Maximpact Blog

Citizen Science Earns Respect

pollenbeeaustriaBy Sunny Lewis

VIENNA, Austria, September 20, 2016 ( News) – “Citizen Science is one of the latest trends in science,” said the Medical University of Vienna late last month at the height of the pollen allergy season.

The Austrian Pollen Monitoring service at MedUni Vienna’s Department of Ear, Nose and Throat Diseases is founded upon active citizen participation and relies on continuing citizen monitoring every day.

In Austria, more than a million people suffer from a pollen allergy. Through the Austrian Pollen Monitoring service, the public is involved in defining questions and problems and in data collection.

This way, researchers receive considerable input from interested parties and affected laypeople.

MedUni Vienna’s Pollen Monitoring Service  headed up by Uwe E. Berger keeps a pollen diary that has been in use since 2009.

Our personalized pollen alert is possible because of the entries made by the thousands of people who use our service. It is the only one of its kind in the world,” says Berger.

Every pollen allergy sufferer has an individual threshold, a unique level of sensitivity and reactions to pollen counts. Together in a huge database, they provide a forecast of the expected situation for any individual, on a day-by-day basis.

By making accurate entries in the pollen diary, people can help themselves in the evaluation of therapies and everybody else as well.

A Pollen App has been available since 2013 and has been downloaded 320,000 times worldwide. Since March 2012, a total of around 1.3 million people have accessed the Pollen Monitoring Service website.

This service for pollen allergy sufferers is already available in 13 European countries: Austria,  Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Each country claims more than 150,000 users.

An important aspect of citizen science is the need to keep the sensitive details of the participating public secure, Berger believes.

MedUni Vienna’s Pollen Monitoring Service does this in compliance with strict European Union standards, so that it is virtually impossible for data to be passed on to unauthorized parties, in addition to biometric security.

Citizen Science can be a simple form of involvement, such as crowdsourcing, where people provide specific data, to advancing the long tradition of lay research in astronomy and ornithology.

The National Audubon Society’s annual Great Backyard Bird Count, for instance, asks citizen scientists to count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the four-day February event and report their sightings online at

Audubon’s Chief Scientist Gary Langham said, “This count is so fun because anyone can take part —we all learn and watch birds together—whether you are an expert, novice, or feeder watcher. I like to invite new birders to join me and share the experience. Get involved, invite your friends, and see how your favorite spot stacks up.

People participate from their backyards, or from anywhere in the world.

Last year, more than 160,000 participants submitted their bird observations online, creating the largest instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations ever recorded.

Each checklist submitted during the bird count helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and at Audubon learn more about how birds are doing, and how to protect them and the environment.

The 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count will be held Friday, February 17, through Monday, February 20, 2017.

In a related Audubon citizens science project, the National Phenology Network created Nature’s Notebook for people to record and contribute their own observations of plants and animals.

Phenology is the study of seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year – the flowering of plants, the emergence of insects. migration of birds – especially their timing and relationship with weather and climate.

Assistant Director Theresa Crimmins says participants have identified changes such as lilacs leafing out earlier than normal, bees buzzing before there are flowers, spread of invasive species.

A group of researchers looked to see whether the range of an invasive plant, ragweed, was likely to change in the future,” said Crimmins, “and they showed that ragweed is only going to spread and get worse.

Crimmins says contributing to Nature’s Notebook is simple. People select which plants or animals to observe on a weekly basis, and answer yes-no questions about them.

Scientists can then use this data in their research. Land managers may use the data to make better-informed decisions about natural resources in their care, and decision makers use it to shape policy.

The Zooniverse is the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research. Volunteers, hundreds of thousands of people around the world, come together to assist professional researchers.

Zooniverse projects combine contributions from many individual volunteers, relying on the “wisdom of crowds” to produce reliable and accurate data.

The goal is to enable research that would not be possible, or practical, otherwise. Zooniverse research results in new discoveries, publications, and datasets useful to the wider research community.

There is now a Citizen Science Alliance – a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop, manage and utilize internet-based citizen science projects to further science and the public understanding of the scientific process.

These projects use the time, abilities and energies of a community of citizen scientists – from classicists to climate scientists and ecologists to planetary scientists – spread out around the world.

Featured Image: Snowy Owl by Great Backyard Bird Count participant Diane McAllister. Posted for media use by Audubon Publication of source website prohibited.

Main Image: Pollen coats a bee in Klagenfurt, Austria (Photo by Christian Feenstaub) Creative Commons license via Flickr

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