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

  1. #31
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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 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.
    Quote Originally Posted by Amber Robot View Post
    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.
    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 kinda vaguely remembered that there was a thread, or something, on providing something like the advice (etc) Cougar mentions, but I couldn't find it.

    But, given how many CQuestians hold masters or PhDs, and how many are, or were, professional astronomers, I thought, "well, maybe the CQ forum can stand in for 'advising tenured profs'?" So I went and created this thread: Fascinating Research Ideas For Citizen Scientists ...

  2. #32
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    Another issue to bear in mind, beyond published papers, is going to professional meetings. I have seen some amateurs make contributions at meetings, and that is often a good way to get one's discoveries known, or one's method followed by others. Typically, amateurs can't afford the high costs of meetings, but if they happen to be in the area, and have done some observations that the rest of the community might be interested in following up on, it can jumpstart a collaboration. But in answer to why amateurs don't contribute more significantly, I think being unable to fund a trip to a meeting out of some kind of grant is a big factor. Maybe there needs to be special funds for sending amateurs with promising results to professional meetings?

  3. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    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.

    [2] At least as far as I know; I'd be delighted to learn that I'm wrong.
    As this project was launched from the Galaxy Zoo forum (now frozen/closed), and as waveney (Richard Proctor) a regular, the development of the project can be followed fairly well. I'll quote just a few of the thousands of posts by waveney to illustrate (in every case, "source" is a link to the actual post, which often is longer than the extract I quote):

    "The Irregular galaxy project is a zooite run project, blessed by Chris. What is it about, how can you help? [...] There are thousands of irregular galaxies out there, some small and insignificant, others brights and dazzling. We have gathered them here in the forum, but none of the professional astronomers behind the Zoo is currently looking at them. This is a large group of galaxies, can we find anything about them? The largest study of irregulars to date looked at 161 of them, we have thousands... [...] Data will be released so anybody and everybody can look at it and try their own analysis. [...] I have integrated the draft data with SDSS (under CasJObs) so advanced searches can look at both what we have found and the original SDSS data on the objects (e.g. colour and size info).[...] Do this well, and we will have a proper scientific proper paper with Zooite names as authors 1,2,3... Chris says he is happy to act as supervisor. [...] This topic is for news about the project, " (source, December 09, 2008; "Chris" is Chris Lintott)

    This is the OP (opening post) of a thread entitled Do It Ourselves Science - The Irregulars Project. It looks - to me - like a terrific project description, almost good enough to be professional [1]. Admirable, too, is the explicit commitment to Open Science, from Day One.

    "Its about 700MLy away (200 Mpc), about 3x10E9 solar mass, Metallicity about 8.7, Forming stars at a rate of 5 x 10E-10 Stellar mass per year per solar mass of the galaxy (about 1.5 stars a year). It does not have an AGN." (source, March 07, 2010). "I just used the data for that galaxy and pushed it through the same anaylsis as I am subjecting the Irregulars to..." (source, March 07, 2010).

    15 months' or so later, these posts hint that waveney had a pretty good handle on how to access relevant online datasets, and understood what they mean.

    "The results of your clicks here is the starting data I am using for my research. This started as Do it ourselves Science, now I am taking this seriously and have applied to do a PhD. I have used the results of the first 5,500 objects that have had 10 clicks. In another 4000 clicks the next set of data will be useable (this will include most with spectra)." (source, January 06, 2011)

    Another 10 months' on, and waveney seems to be following the path no doubt many a citizen scientist before (and after) him traveled: strong interest+self-study -> enroll in an advanced degree program at a university. No mention of Chris being supervisor, nor of releasing the data; but that doesn't mean anything, right?

    "Note you are welcome to click on the images, but I am not currently collecting the results, watch for further announcements... (The clicks are recorded so I could go back and collect them if and when I need to or the number of new clicks justifies it)" (source, July 24, 2012)

    Nearly 18 months' later; this is waveney's last post in the Do It Ourselves Science - The Irregulars Project thread. ~3.5 years from "go to woe". Why "woe"? Here's waveney again, in a different thread:

    "I was completely screwed up by the OU at the end of last year, where what they said verbally did not match their burocratic actions. This lost me all interest in everything. To recap: According to what I had been told I had pased the criteria to start the PhD. But they had also changed the criteria, to a higher requirement (which I should have met - I don't know why the mark was as low as it was), then I was told there was another way, and I would be sent details - I am still waiting... I have spent some time doing other things, but having been away on holiday, and having had a nice relaxing time (and prompted by an email from bill), I am going to do this again somehow." (source, July 19, 2012)

    There's a bit of back-and-forth - the thread is called "Just Chat..." - too much to copy, but this post is worth a read.

