We the People have brains, and we’re not afraid to use them!
At HeroX we believe in the democratization of science. Though science of course is a profession, it is also a hobby for millions of curious minds around the world. Albert Einstein once famously remarked, “Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one's living at it.” And though he was half kidding, he was also illuminating the fact that when there is no professional obligation, it frees one up to be curious for curiosity’s sake.
In her TEDx talk in Greensboro, NC., Dr. Caren Cooper talks about the need for us to change our perspective about what science is, and who is in charge of it. One of the longstanding stereotypes about science is that it is lofty. It takes place out of sight, behind closed doors. With science, you have to choose which side of the door to be on, and you’re either all in or all out. If you’re all in you get the privilege and responsibility to advance knowledge, otherwise, you’re an outsider.
But what if we eliminate that door and blow up that barrier? What would it be like if science was accessible--if it happened out in the open every day, everywhere? The truth is, citizen science may not have always had a name, but it has been an important part of scientific history for hundreds of years.
A great example of a citizen science project is the study of monarch butterflies and the revelation that they migrate from the midwest to Mexico in fall and return in spring. That discovery was possible because thousands of people had been capturing and tagging monarchs for decades, noting the data. The first tagged monarch to show up in Mexico was tagged by a schoolteacher in Minnesota and two of his teenage students. And thanks to this ongoing effort, we now know that the migratory population of monarch butterflies is declining rapidly.
At HeroX we engage the global community of curious minds. Technology has enabled not only a forum for online citizen science, but it has also given us some really neat tools (those cameras/phones/calculators we all have in our back pockets!) to share our observations, come up with hypotheses, and test them out in the world. We--along with our devices--become part of a network, taking the pulse of the planet. From ecological, environmental, and green energy pursuits, thousands of citizen scientists have proven that they can be just as passionate and dedicated as any professional scientist.
It’s such an exciting time for innovation and there are so many critical challenges facing the world today, we really don’t have the luxury of waiting for a few hero scientists to save the day. Citizen science can look like it’s about volunteers in service to science, but it’s really about making sure that science is serving people.