Citizen Science: Is It Worth Your Time?
Smith, Michael Chadwick
This dissertation investigated citizen science, a tool that connects the public to the scientific community through research-based projects and education campaigns. Benefits include volunteers adding data to long-term data sets and improved scientific literacy among the public. Oftentimes, there is trepidation among scientists, managers, and decision makers when it comes to citizen science. These concerns include the integrity of volunteer data and whether citizen science projects are promoting scientific literacy. To investigate these concerns, this dissertation focused on three major areas:  the integrity of long-term water quality data produced by volunteers of the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership’s Citizens’ Monitoring Network (APNEP-CMN) when compared to acquired water quality data from government projects,  using cultural consensus theory to estimate cultural beliefs of water quality among different cultural groups (citizen science volunteers that focused on water quality monitoring, water quality professionals, water quality educators, fishers, and individuals with no experience in water quality), and  application of social theories, education tools, and communication models to improve the design and implementation of education campaigns. Results suggested  significant differences (P-value < 0.05) in water quality data for most variables (water temperature, water depth, secchi depth, dissolved oxygen, pH, and salinity) among monitoring sites within a similar region (lower, middle, or upper) and the same season (fall, spring, summer, or winter) in the Tar-Pamlico and Albemarle regions. These results were not in support of my first hypothesis, which stated that water quality data among monitoring sites within the same region will produce similar results (P-value > 0.05) although significant differences (P-value < 0.05) were expected for dissolved oxygen and salinity due to more involved measuring protocols. The only exception was the 1991-1993 block of the Albemarle region. My second hypothesis stated that APNEP-CMN volunteers with monitoring sites in close proximity to one another will produce similar water quality data (P-value > 0.05); results were not in support of this hypothesis. Differences among volunteer and government data were perhaps a result of different monitoring equipment, geographic location, local precipitation, and volunteer training protocols.  Results from the cultural consensus analysis suggested there was agreement within and across the cultural groups after surveying 285 respondents on a variety of water quality topics. Volunteers of citizen science and water quality educators had the strongest consensus within their groups while water quality professionals had the least. Mean cultural competencies were also greater among volunteers and educators. No significant differences were found among the mean cultural competencies between the groups; the only exception was among educators and individuals with no experience in water quality. Results suggested that volunteers may be receiving their information primarily from educators who are commonly involved with citizen science projects. Discrepancies among the other groups may have been associated with differences in education and professional backgrounds in water quality. There was 92 percent accordance among the cultural groups and survey statements. Eight percent discordance was observed for the following survey topics: (a) time of day fluctuations, (b) water quality appearance, (c) pH, and (d) storm events. Overall, it remains unclear whether citizen science is promoting scientific literacy based on these results. Improved volunteer training and education campaigns were mentioned as recommendations to strengthen the integrity of volunteer data and knowledge of water quality.  These recommendations introduced the third area of this dissertation, which focused on the application of social theories, education tools, and communication models found in the primary literature to improve education campaigns. Successful campaigns are dependent on the careful framework of planning, implementation, and evaluation; each of these framework components were discussed. The potential for citizen science to change how the public perceives water quality and other environmental issues continues to grow. With increasing human population and the continued strain on our natural resources, it is imperative that educators and scientists begin to ruminate how citizen science might benefit their community.
Smith, Michael Chadwick. (December 2015). Citizen Science: Is It Worth Your Time? (Doctoral Dissertation, East Carolina University). Retrieved from the Scholarship. (http://hdl.handle.net/10342/5122.)
Smith, Michael Chadwick. Citizen Science: Is It Worth Your Time?. Doctoral Dissertation. East Carolina University, December 2015. The Scholarship. http://hdl.handle.net/10342/5122. October 18, 2018.
Smith, Michael Chadwick, “Citizen Science: Is It Worth Your Time?” (Doctoral Dissertation., East Carolina University, December 2015).
Smith, Michael Chadwick. Citizen Science: Is It Worth Your Time? [Doctoral Dissertation]. Greenville, NC: East Carolina University; December 2015.
East Carolina University