    Just about the last three posts waveney wrote in the GZ forum - that seem to be related to this piece of citizen-led research - imply he really did get some interesting results:

    "Plot - that is what I expected
    Plot - I supose that is consistent (but it has a lot of noise) :-\
    Plot - this tells me very little, but does not contradict anything :-\
    Plot - Eh! Why is there a relationship here! I was not expecting one... ???
    " (source, August 27, 2012)

    Perhaps, originally, he had posted four images, of plots; however, there's nothing there now.

    "The actual relationship is between low mass and low metals. The fainter low mass irregulars are lost due to distance - leaving just the larger ones at distance. Larger ones, have higher metals Thus the apparent relationship is caused by the loss of detection (or at least having their spectra taken) rather than anything else." (source, August 29, 2012)

    "Plot, plot, plot, plot - ooh thats pretty! ;D (Ploting physical size of galaxies against mass using log scales)" (source, September 03, 2012)

    The end.

    From the public record, it seems that waveney - assisted by many zooites (citizen scientists) - did some original research (into Irregular galaxies), which could have been good enough for a PhD thesis. However, nothing was ever published (that I know of), and waveney did not get a PhD. Certainly the data was not released ("so anybody and everybody can look at it and try their own analysis") - at least, not that I know of.

    Again from the public record, I don't think we can draw any firm conclusions, ones that would help us to understand why there is essentially zero work being published by ('armchair') citizen scientists, but we can certainly say that at least some work was done.

    Also, we cannot possibly know - alternate history is not science - but the contrast with the Green Peas seems stark: on the one hand, a relatively short but intense online citizen scientist-led search (and discoveries) is followed by a published paper with 17 professionals as authors [2]; on the other, lengthy, sustained online citizen scientist-led research ends up nowhere. Scientifically, the two 'works' are, possibly, of comparable value, to our understanding of the "truth".

    [1] Or not; perhaps Amber Robot or ngc3314 could comment?
    [2] I have an important addition to make to my earlier post on this; later

  4. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    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]

    [...]

    [1] I expect - hope - that this will spark some discussion!
    Well, I got some 'private communications', as they say in the peer-reviewed papers; being private, I will not quote from them.

    This particular paper - published in MNRAS - is not behind a paywall (yay!), so anyone with the URL (and an internet connection) can access it; click here for the PDF version.

    Here are two extracts:
    Quote Originally Posted by Cardamone+ (2009), p1192
    The volunteers rapidly assembled over a hundred of these objects in a dedicated discussion thread.3

    3 We wish to thank the 'Peas Corps' for 'giving Peas a chance', including Elisabeth Baeten, Gemma Coughlin, Dan Goldstein, Brian Legg, Mark McCallum, Christian Manteuffel, Richard Nowell, Richard Proctor, Alice Sheppard and Hanny van Arkel.
    ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    We wish to thank the ‘Peas Corps’ for all their hard work, including Elisabeth Baeten, Gemma Coughlin, Dan Goldstein, Brian Legg, Mark McCallum, Christian Manteuffel, Richard Nowell, Richard Proctor, Alice Sheppard, Hanny van Arkel and Alice Sheppard for their help in gathering information about the discovery of the Peas in Galaxy Zoo.

  5. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    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.
    I did not do what you think I did. I hope that I have, in this thread, given the impression that I believe that amateur astronomers can contribute greatly to the field of astronomy. So, it is wrong to say that I think "the only real work" is that which has been published in the ApJ. However, it is also true that the leading edge of scientific research in astronomy and astrophysics is what is getting published in the mainstream journals and that is where it will get noticed and discussed. The reason why I single out the first author is because unless you know the group of scientists publishing a paper it can often be difficult to know the level of contribution being made by co-authors. I, for example, have written a paper with at least six co-authors, only one or two of whom contributed much to the paper at all. All of the analysis and virtually all of the writing was done by me, and some of the data preparation was done by one of the co-authors. There is a lot of politics that goes on in determining author lists. To get a paper published in one of these journals takes a lot more effort (for better or for worse) than the typical amateur is able (or willing) to put in. Professionals go through this effort because it is what allows for the advancement of their careers.

  6. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    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"?
    I am not familiar with Astrophysics and Space Science, so I can't really comment on its qualification as "major" or not. I will note that this paper, according to the NASA ADS database, has only one citation in the six years since its publication (though I admit that the ADS doesn't track all citations).

