jueves, 16 de enero de 2014

Citizen science Hecho en America Latina, what is it and what is it good for?

After Web 1.0 - that focused in the searches - and Web 2.0 - that was the allure generating infinite social networks - now we are heading towards Web 3.0 and the 3 D, with devices that will show the depth of the reality. Web 4.0, according to experts, will be focused on extreme intelligence agents conformed in our devices that would look for information automously and help in our day to day activities in our name.

Am I going too fast? Sure. In this rapid transition towards better and more perfect virtual worlds, there is an evolutionary stage that still have gone unseen: the so called technological activism, some sort of rebellion of the masses using and developing technology in participative and massive ways that has resulted in a miriad of NGO´s, groups and communities that take advantage of knowledge, technologies, developments and interphases to solve public problems and also to express their point of view.

The concept of citizen science (also called `citizen crowd-science') is one of the expressions of this trend. It involves public in general in scientific experiments to make together surprising and useful things, directed by scientists coming from universities, training centres or laboratories that need citizenry to advance in their projects. This new modality is developing projects on ecology, botany, environment, technology, histology, bird watching, urban planning and even art anywhere in the world.

This discipline is not one practiced by improvised and speculators: The very same NASA, posed the Space Apps Challenge in 2012 and 2013 inviting thousands of developers in more than one hundred cities of the world to provide, administer and articulate information to solve problems related to solar explosions, sustainability of life in the space and Earth observation through its international space station.

Sci Starter has published more than 600 projects of this subject, highlighting the 13 most visible in 2013. With many of them are oriented to the field of geo information, the Dark Sky Meter (available for iPhones) allows citizens to contribute to portray a global map of night contamination produced by artificial lights in urban atmosphere. Using the camera of your iPhone, this app measures the brightness of the sky and updates the data in real time.

Recently, and at a more “Latino” level, the World Birds project, aims to create a system of global geo data bases on birds with their associate in Latin America, the NGO Aves Uruguay. In turn, the site Galaxy Zoo - oriented to astronomical citizen science- was released in Chile looking to map galaxies hand in hand with local communities through sophisticated scientific projects. With some of the most powerful telescopes of the planet in the desertical north of the country, the project Galaxy Zoo has associated the Department of Astronomy of the University de Chile in Cerro Calán and promises to revolutionize the discipline.

Another interesting aspect of citizen science is the one that the Mesoamérica Apps Hackathon highlighted in order to develop apps through massive citizen collaboration inviting to hundreds of amateur developers to adapt information technologies so as to offer solutions to indigenous groups of Guatemala, Panama and other Mesoamerican countries. For example, for the community of Laguna de Sololá, Guatemala, they created an app to identify and to spread out the word about ritual and ancestral indigenous places for touristic, historical and cultural ends. Others apps were developed by the community of students of the Technological University of Panama to assist in the migration needs of the ethnical groups of Ngäbe and Buglé in the border between Costa Rica and Panama.

All these initiatives endeavor to produce massive observations which otherwise would not be available
allowing to estimate, classify, map and solve phenomena in a large scale and with great detail. The discipline is suitable to study behaviours and events, as well as changes in the inventories of the observation units, regardless if these are ancestral places, birds or galaxies. The reason is that the professional investigators for these subjects are very little (and by the way expensive), for which is ideal to take advantage of the observations from enthusiastic individuals.

The scientific pioneer Charles Darwin already used this technique to base his theory of evolution on evidence provided by 15,000 letters that he exchanged with hundreds of science citizens. Although it took him a little bit more than sending emails or organizing hackathons , he succeeded in eliciting knowledge from people of all classes of non scientific occupations, from cattle dealers to travellers worldwide.

The same as more than one hundred years ago, today we can intuitively assert that the best thing for science is citizenry, because the best and more powerful processor of information that we have is the one that there is in each human being. Our incredible capacity to map reality, but also to detect what does not fit in, is something that can make the difference in any type of knowledge in which we wish enthusiastically to get involved in.

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