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Copyright © 2007 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance.
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The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Lakshminarayanan, S. 2007. Using citizens to do science versus citizens as scientists. Ecology and Society 12(2): r2. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol12/iss2/resp2/

Response to Cooper et al. 2007. “Citizen Science as a Tool for Conservation in Residential Ecosystems.

Using Citizens to Do Science Versus Citizens as Scientists

Shyamal Lakshminarayanan

Key words: citizen science

Cooper et al. (2007) make a distinction between “citizen science” and “participatory action research” based on spatial scale, and it appears that the former is defined as the “use of citizens” by scientists. Cooper et al. (2007) also discuss the implicit contract that the scientists need to provide results back to the citizens.

It must be pointed out that using a distributed network of data gatherers is not new and was perhaps at its height in the collection era. Field collectors indeed submitted their specimens to centralizing influences such as wealthy collectors or museums. These agencies were able to observe patterns and produce treatises in ways that the individual field collectors could not.

This difference naturally produced conflict. An early example may be seen in this plaint by Brian Hodgson, a naturalist in India who sent specimens back to Britain: “Whilst the face of our land is darkened with skin hunters, deputed by learned Societies to encumber science with ill-ascertained species, no English zoological association has a single travelling naturalist (...) nor has one such body yet sought to invigorate local research” (Hodgson 1873 quoted in Johnson 2005).

Citizen science should ideally move away from using citizens on unequal terms and toward treating citizens as scientists on equal terms. Indeed, if anything, acts of information centralization should embrace the concepts of open access and freedom, allowing all to conduct science (Shyamal 2007). Data compilers should make use of centralized data to produce scientific results in exactly the same way as anyone else should be allowed. After all, science should be verifiable and repeatable.

Erratum added 10 November 2008 (see http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol12/iss2/resp2/errata.html)


Responses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a response, follow this link. To read responses already accepted, follow this link.


Cooper, C. B., J. Dickinson, T. Phillips, and R. Bonney. 2007. Citizen science as a tool for conservation in residential ecosystems. Ecology and Society 12(2): 11. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol12/iss2/art11/.

Johnson, K. 2005. Type-specimens of birds as sources for the history of ornithology. Journal of the History of Collections 17(2):173-188.

Shyamal, L. 2007. Opinion: Taking Indian ornithology into the Information Age. Indian Birds 3(4):122-137. Available online at: http://www.indianbirds.in/download/IB.3.4.122-137.pdf.

Address of Correspondent:
Shyamal Lakshminarayanan
261 9th Cross
Bangalore, India 560092


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