When the term “citizen science” was first coined, it was meant to distinguish between professional scientists and volunteers who might not have formal training in the sciences. It also evoked a sense of civic engagement, a way to connect to something larger than ourselves. We always thought of our volunteers not as citizens of any particular city or state or country, but as citizens of the world — or perhaps of the ecological communities they were helping to study.
Now, however, it’s time to recognize the barriers inherent in the word “citizen.” Citizenship is not a prerequisite to caring about nature, and has never been a requirement for volunteering on our projects. We value all our volunteers, regardless of where they were born or how they came to the United States, and want everyone to feel like they’re an integral part of our efforts to learn about the natural world — because they are.
For this reason, we are switching to the more inclusive term “community science.”
We see our collaborative science projects as tools for creating community, and for welcoming people to the practice of science. Over the years, we’ve also benefited from the volunteer contributions of many professional scientists and student researchers, people for whom ecological research is both vocation and avocation. In these ways, “community science” feels like a better fit, too.
Thank you to RE Sources, the Audubon Center at Debs Park, and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies for their eloquent statements about making the shift from “citizen” to “community” science. We learned from each of these organizations, and modeled our statement after theirs.
For more information about our ongoing community science programs, see our Community Science webpage or contact Science Director Brett Amy Thelen by email.