    Actually, I just took a look at their website and I note that in their most recent issue one of my close colleagues (who is certainly a reputable scientist) has published a work, though it does appear to be a special issue on a particular field and so he may have published there as a response to a call for papers on that subject. But given his publication (and some from others who I know) I would say that it should qualify as a major journal. Often the choice of which journal to publish in rests on many factors.

    Looking at the contents for a couple of other issues (standard issues) I note a couple of things: the topics are varied (thus I cannot get a sense of the journal because I'm unfamiliar with the names of scientists in these other fields) and it seems many (if not most) authors are not from the United States. Again the choice of journal rests on many things and there may be a reason why non-US scientists are using this journal more than others and why US scientists use the ones they do.

    I do think that amateurs can publish in major journals, but for those journals that are peer-reviewed the bar is set high and it takes a lot of time and effort to produce work of the quality that will pass the peer review, and many, if not most, amateurs do not have that kind of time available (at least if they're not getting paid for it -- if they were they'd be professionals).

  7. #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    As this project was launched from the Galaxy Zoo forum (now frozen/closed), and as waveney (Richard Proctor) a regular, the development of the project can be followed fairly well. I'll quote just a few of the thousands of posts by waveney to illustrate (in every case, "source" is a link to the actual post, which often is longer than the extract I quote): [...]
    (my bold)

    And, almost inevitably, I missed many that are of ~the same importance as the ones I quoted. Even given the narrow scope of my post. Again, my thanks to (private communication). Here are some key ones, covering 'the middle period' (pretty much the year 2011):

    Waveneys PhD Blog is, as you'd expect, full of details of his decision to apply, and what happened subsequently. From the OP (January 16, 2011; formatting compressed): "I have applied to do a part time PhD taking the irregular galaxy study a lot further, doing it properly. Kevin has suggested I blog it here, so you can see what I am doing, question me on it. Posts will be made intemittantly... What I have done so far is: Before the PhD Jules, Aida, Alice and I started the Irregular Hunt two years ago to look at the irregular galaxies found in the forum. I wrote a website to get them sorted into irregulars and non-irregulars. See the Do It Ourselves Science - The Irregulars Project topic. We have nearly 20,000 candidates, 5,500 of which have been classified so far. Jules has written a paper on their distribution, I have written papers on colour properties of irregular galaxies, their metallicity, masses and star-forming rates, hunted for AGNs (none found so far in irregulars), the equivalent width of the [OIII] 5007Å line, and the non-applicability of Photo Z algorithms to irregulars. I am currently studying galaxy density around irregulars, and am looking for clusters of irregulars." [1]

    I do not know what he means by "Jules has written a paper on their distribution, I have written papers on ...", but I cannot find any such papers, anywhere in the GZ forum, nor referenced in ADS. This is, obviously, a great pity. I'll see if I can contact Jules to find out more.

    The Galaxy Zoo blog has a post on waveney and his PhD: Taking Citizen Science Seriously ("Today’s post is from forum member Waveney who is embarking on his own science project:", January 11, 2011) This is very well worth reading, and highly pertinent to this thread; a detailed account of exactly what it is like for a citizen scientist to try to do independent work. I'll quote just one small part "What is being found should be published – how does one do it? When the project had Chris as a supervisor the route was clear, I need to work with somebody in academia so I can present results, bounce ideas off, get ideas from and work with. Relying on the spare time of Zookeepers is not a satisfactory option" [1] On February 05, 2011 waveney was asked "what question are you asking in this PhD?" His answer, less than an hour later, seems to me like he intended to do some good science, well worth being published.

    "While waiting for the results of the OU unit I took earlier this year, and the formal course start in Janurary, I have not been idle. I have spent most spare hours in the last 10 days reworking a lot of the research I did a couple of years ago and being a lot more rigorous. I started by [...] All together this has shown that irregulars for many properties sit between Spirals and Peas. I am now writing this up in MUCH more detail than I did before. I have not yet used the sub classifications - this will come. Once I have finished this write up I will be pulling multi-spectral data in from every survey I can to build up a large pile of data from Radio to X-ray to take the analysis a lot further." (source, November 20, 2011)

    We know, from a later post that I copied in my earlier post (above), that not long after this waveney's PhD program came to a crashing end. From the GZ forum posts, and blog (and comments thereto) we know he had a great deal of support, from both ordinary citizen scientists and professionals [2] , both moral and practical. Yet it was all for nothing.

    I'd like to close this post by mentioning two things: 1) ~three years' of hard work, by hundreds of people (citizen scientists) has been lost; waveney published no papers, and the data he collected - from the zooites' clicks - is not public. 2) Hundreds, possibly thousands, of citizen scientists witnessed waveney's, um, experience No doubt their enthusiasm for doing independent research dimmed somewhat.

