The Awesome Power of Citizen Science

Let’s say you love science. Not a huge stretch, hopefully? You are watching
SciShow, after all. Now that we live in the Age of the Internet,
you can look up anything that your science-loving heart desires — from how the genomes of bacteria
can be used to design experiments, to how planets might move in a hypothetical galaxy. But what makes someone a “professional”
scientist, instead of just someone who’s curious about the world? Usually it has to do with getting paid — paid
to test and to learn and to build new things in a lab — and publishing research papers. So if you don’t have a college degree, or
a job in academia, it may seem like you’re stuck with being a fan of science, without
actually being able to do research yourself. But that’s not true! You can help — as a citizen scientist! Citizen science is a way for your Average
Jane to help experts with their research projects — in really hands-on and useful ways — from
collecting data, to analyzing them, and sometimes even collaborating to publish papers. It’s like crowdsourced research, where you
gain some expertise along the way. Pretty cool, right? Everybody wins? But it isn’t really a new concept — so
let’s look at where the idea of citizen science really comes from, and explore what
the power of volunteers can do for science. A couple centuries ago, science was mostly
an informal, collaborative kind of enterprise. Scientists were pretty much people who would
think and write about our world to explain why things are the way they are. And most of them were rich enough that they
could study science in their free time, since doing science didn’t really provide an income. These gentlemen scientists, as they were sometimes
called, formed communities, like academic societies, so they could talk shop with each
other. But starting in the 19th century, science
became a full-time career for lots of people, because that’s when money started to become
available from governments and schools to do research. Suddenly, in order to be a “professional”
scientist — and make a living doing research — you had to distinguish yourself from all
the curious hobbyists out there. And when the idea of a professional scientist
was born, so too was the idea of the amateur scientist. Compared to formally-trained scientists, so-called
amateurs didn’t earn a lot of respect in their fields and couldn’t really do research
and publish work anymore. But in the last couple of decades, things
have changed. And now there’s more collaboration between professionals and hobbyists than there
used to be. In the mid-1990s, the term citizen scientists
was first used to describe people who don’t have formal science training, but who volunteer
their time and energy to help with research. And their work can range from large-scale
conservation projects, to astronomical surveys, to work that used to be restricted to biology
labs. Some kinds of research are ideal for citizen
science, because they don’t require a lot of training — just lots of enthusiasm and
lots of patience. These virtues are put to good use in the field
of ecology, where citizen scientists can help collect and record data about the natural
world. Professional ecologists need this help a lot,
because their research often depends on collecting huge datasets, in order to understand how
plants and animal populations change over time. And that’s exactly what’s happening with
the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Every year since 1966, around the time of
year when birds are gettin’ busy — usually June-ish — a bunch of volunteer birdwatchers
in the U.S. and Canada get together and do what they love to do — watch birds. Specifically, they count the species of birds
that they see and hear along pre-chosen roadside survey routes. Everyone starts half an hour before their
local sunrise, and they drive along a 24.5-mile stretch of road, stopping every half-mile
to count birds for 3 minutes. After they’re done with the survey, each
volunteer enters his or her data into an online archive. These data are then analyzed by education
programs and government agencies, to study population trends for hundreds of bird species
across the whole continent. This work by citizen scientists helps researchers
learn about patterns in migration and breeding, and helps track the effects of things like
chemical contaminants or habitat changes on bird populations. Without the collective brain-power and know-how
of these amateurs, these data would take a ton of time and money to gather, and we’d
know way less about birds than we do now. But for those of you who prefer to stay indoors,
there’s a lot of citizen science work to be done on computers. The easiest way to take part here is just
to volunteer some of your computer’s processing power, in what’s known as distributed computing. In fact, it’s so easy that some people might
argue that this isn’t even “citizen science” — ‘cause you don’t really gain any expertise
by doing it. But still, the scientists who get the data
are psyched to have the help. For example, for decades, the Search for Extraterrestrial
Intelligence has been looking for intelligent life in our universe with the help of some
volunteer computer power. One of SETI’s methods is using the Arecibo
radio telescope in Puerto Rico to listen for radio signals from space. But Arecibo receives a LOT of data. So, instead of using one huge supercomputer
to analyze them, a project called [email protected] essentially creates a virtual supercomputer
