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What is Community Science Today?

The San Diego Natural History Museum recently changed the language in our materials from “citizen science” to a more inclusive “community science.” As a binational museum working on both sides of the U.S-Mexico border, we recognize that citizenship is not a requirement or element for widescale participation in science. Although we changed the wording, our intent has always and continues to remain the same: one does not need to have scientific training to contribute to our understanding of the natural world.

In changing from citizen to community science, we join many local and national organizations that aim to democratize the study of nature. Although our trained scientists play a vital role, our volunteers, members, and the wider community give their time to make important contributions. The study of nature is for everyone.  

The word citizen in this context has implied a lack of formal training in a subject, but language changes over time and that definition is no longer broadly recognized. Our transition to “community science” better meshes with the goals for the projects and programs we lead and take part in. It reflects The Nat’s desire to work in partnership with our diverse communities, to increase access to relevant science, and to inspire passion for this amazing place we call home. 

There’s also growing engagement with successful apps like iNaturalist. Through a smartphone, anyone can post their observations of flora and fauna to iNaturalist. So far, over 981,000 users have made 32 million observations, contributing valuable data used by scientists. From tracking introduced species and helping find rare and lost plants, to seeking out a destructive and invasive beetle, new technology is making participation in science more accessible than ever on a scale perhaps unimaginable to our founders. 

Nearly 150 years ago, the San Diego Society of Natural History began as a group of local community members interested in studying nature. They lacked formal training in scientific research, but they were inspired to understand the world around them. They documented their findings and left us a valuable record of the past. Community scientists from the Society were not solely observers, they also took actions that resulted in the recognition and protection of our endangered Torrey Pines, Anza-Borrego, and many other natural treasures.  

Today, trained scientists and curators at The Nat, with the help of nearly 770 volunteers, continue the work started by our predecessors. Some of our volunteers may have scientific training, but the majority have no formal background in natural science. Like our founders, many are self-taught naturalists who understand one does not need to have scientific training to contribute to our understanding of the world. Along with Nat staff, board members, and donors, they are committed to sharing what they know, building a strong scientific community, and making the world a better place for ourselves and future generations. 

Want to take part? Check our Community Science portal and learn more about current projects, and other ways to participate.

Posted by The Nat.

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