    [1] "Kevin" is Kevin Schawinski, a 'Zookeeper'. Chris is Chris Lintott, also a zookeeper. The zookeepers were (these terms are no longer used, now that the forum is closed) the seven (?) original members of the Galaxy Zoo Science Team
    [2] In the posts I've copied, there are just a few mentioned; in the ones I didn't copy you can see just how extensive his support, from professionals, was

  8. #38
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    Thanks Amber Robot.

    Quote Originally Posted by Amber Robot View Post
    I did not do what you think I did. I hope that I have, in this thread, given the impression that I believe that amateur astronomers can contribute greatly to the field of astronomy. So, it is wrong to say that I think "the only real work" is that which has been published in the ApJ.
    Sorry, yes, I was perhaps a bit too provocative (though I did say "by implication (even if unintended)"). This is an area I'd like to explore in much more detail, but also not just now.

    However, it is also true that the leading edge of scientific research in astronomy and astrophysics is what is getting published in the mainstream journals and that is where it will get noticed and discussed.
    Not wanting to put words in your mouth (these then are my own words), the reality of astronomy, as a science, is that it's hierarchical; there are 'leading' journals, there is 'leading edge' research, and so on; there are 'good but second tier' journals, there is 'good, but second tier' research, and so on; etc.

    As has already been articulated, in this thread, by you and ngc3314, there are very considerable barriers in the way of (independent) work done by citizen scientists [1] being published in such journals. Some of those barriers are certainly closely tied to the actual science; some have, just as certainly, essentially nothing to do with the actual science.

    The reason why I single out the first author is because unless you know the group of scientists publishing a paper it can often be difficult to know the level of contribution being made by co-authors. I, for example, have written a paper with at least six co-authors, only one or two of whom contributed much to the paper at all. All of the analysis and virtually all of the writing was done by me, and some of the data preparation was done by one of the co-authors. There is a lot of politics that goes on in determining author lists.
    Thank you for this. I can't say it's entirely an eye-opener for me, but it seems very much inconsistent with what I think is a widespread view of how science (in general) works. Well, a view held by non-professionals, who do not also have close friends or relatives who are professionals. It might be interesting to find out just where in the first-degree/masters/PhD progression the politics of paper writing and publishing becomes known, understood, and accepted [2]

    To get a paper published in one of these journals takes a lot more effort (for better or for worse) than the typical amateur is able (or willing) to put in. Professionals go through this effort because it is what allows for the advancement of their careers.
    Pretty darn off-putting, sure. If you love doing astronomy (research), if you think life is short [3], and if you know just what a huge time-sink getting your (perfectly good, science-wise) results published will be, why should/would you bother?

    Maybe the answer to my question (Why is there essentially zero work being done by Citizen Scientists?) is "it's not so much that citizen scientists don't do (good, scientifically-sound/valuable) work; rather it's that they don't often try to get it published"?

    [1] of the galacsi 'armchair' kind; as already discussed, the amateurs with their own telescopes, cameras etc often have their own, well-established channels for getting such work published.
    [2] there are some obvious parallels with what Nicole wrote in her blog post, Who, How, and Why? And also, no doubt, an awful lot of research on how certain cultural norms (let's say) later viewed rather negatively (let's say) were tolerated and accepted at the time
    [3] look at all those retired citizen scientists, per Who, How, and Why? After a full career, why would any of them want the stress that is obviously involved in getting independent research published in a peer-reviewed journal (leading or not)?

  9. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    Not wanting to put words in your mouth (these then are my own words), the reality of astronomy, as a science, is that it's hierarchical; there are 'leading' journals, there is 'leading edge' research, and so on; there are 'good but second tier' journals, there is 'good, but second tier' research, and so on; etc.
    This is likely true in a sociological sense. What is considered "leading research" is often a mixture of what the scientific community believes is "important" and how funding is being distributed. Once a certain sub-field starts becoming 'important' and money starts going its way (e.g., exoplanet research) then a lot of scientists start moving in that direction. "Follow the money" -- professionals still need to get paid. If anything, amateurs have more freedom to explore whatever science interests them than professionals do.


    As has already been articulated, in this thread, by you and ngc3314, there are very considerable barriers in the way of (independent) work done by citizen scientists [1] being published in such journals. Some of those barriers are certainly closely tied to the actual science; some have, just as certainly, essentially nothing to do with the actual science.
    I hope that I'm not being too negative about the prospects of amateurs getting published. The barriers can all be overcome, it just takes significant effort. For example, go click on any random paper on astro-ph and read the introduction paragraphs. You'll get a sense of what kind of knowledge and understanding of a given topic one has to have in order to be able to approach a particular scientific question with the appropriate level of context.


