possible to imagine. Curiously, the dgruss Cougar mentioned may be the dgruss23 who is the author of the OP of the stickied thread, Background - Advice for ATM theory supporters. Did any 'ATM theory supporter' even read that advice? There certainly seems precious little evidence any of them actually took any of it to heart!

    OK, I think that should satisfy my inner butterfly; now, about The Irregulars Project ...

    [1] Sorry, Cougar, I know you also pointed to that section; however, I already had what I thought was the paper you were referring to, so I didn't even click on the link to that 97-page thread
    Last edited by Jean Tate; 2014-Oct-27 at 07:41 AM. Reason: Robbins', not Robbin's

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