Science: A Communal Effort

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It’s a nice, sunny day out on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, USA, and avid hiker David Helms is on a mission. He walks mile after mile until stopping suddenly at what seems like the middle of nowhere. Pulling out a global position system device, he checks his own location as he leaves the safety of the trail and ventures out into a foray of trees and brush. Pushing aside leaves and branches, he finds a track of deer prints and shuffles back and forth along this animal trial until eventually coming across a camera. A camera that he himself had fixed to the tree last month. Quickly, he switches the memory card, puts in fresh batteries, moves the camera to a new location, checks that its motion sensor is properly functioning, and sets back out to continue his afternoon hike. He plans to return next month and repeat this, taking his wife and family friend with him to perform the monthly ritual.
This is David Helms, the 2008 president of the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club in Lynchburg. He is an average, ordinary human being with a penchant for taking irrationally long walks through natural areas. Once a month, as part of his hike, he collects data from motion-sensing cameras placed along the Appalachian Trail for the National Zoo’s Conservation and Researcher Center’s wildlife ecologist William McShea, as part of McShea’s study on what animals live along this iconic hiking trail (Cohn, 2008). This is the power of citizen science, a practice employed by many major organizations that allows the everyday person to volunteer and be part of a scientific study.
The idea of using everyday citizens to conduct major scientific research is one that has seen great results, but has also been met with skepticism from ...

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