    Thank you for this. I can't say it's entirely an eye-opener for me, but it seems very much inconsistent with what I think is a widespread view of how science (in general) works. Well, a view held by non-professionals, who do not also have close friends or relatives who are professionals. It might be interesting to find out just where in the first-degree/masters/PhD progression the politics of paper writing and publishing becomes known, understood, and accepted [2]
    I'm sure this greatly depends on the nature of the work being published, the source of the data, the makeup of the group of co-authors, etc. I think eventually once you write enough papers and hear stories about what's happening with other people's papers you start to realize this.

    Pretty darn off-putting, sure. If you love doing astronomy (research), if you think life is short [3], and if you know just what a huge time-sink getting your (perfectly good, science-wise) results published will be, why should/would you bother?
    The amount of work to get published can vary greatly depending on the nature of the research being done. If, for example, an amateur has a telescope setup that allows a high degree of photometric stability and is studying variable stars that no one else is looking at, I could imagine getting that research published without too much difficulty. Often it's a matter of keeping the scope of a paper limited in such a way as to not require the deeper understanding and background knowledge that a professional might have. In theory, a paper should be published based on its content and its value to the field. Even simple observations without much linkage to a big picture can pass that bar.

    Maybe the answer to my question (Why is there essentially zero work being done by Citizen Scientists?) is "it's not so much that citizen scientists don't do (good, scientifically-sound/valuable) work; rather it's that they don't often try to get it published"?
    The flipside to what I just said is that there's a particular language and vernacular that is used in scientific publications and one would have to learn that and become not necessarily fluent but educated enough to know how to write a reviewable paper.

    Anyway, I'm sure I could talk about this kind of stuff for a long time. I think it's important to keep science and scientific research as consumable by the general public, and especially "citizen scientists", as possible. I think that, for standard human reasons, this can often be difficult, or at least not handled in the best manner by those doing the scientific research.

  10. #40
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    Thanks Amber Robot; I've now got two very good posts of yours to respond to.

    Which I will, but probably not today; in this post I'd like to mention an interesting Pro-CS (professional-citizen science) alliance, the SpaceWarps project.

    It's a project whose aim is to identify good gravitational lens candidates from images taken by the likes of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, using citizen scientists' superb pattern recognition skills. The project has both a blog and a discussion forum, and is included in Marshall+ (2014) [1] in Section 3.2 ("Classification Analysis"). It was publicly announced in June 2012, and went live in May 2013; however, papers on the project are still "in prep." (as far as I know; that's what is says in Marshall+ 2014).

    What makes this project unique - so far, as far as I know - is that the Science Team includes several citizen scientists; see the blog post A Postcard from Zurich and the list of team members in the project website itself! How did Phil Marshall, the project PI, select these citizen scientists? I do not know, and as far as I know there's no public information on that topic, but they all seem to have been very active in the Galaxy Zoo forum thread, Possible strong gravitational lenses, prior to June 2012.

    As there's nothing published yet, from this project [2], we don't know who the authors will be.

    There is, however, a curious mention in Marshall+ (2014), related to the project and an independent citizen-scientist-led activity; I'll discuss that in my next post.

    [1] Check this thread for details of how to access this. Somewhat off-topic question: the v1 arXiv 'publication' is definitely 2014; however, the peer-reviewed version is unlikely to be published until 2015. Does this mean there are two publications? or just one? And if the latter, how should it be referred to?
    [2] That I know of anyway. The project website doesn't mention any publications, nor does the 'parent' Zooniverse Publications one.

  11. #41
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    I, personally, have not been involved in any big data astronomical projects, so I'm not familiar with the efforts of a lot of these projects to which you refer. I don't even know much about Galaxy Zoo, though I do know some people who have been involved.

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    Somewhat belatedly returning to this excellent post by Amber Robot.

    Quote Originally Posted by Amber Robot View Post
    I am not familiar with Astrophysics and Space Science, so I can't really comment on its qualification as "major" or not. I will note that this paper, according to the NASA ADS database, has only one citation in the six years since its publication (though I admit that the ADS doesn't track all citations).

    Actually, I just took a look at their website and I note that in their most recent issue one of my close colleagues (who is certainly a reputable scientist) has published a work, though it does appear to be a special issue on a particular field and so he may have published there as a response to a call for papers on that subject. But given his publication (and some from others who I know) I would say that it should qualify as a major journal. Often the choice of which journal to publish in rests on many factors.