from thousands of volunteers’ machines. If you have an internet connection and you
volunteer for this project, when you’re not using your computer, researchers will
be using it to analyze and report data back to their lab. This allows for more, faster data analysis
than could be done by the lab alone. And, hey, if they happen to find an alien
civilization? You could totally take some of the credit. But if you want to be a less passive citizen
scientist, there are plenty more projects out there for actual humans. Because humans are fundamentally better than
computers at some things. Like … finding stuff in pictures. That’s why the online project Galaxy Zoo
was started: to enlist human brains — and eyes — to help analyze images taken of the
night sky. The project’s original dataset was around
a million pictures from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. And its goal was to classify all of the galaxies
found in the survey, by their appearance. So, volunteers are given pictures of galaxies
captured during the survey, and are asked to organize them by shape — like ellipsoid,
clockwise spiral, counterclockwise spiral, and merging galaxies. Then, astronomers can use their findings to
better understand how galaxies form and evolve. The team of astronomers who created the site
originally expected that it would take years for volunteers to go through all the data
from the Sloan Survey. But, within a single year, users had submitted
more than 50 million classifications, with every picture of a galaxy having been verified
by multiple people. There’s no way these images could’ve been
analyzed as quickly by a single or even several teams of professional astronomers. And computers just weren’t smart enough
to get the job done. Today, Galaxy Zoo continues to cycle through
millions of images from telescopes all over the world, and volunteers are still helping
to classify new objects in the universe. Now, humans are also way better than computers
at spatial problem solving — looking for patterns and figuring out how things could
move or connect. Just like in video games. So scientists have gamified some tricky biological
problems and put them on the Internet. In 2012, we told you about FoldIt, a game
that allowed volunteers to predict how different chains of amino acids would fold to make proteins. Eventually, the game’s players figured out
how to design modified proteins that scientists could engineer and use in the lab. Now, there’s EteRNA, which has gamers puzzling
over how to make small, single-stranded molecules of RNA fold into certain shapes. Fun? Pretty much. Important? Definitely. The RNA in our cells is involved in lots of
important processes — including whether or not we express certain genes. Eventually, scientists want to use RNA to
design customized treatments for things like viral infections or even inherited disorders
— by targeting our genes and other parts of our cells. But first, they have to figure out how RNA
folds when it interacts with those structures. So researchers from Stanford and Carnegie
Mellon University, who were inspired by the success of FoldIt, developed EteRNA — where
players can experiment with, and design, virtual RNA sequences that will fold into certain
shapes. Each desired shape is a puzzle, and you solve
it by creating an RNA sequence that folds in just the right way. It’s a fun and challenging game, but what
citizen scientists did with it is is really cool. One of the problems that gamers found with
EteRNA is that there wasn’t any sort of difficulty rating, when it came to figuring
out how hard a certain puzzle might be. And gamers like to know what level they’re
on, as it were. Plus, the more experienced gamers wanted to
help new players work their way up from the easy puzzles to the hard ones. So a couple of gamers began to record a bunch
of traits that they found made some RNA structures harder to design. For example, it turns out
that it’s really difficult to design folded molecules that are symmetrical. And it also turns out that these difficult-to-design
structures are harder to synthesize in real-life laboratories. But what’s awesome is that these volunteers
co-authored a paper based on their research, laying out everything they learned about the
challenges of designing RNA molecules that fold into certain structures. Their observations from playing the game wound
up in the pages of the Journal of Molecular Biology, and what they learned can now help
scientists save time and money when designing RNA structures in the lab. So: If citizen scientists can go beyond collecting
and analyzing data, and start publishing their own research — what could be next? Well, as technology makes us more connected,
we can only hope that science will become more accessible to more curious people — and
not just be thought of as an endeavor that only experts can understand, or appreciate. And as the community of citizen scientists
grows — in all kinds of fields! — then research projects can become larger and wider-reaching
than ever. Maybe, the stigma of being an amateur scientist
will start to fade, and more people who have access to knowledge — but not to a PhD — will
continue to make valuable contributions to research and technology. So get out there and go do some science. Nothing’s
stopping you! Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow,
which was brought to you by our patrons on Patreon. If you want to help support this
show, just go to And if you want to keep getting smarter with us, don’t forget to go to and subscribe!


