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The term “citizen scientist” is in vogue these days. Citizen scientists are defined as volunteers, many without specific scientific training, who perform or manage research-related tasks such as observation, measurement, compilation or computation.
I wonder if bureaucrats invented this rather grandiose new term to entice more people into doing useful unpaid work, or, better yet, to pay for the privilege. Or perhaps it is an attempt to convince an increasingly antiscientific U.S. populace that regular citizens actually can help perform scientific work that is useful, engrossing, fun, and, at the end of the day, personally satisfying.
Whatever they are called, volunteers have always provided invaluable observational services. For millennia, non-professionals have scanned the skies for supernovae and comets.
Perhaps the most famous volunteer endeavor is the Audubon Christmas Bird Count that began in 1900. Without volunteers scouring the United States, we might still have a poor appreciation of our populations of birds, animals, insects, plants, fungi and soil microbes.
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