    Looking at the contents for a couple of other issues (standard issues) I note a couple of things: the topics are varied (thus I cannot get a sense of the journal because I'm unfamiliar with the names of scientists in these other fields) and it seems many (if not most) authors are not from the United States. Again the choice of journal rests on many things and there may be a reason why non-US scientists are using this journal more than others and why US scientists use the ones they do.

    I do think that amateurs can publish in major journals, but for those journals that are peer-reviewed the bar is set high and it takes a lot of time and effort to produce work of the quality that will pass the peer review, and many, if not most, amateurs do not have that kind of time available (at least if they're not getting paid for it -- if they were they'd be professionals).
    I was curious about the three authors, Ari Jokimäki, Harley Orr, and David G. Russell. We know - I think - that none of them were (at the time) professionals, and that they published a paper in Astrophysics and Space Science (Ap&SS).

    Did any of them also publish other papers? In the same journal, or others; before, or later.

    ADS tells me Ari Jokimäki has just one astronomy paper to his name, and Harley Orr also likely just one [1]. For David G. Russell, however, it's a very different story.

    That's a relatively common name, so it's not that surprising that ADS gives 41 'hits'. Among them, though, are several which do seem to have 'this' David G. Russell as an author: [2]

    • Arp&Russell (2001), ApJ, "A Possible Relationship between Quasars and Clusters of Galaxies" 21 cites
    • Russell (2002), ApJ, "The H I Line Width/Linear Diameter Relationship as an Independent Test of the Hubble Constant" 25 cites
    • Russell (2004), ApJ, "Morphological Type Dependence in the Tully-Fisher Relationship" 11 cites
    • Russell (2005), Ap&SS, "Evidence for Intrinsic Redshifts in Normal Spiral Galaxies" 6 cites
    • Russell (2005), Ap&SS, "Further Evidence for Intrinsic Redshifts in Normal Spiral Galaxies" 3 cites
    • Russell (2005), Ap&SS, "Intrinsic Redshifts and the Tully-Fisher Distance Scale" 4 cites
    • Russell (2009), Journal of Astrophysics and Astronomy (JApA), "The Ks-band Tully-Fisher Relation — A determination of the Hubble parameter from 218 ScI galaxies and 16 galaxy clusters" 1 cite


    It would seem that David Russell, an independent researcher, was able to publish several papers in peer-reviewed journals, including the leading ApJ.

    [1] There's another by an H. Orr, but I think it's a different person.
    [2] This list is not necessarily 100% accurate or complete; also, ADS does not have every published astronomy paper in its database

  13. #43
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    I know that the modern work by Arp and colleagues is mostly related to attempting to disprove the cosmological origin of high-redshift quasars. But I think you should look at their publications as showing that even the 'against the mainstream' folks could get published if they tried to follow the standard publishing "etiquette".

  14. #44
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    Finally a chance to lead with a quote from ngc3314's excellent post!

    Quote Originally Posted by ngc3314 View Post
    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.
    Many, perhaps nearly all, CQuestians reading this thread will have heard about 'SOHO comets' [1]. It's informal citizen scientist work with predates just about all other web-based astronomy ones, a kind of amateur astronomer's paradise, but where the data come from dedicated solar observatories in space, such as SOHO. A great many of the comets discovered have been found by citizen scientists, who have downloaded videos, and used their own eyeballs to find moving objects; for some, home-grown video processing software augmented the eyeballs.

    A great many of these comets belong to the Kreutz groupWP, thought to have once been a single object which fragmented; spectacular members of this group include Ikeya-Seki (1965).

    However, not all the 'SOHO comets' belong to the Kreutz group; in particular there a few 'sunskirting' groups, so-called because the perihelion distances are considerably greater than those of the sungrazers. Two such groups were discovered by amateur/citizen scientist Rainer Kracht; he has his own website, on which you can read a detailed timeline of his discoveries.

    But are the groups which bear his name simply to honor his discovery of the first group members? Or did he do more? Sekanina&Chodas (2005) "Origin of the Marsden and Kracht Groups of Sunskirting Comets. I. Association with Comet 96P/Machholz and Its Interplanetary Complex" paints an interesting story [2]:

    "Next, R. Kracht suggested a loose association between two other SOHO comets, C/1999 M3 and C/2000 O3, whose lines of apsides agree to within ~3° (Marsden 2002c), even though their nodal lines differ by nearly 20°. Kracht also argued that there is a relationship between the Marsden group and the pair of C/1999 M3 and C/2000 O3. Then, Marsden (2002d) remarked on a possible association of C/1999 N6 with C/1999 M3 and Kracht pointed out that C/2001 Q7 may be a yet another member of the Marsden population (Marsden 2002e). At that time, in 2002 March, Marsden suggested that C/1999 M3, C/1999 N6, C/2000 O3, and C/2001 Q7 belong to the Kracht group (Marsden 2002e), three more members of which were reported some four months later (Marsden 2002f)."

