Benefits of Citizen Science

Benefits of Citizen Science
by Trinity College Dublin

Building societies where practices of knowledge creation are not locked away from the public, and therefore Citizen Science can flourish is a good investment, a true case of win-win. Beyond the obvious advantage of creating new knowledge that works both for science and the society, it benefits societies, research, and the participants themselves in numerous ways:

Benefits for Participants

  • Access to scientific research has never been more important to provide the basis for debates on critical issues such as climate change, global health, or the crisis of democratic values. A deeper and broader understanding of how science operates is a powerful asset against fake news.
  • Citizen Science is a form of simultaneous learning and knowledge making. It enables people to enhance their scientific literacy in fields that are truly relevant to them.
  • By participating in Citizen Science projects, citizens can gain a greater say in and commitment to scientific and research matters.
  • It empowers communities to make a difference in their immediate environment. and thus raise their social well-being.
  • Citizen science bridges gaps by harnessing the power of people who are motivated by curiosity or have a desire to advance research, then connecting them to projects that benefit from their energy and dedication.

Benefits for Researchers

  • Opening up your research processes to the public can lead to a discovery that you or your research group could never achieve alone. In the past, collecting large samples of data for research was the most challenging task of any initiative. However, with today’s interconnected world, thousands of people from around the globe can remotely contribute to a study and provide, analyse, or report data that researchers can use. Public participation enables investigations that would not otherwise be possible.
  • It allows you to investigate your research questions more deeply, on a much larger scale. Engaging interested citizens in the collection and analysis of your data you can create large data sets and complete labour-intensive tasks much faster and more efficiently.
  • Input from non-experts can provide you with unexpected insights that can take you to new research questions. develop new research questions.
  • Including Citizen Science aspects into your project makes a clear statement that you care about the societal impact of your research and how it works for the public.
  • Citizen Science is a great way to make your research more accessible to a wider audience and increase its reach.
  • It build pathways by which the utility and impact of Humanities research can be recognised.

Benefits for Society

  • Citizen Science helps to make sure that scientific agendas are well aligned with grand societal challenges and thus it enhances societal trust in science and helps funding bodies to make a better investment into research development and open innovation.
  • It is a powerful tool to make the interface between academia and the public more permeable and transparent.
  • The democratisation of access to knowledge and knowledge production positively impacts social mobility.
  • Citizen science encourages people to take a stake in the world around them. As a result, the hope is that this informed public will play a valuable role in influencing larger decisions about science policy.

The power of Citizen Science in uncovering historical facts and to heal wounds from the past: The case of Catherine Corless and the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Galway.

PLEASE NOTE: This case study contains content that some may find upsetting.

One of Ireland’s recent historical discoveries with the greatest social and political impact was achieved by a local citizen historian, Catherine Corless. She had long heard the stories about deaths of children at a former home for unmarried mothers run by the Bon Secours Sisters in Tuam, County Galway from 1925-1961. To raise local awareness of the tragedy and uncover the truth about the children raised by the nuns, she decided to properly investigate the deaths that occurred at the mother and baby home. In her spare time, she visited libraries, churches and council offices and dug deep into their archives and records. After several unsuccessful attempts, she managed to gain information from the registry office in Galway about the death certificates for children in the home. As a next step, she uncovered the fact that none of the children from this list of 796 names were buried in local cemeteries. Comparing old maps of the site, she managed to identify a former septic tank and bring the unmarked mass grave to light, leading to the discovery of the remains of hundreds of children, aged from new-borns to nine years old.

After receiving strong media coverage, the shocking discovery came to both national and global attention and it provoked a significant reaction within Irish society, causing serious questions to be raised about the role of both the Catholic Church and the state in the tragedy.

The rigorous and successful work done by Corless clearly points on the potential power of Citizen Science in uncovering historical facts and local traumas buried in the collective unknown and entering them into the national historical record. Bringing to light questions of deep relevance to the whole society, her research enabled local and broader communities to heal wounds from the past.

At the same time, Corless’s quest to uncover the truth about the Tuam mother and baby home also points out some of the serious difficulties non-professional researchers working outside of the academia must face during their endeavours. In an interview she gave to the Irish newspaper The Journal, she reported on many unsuccessful attempts to obtain information both from the church and the city councils. In one case, giving access to the records was explicitly denied because she didn’t have a university degree. In addition, Corless had to pay €4 for each of the 796 death certificate copies issued by the city council on her own.  Greater recognition for citizen science from professional researchers can help individuals such as Catherine Corless to pursue their questions and share their results more efficiently and effectively.