  1. Lloyd Alvarado said:

    4:50 "more faster"

    April 22, 2016
  2. MultiAwesomeace said:

    Why do we shake our legs while we sit?

    April 22, 2016
  3. Steven Davidson said:

    I love distributed computing. It's the coolest.

    April 22, 2016
  4. Dad said:

    Who else literally thought this was called "Citizen Suicide" and it would be about drifting away from being socially unacceptable?

    April 22, 2016
  5. Pablo Dono said:

    SETI uses the helps of average people and their computers

    April 22, 2016
  6. Alexandre Bastien said:

    April 22, 2016
  7. Edron7 said:

    Oh… my… god… throw away this shirt!

    April 22, 2016
  8. ObliviousRaccoon said:

    Good video!

    April 22, 2016
  9. Daniel jensen said:

    that galaxy zoo website is pretty cool

    April 22, 2016
  10. Marcas King said:

    wow I never imagined

    April 23, 2016
  11. Paulo Alexandre Regis said:

    Do citizen scientists get paid? If not, then that may stop them.

    April 23, 2016
  12. Nick ramp said:

    I can't believe this shit.

    April 23, 2016
  13. Grace Bailey-Hinks said:

    Doing my dissertation on SDSS this made my day!

    April 23, 2016
  14. Quantum Uncertainty Workshop said:

    lol clockwise/counter-clock wise spinning galaxies? they only spin ONE way… the side from which we view them(our limited perception) is what makes them appear to spin in one direction or another.

    April 23, 2016
  15. Sans The Skeleton said:

    The video was uploaded on 4/20

    April 23, 2016
  16. BarbarianGod said:

    I'm in a spelunking club and we always record things like the number and types of animals we encounter in caves 😀

    April 23, 2016
  17. TRG - The Relaxed Gamer said:

    I would be the best scishow host. No money required. I'd do it just because, 1) I love sci show, and 2) I love science. Hank, as what would I have to do to be able to host a sci show episode?

    April 23, 2016
  18. Sylvain Magne said:

    Hooray for amateur and citizen scientists! 🙂

    April 23, 2016
  19. Ievgenii Polishchuk said:

    Computers CAN do image classification.

    April 23, 2016
  20. Silly Sad said:

    they call it "publishing" even though those papers are not available for public.
    written on public money and hidden behind a pay wall from the public, and then called "published".
    well done!

    April 23, 2016
  21. Darc Gibson said:

    Lol "Citizen scientist" is what most conspiracy theorists call themselves. Of course, they know better than people who have dedicated their lives to the subject and have extensive further education in the fieod

    April 23, 2016
  22. Daymickey said:

    At first I thought this video was going to be about the science of being a citizen, given the upcoming election. I was like why don't I know about that science yet?? My bad.

    April 23, 2016
  23. Walter Clark said:

    Citizen Science Before Hank Green was born. Hence doesn't count:
    Variable Star Observers
    Amateur Radio circuit designers
    Comet Hunters

    April 23, 2016
  24. Jason Mckay said:

    How do opiates works? Do they affect the brain only or the nerves? What does the opiate receptor do? Why do we have it?

    April 23, 2016
  25. David Rivera Goveo said:

    aye arecibo! grew up in Puerto Rico and I've actually visited that science center where the telescope is, it's MASSIVE

    April 23, 2016
  26. Andrew Brown said:

    Eve Online, anyone? (Project Discovery)

    April 23, 2016
  27. Roland Völker said:

    Detecting a huge increase of self-esteem of some so called "hobby scientists" 😀

    April 23, 2016
  28. Utkrisht Sahai said:

    scishow have derek from veritasium over for talkshow once again , his talkshow was for me the best , i love the way he explains and also the way you expain nd make some physics videos or on some scientific principle or concept such as your videos on fundamental forces or some of other earlier vids , recent ones are gennerally related to bio. big fan since 2-3 years

    April 23, 2016
  29. Andrew Luhring said:

    there needs to be a place on the internet where you can browse all the citizen science things you could help with. if there already is one, i need a link to it

    April 23, 2016
  30. Lune Alexandre said:

    Citizen Science sounds awesome! I want to become a Citizen scientist!