    These "Marsden 2002c-f" references are Minor Planet Electronic Circulars; for example, 2002e is MPEC 2002-F43, where the term "the Kracht group" is used. Kracht's own description of the discovery reads (see link above):

    "2002 Mar 19 turned out to be a very special day: While working with the 1999 August SOHO images I found three new comets (one Meyer and a pair of Marsden group comets) and later noticed that the apparent track of my first SOHO comet (C/2001 Q7, found in realtime images of 2001 Aug 21) was close to the track of C/1999 M3. I wrote about this to Maik the next day. He confirmed that C/2001 Q7 could have an orbit between C/1999 M3 and C/2000 O3. Maik gave some useful hints on how to derive an orbit and I could find a new orbit for my first comet on Mar 21. I computed the new orbit, Brian Marsden accepted the orbit and wrote "Indeed, we could say that these four comets belong to the Kracht group"".

    Kracht certainly had help - particularly from Brian Marsden - but not only was he first to spot the comets which later would be called members of the Kracht group, but he computed the orbits himself.

    The broader context then: while 'armchair' citizen scientists had not previously done any observing of sungrazing/sunskirting comets, they quickly embraced SOHO images and videos, and discovered the majority of such objects. Further, some discovered new groups, through their own analyses. This seems to have happened seamlessly because a framework for such discoveries and analyses already existed, and because an especially dedicated and energetic professional astronomer, the late Brian Marsden, enthusiastically supported them. Just as ngc3314 said.

    [1] Sungrazer Project is a website which provides a good introduction and many details.
    [2] The peer-reviewed journal which this appears in is ApJS; the published paper is not behind a paywall

  15. #45
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amber Robot View Post
    [...] 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.).
    Quote Originally Posted by ngc3314 View Post
    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.
    I had a look at MNRAS, A&A, and AJ, which I think are three of the leading peer-reviewed astronomy journals; in particular, I looked at their requirements for submission of papers, and charges.

    My impression is that citizen scientists most certainly do face barriers which professionals do not (or at least the same barriers for the latter are much lower)! One such is cost; with the limited exception of A&A [1], a citizen scientist' authored paper would cost ~1 laptop (a convenient currency; that's about the cost of data acquisition). And it would have to come from their own pocket, unlike for professionals where the money would come from grants or their institution.

    Again on this: "easily risk missing a piece of knowledge that they didn't realize would be relevant (not having encountered it yet)"

    At least for extra-galactic astronomy, it seems that most relevant papers can be obtained for free, or at least there are preprints (which are free); so hunting for these missing pieces of knowledge costs little more than time. However, it seems that in some other fields in astronomy, citizen scientists are not so lucky.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    [...] However, not all the 'SOHO comets' belong to the Kreutz group; in particular there a few 'sunskirting' groups, so-called because the perihelion distances are considerably greater than those of the sungrazers. Two such groups were discovered by amateur/citizen scientist Rainer Kracht; he has his own website, on which you can read a detailed timeline of his discoveries.

    But are the groups which bear his name simply to honor his discovery of the first group members? Or did he do more? Sekanina&Chodas (2005) "Origin of the Marsden and Kracht Groups of Sunskirting Comets. I. Association with Comet 96P/Machholz and Its Interplanetary Complex" paints an interesting story [2]:
    [...]
    [2] The peer-reviewed journal which this appears in is ApJS; the published paper is not behind a paywall
    A possibly very significant paper which cites Sekanina&Chodas (2005) - and so very relevant if you're researching the Kracht group(s) - is Lamy+ (2013), "Sunskirting comets discovered with the LASCO coronagraphs over the decade 1996–2008". There is no arXiv preprint (or at least not one in ADS), and at least this Icarus paper is not free, to citizen scientists. It wouldn't take many Icarus-like papers before the cost of your paper reached ~2 laptops.

