Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Lecture Tonight on Citizen Science!

February 10, 2010

Sometimes when I point out the owls or other animals in the park to a passerby I am asked if I am a biologist, ornithologist or other professional scientist in the life sciences. On a interesting psychological/sociological note, I tend to get asked this question more when I have a beard, as I do now, than when I am clean shaven! I answer that I am not but am an amateur or inspired amateur naturalist.

While this answer is correct, a better answer might be to say that I am a citizen scientist; a non-professional doing work in a scientific field. In my textual research on owls and birds in general, I have read numerous times in books and journals of the important contributions that citizen scientists have made and continue to make to ornithology.

Tonight as part of the Academy of Science-St. Louis' Science Seminar Series, there is a lecture at the St. Louis Zoo tonight on the subject of citizen science. I will be attending and hope to see some fellow owlficiandos/park fans there! Here's more information:

Feb 10th, 2010 (Wed)
Citizen Science: From the Cosmos to Coneflowers— The Story of How Ordinary People Are Enabling Large Scale Discovery

Time: 7:30 PM - 9:00 PM

Pamela Gay, Ph.D., Astronomer, Assistant Research Professor, Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville; Co-Host, Astronomy Cast; Team Member, Galaxy Zoo

We live in a new age of technology-driven science, with new instruments and new computers that allow us to collect more information – more images, more DNA profiles, more environmental sensor data, than ever before. With this flood of information, scientists are no longer able to explore all the images, all the data, on their own, so more and more – science is turning to the public and requesting help. From the discovery of rare “Green Pea” galaxies to the first sighting in fourteen years of a rare non-spotted ladybug in the Northeastern U.S., ordinary citizens are contributing to discoveries in science.

It is possible to get involved in meaningful science either by going online or by going outside. The Galaxy Zoo project invites people to help astronomers better understand our evolving universe by classifying online galaxy images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Rather be outside? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a variety of bird counting projects to help track the population of birds around the United States. Starting with the original citizen science projects begun by Benjamin Franklin, astronomer, writer, and podcaster, Pamela Gay, talks about citizens and science, the problem of data flood, and the ways ordinary citizens today can, and do, contribute to the pursuit of scientific discovery.

Photo © Pamela Gay

All Seminars are held in The Living World (north side of Zoo)
Parking FREE in Zoo North Lot.


For more information call 314-533-8586 or email mbauer@academyofsciencestl.org

Science Seminar Series Co-sponsored by:

I first heard the term citizen science in 2006. After watching the owls just shy of nine months I led my first my owl prowl on Labor Day weekend 2006,. The prowl was part of the 2006 St. Louis Bioblitz. The Bioblitz is a twenty-four hour snapshot survey/census of all the flora, fauna, soil, and water in Forest Park. I had gone on an owl prowl and reptile expedition on the 2004 St. Louis Bioblitz. I was excited and nervous to be leading an expedition. Excited because as it was the first owl prowl I had ever led it was a culmination of all the field work and research I had done up to that point. Nervous because on each of the three nights prior to the Bioblitz, I did not see Charles, Sarah or either of the two owlets they had that year!

Thankfully, all went well. I had a great group with me and they were understanding when I explained that I had not seen any of the owls over the preceding three nights. So when one of the owlets appeared just as we got to The Wooded Area, the group was especially happy to see this owlet. The owlet stayed around for about twenty minutes. It groomed, stretched and begged providing great examples of their behavior and inspiration for questions and comments.

After the owlet flew away I showed them where Sarah had nested and where Charles' hollow had been before it was damaged in a series of storms earlier that year. We walked back to the registration tent and I showed them some pictures I had taken over the months. Everyone in the group was enthusiastic and we all went on our way with smiles on our faces. I exhaled, happy that this prowl had gone well.

It turned out that the group was even happier with the prowl and me than I thought. I learned in January 2007 that the prowl had been so well received that I was the clear choice for the Bioblitz Citizen Award, one of two awards given to Bioblitz expedition leaders. To say that I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement and I gratefully accepted the award at a Bioblitz follow-up event and ceremony at the St. Louis Zoo. The award occupies a place of pride on my mantel next to a great owl statue from Ireland made from peat bog wood that my mom gave me.


  1. Hope you find much inspiration at tonights lecture. Up here on the Downeast Coast of Maine we also do our best to engage everyday folks with the best teachers, our flora and fauna. Here's to their ability to instill awe and wonder!

    Keep up the great work in Forest Park and may your thermos and gloves always keep you warm...


  2. Many thanks for the good wishes, Darrin! The lecture was excellent and inspiring. I hope things are going well in Maine!