Citizen Science: Becoming involved in serious science, even if you're not an expert

My column on today explores citizen science: serious, peer-reviewed research that relies on the contributions of ordinary individuals. While the projects range from cosmology to zoology, there are plenty of psychology projects too:

Project Implicit is an ongoing series of experiments into the nature of human bias, hosted by Harvard University but incorporating research from around the world. The idea behind these studies is that people won't always overtly express their biases. For example, in most communities in the US it is socially unacceptable to be overtly racist. Even so, people often make negative assumptions about people based solely on perceived race. The implicit attitude test measures your reaction time as you categorize words, faces, or other stimuli. If you're faster to categorize a certain-race face with negative words, then it stands to reason that you may be implicitly--even unconsciously--biased against that race, though you might never admit or realize it.

The experiment I tried concerned hypothetical races, "Niffian" and "Laapian," and was conducted by Anna Newheiser of Yale University. I was immediately able to learn that I had a strong preference for one of these imaginary races. According to the website, this experiment may reveal more about how people respond to real races. Project Implicit has been responsible for dozens of research papers about bias, including this one discussed on my blog, about how children develop racial stereotypes.

The article lists other citizen science projects you can try so go ahead and read the whole thing. If you're looking for even more projects, check out Science Cheerleader's Project Finder.

Also, in case you missed it, here are my weekly picks of psychology/neuroscience posts from


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Something about that 'it stands to reason' sounds iffy. Is there perhaps a slightly more rigorous reason to believe that?

By Idlethought (not verified) on 16 Dec 2009 #permalink

I find this problematic for the simple fact that most citizens may not know enough to contribute.

By Katharine (not verified) on 16 Dec 2009 #permalink

i.e. You don't want a bunch of people who don't know the nuanced bits of antibodies writing a paper about monoclonal antibodies.

By Katharine (not verified) on 16 Dec 2009 #permalink

I'm not sure I completely understand how Project Implicit is an example of Citizen Science. They run basic, run-of-the-mill experiments that happen to be hosted online. So instead of signing up for an appointment at the lab, you can participate in person.

I'm a huge fan of Web-based experiments, but I thought Citizen Science meant amateur scientists actually conducting science, not just being participants in science.

I think you miss the point. If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
The change to citizen science changes the questions that get asked.
People who are into it don't really care about monoclonal antibodies.

Somebody who is trained in statistics and sits at eHarmony can be much more productive than some psychology Phd who sits in some lab.
Having enough data means that there not much time involved in setting up experiments.

Once you have people gathering data the data often can speak for itself.
Gathering data becomes cheaper and cheaper for citizens outside of academia.

And really a large portion of the work of academics also doesn't contribute to anything that will be productive in the real world.

By ChristianK (not verified) on 16 Dec 2009 #permalink

Another example of citizen science is Project Budburst, in which participants help track climate change.

To learn more about the growing and very serious field of citizen science, and see a list of projects, go to, and/or see the December issues of Bioscience.

By Rick Bonney (not verified) on 17 Dec 2009 #permalink