    Here we will list the science papers and abstracts that are published based on your work with Moon Mappers!
    [...]
    Stuart J. Robbins, Irene Antonenko, Michelle R. Kirchoff, Clark R. Chapman, Caleb I. Fassett, Robert R. Herrick, Kelsi Singer, Michael Zanetti, Cory Lehan, Di Huang, Pamela L. Gay. 2014. The variability of crater identification among expert and community crater analysts. Icarus, 234, 109. Read the preprint on ArXiv. Read it in Icarus (subscription required).
    [...]
    (source)

    Yep, that's right; a paper based on CosmoQuestians' freely given clicks (and impossible without them) cannot be read, by those citizen scientists, unless they have a subscription. (though the arXiv preprint is free).

    [1] "Page charges are not requested if the first author is affiliated with one of the countries that sponsor A&A."

  16. #46
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    Some newly published work done with the help of Citizen Science Planet Hunters

    Yale Press Release


    For their latest discovery, Yale astronomers and the Planet Hunter program have found a low-mass, low-density planet with a punctuality problem.

    The new planet, called PH3c, is located 2,300 light years from Earth and has an atmosphere loaded with hydrogen and helium. It is described in the Oct. 29 online edition of The Astrophysical Journal.

    The elusive orb nearly avoided detection. This is because PH3c has a highly inconsistent orbit time around its sun, due to the gravitational influence of other planets in its system. “On Earth, these effects are very small, only on the scale of one second or so,” said Joseph Schmitt, a Yale graduate student and first author of the paper. “PH3c’s orbital period changed by 10.5 hours in just 10 orbits.”

    That inconsistency kept it from being picked up by automated computer algorithms that search stellar light curves and identify regular dips caused by objects passing in front of stars.

    Luckily, Planet Hunters came to the rescue. The program, which has found more than 60 planet candidates since 2010, enlists citizen scientists to check survey data from the Kepler spacecraft. Planet Hunters recently unveiled a new website and an expanded scientific mission.
    At night the stars put on a show for free (Carole King)

    All moderation in purple - The rules

  17. #47
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    I am reminded of a thing that the late radio astronomer Don Backer used to say to us in the field when we were griping over how HARD everything was: "If it was easy, it would have been done already." This came up in a recent discussion of professional astronomers, educators, and amateur astronomers trying to come up with an idea for a good radio astronomy, tech-focused citizen science project. Unfortunately, most of the low-hanging fruit, observationally, has been picked, so to speak.

    Now, I think you're talking about something else, that is, using the data that is already available from all these big telescopes to do science and engage citizen scientists in every step of finding the research question, designing the analysis, doing the analysis and, yes, even helping to write the paper. ngc3314 and others bring up excellent points already about academic publishing being super-weird to navigate, and the whole process of research being one that takes training. But I think a lot of people in the citizen science community (at least a few I've talked to) want to include citizen scientists in all those stages, as certainly there are some who would and could take on that kind of work.

    I don't know if there's an easy answer, but co-publishing platforms like Authorea provide at least the tools to do so. A dedicated communicator and manager is needed, I think, to keep the project moving and incorporate all the input from members. I admit I've only thought about it on my "off times" but it's something worth working towards.

  18. #48
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    Improving the efficiency of SDRAGN discovery, an open discussion is a thread I started recently, over in Radio Galaxy Zoo Talk.

    Here's the OP:


    How can ordinary zooites and professionals (RGZ science team members, and more) organize themselves to do 'SDRAGN research' more effectively?

    Background: In RGZ, SDRAGNs ('spiral double radio active galactic nuclei') are one of the big, ordinary zooite-led, discoveries, along with giants, hybrids, and more. Ray Norris' post - OP of the Hourglass sources associated with spiral galaxies thread - 13 months' ago kicked this off. Many candidates have been posted, and some have been investigated.

    Motivation: However, the hunt is not very open, nor particularly systematic; there are few goals (beyond the vague 'find candidates'), etc. And if I were to be run over by the proverbial bus tomorrow, much of the work would be lost (I've posted far less to Talk than I have in my offline databases, for example).

    Action: I'd like to kick off a conversation on how we could do better. And that's what this thread is.

    Goal? To have something concrete to start discussing, how about, as a goal, an at least provisional agreement on how to 'publish' what's been discovered (and researched) so far, re SDRAGN candidates (and to what extent that publication should be open, or not)?

    One additional point of interest, for this as a goal, is that it might bring into the open some of the peculiarities of how astronomy-as-science is actually done, and also encourage greater involvement.

    Thoughts?
    It's pretty relevant to this thread, and my fellow CQuestians may enjoy reading, perhaps even joining in, the discussion.

    (I did think of posting this to some thread on Open Science; however, it seems there is no such thread, in the CQ forum (or did I miss it/them?).)

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