    April 23, 2016
  31. jonas samuel said:

    4:50 "credit and maybe responsibility."

    April 23, 2016
  32. Yeshwanth Vejendla said:

    good video

    April 24, 2016
  33. Martin Seaton said:

    My parents helped with the Danish breeding bird survey in the nineties. 😀

    April 24, 2016
  34. Jolyne Kujo said:

    If humanity could only evolve and set diffrent centers for their life's, such a science instead of sensationalism. And stop being in constant rivality, but rather work together. Instead of harbouring…sharing. And to not judge but rather accept and support.
    Money really is outdated, through money we destroy ourselves and our enviroment. We are so into money that we rather slave our life's away instead of replacing crappy jobs with machines and bots. We are willing to do such useless labour's, became unhappy or support poverty, while we all could participate in gigantic Humanitarian projects to make humanity greater than ever.
    But a change will probably never happens, maybe in another dimension.
    We are way too much into dikes on TV or the Internet, than anything else. Befor long we will have burned or beautifull earth to the ground and go extinct like the many species we robbed freedom from. That's Karma.

    April 24, 2016
  35. Aerinna said:

    in a nutshell. its free labor exploitation

    April 24, 2016
  36. Skyrage the Obnoxious said:

    EVE Online wasn't mentioned…..although Project Discovery is really new.

    April 24, 2016
  37. Rexnor17 said:

    What stops your hair from growing? What I mean is, how come your arm, pubic, leg hair only grows so long but your scalp hair/beard will grow non stop?

    April 25, 2016
  38. Simona Nahalkova said:

    found a nice project to join! it's about penguins.

    April 25, 2016
  39. Icearstorm the Bird Nerd said:

    Anyone here a birder?

    April 25, 2016
  40. Arxielle said:

    I'm so honored that a town from the island I'm from, Puerto Rico, has been mentioned here!! I love this YouTube page tons… Running out of videos to watch made by them!

    April 26, 2016
  41. Seph Imaru said:

    Question is: Do the citizen scientist get something out of it or are they just helping professional scientists to get more credit?

    April 26, 2016
  42. Fuzzyb3ar said:

    Fav, Like, Subscribe (damn, overdue here xD)

    April 26, 2016
  43. KiddsockTV said:

    I do the SETIhome! I am going to find aliens!!

    April 27, 2016
  44. lawfulparasite said:

    could you start a weekly series outlining citizen science projects to help spread the word about them?

    April 27, 2016
  45. Gareth Jones said:

    Galaxy Zoo is awesome been using it since it came out, i classified 1000's of galaxies! You're welcome Science, you're welcome!

    April 27, 2016
  46. Hygebeorht said:

    I am completely adicted now classifying galaxies at galaxyzoo now haha.

    April 27, 2016
  47. jobriq5 said:

    I remember FoldIt. I wasn't very good at it lol

    April 27, 2016
  48. Wingedshadowwolf said:

    The university near where I live has a citizen bat patrol. You sign up and if they have openings in your area they give you a bat-radar thing to put on your car and you drive around at dusk looking for and recording bat calls! I haven't done it, but I'm considering it.

    April 28, 2016
  49. CopyRight Knight said:

    It's not Joe, it's John.

    April 28, 2016
  50. TheGreatRakatan said:

    Hey, scientists, you can scan my brain while I listen to things that cause what I call a "nerve wave" where a tingly sensations starts in my head and spreads down through the rest of my body in a wave.

    Unless that's already something you understand, in which case, inform me.

    April 28, 2016
  51. D Caspar said:

    BOINC also doing the same thing 😀

    April 29, 2016
  52. blandantey said:

    Nothing is stopping you! Tottally agree!

    April 30, 2016
  53. Dutchik said:

    is there also a thing that you can give your own logical theories

    April 30, 2016
  54. 34luthien said:

    so basically unpaid grunt work.

    May 7, 2016
  55. iwishiknew said:

    Just started watching this, but you should look at Project Discovery on Eve Online.

    May 7, 2016
  56. Peter O' Connor said:

    Is he gay cuz ino gay people and they like science so does that meen he is qweer

    May 7, 2016
  57. Jeffman12 said:

    Lack of funding is stopping me! Participating in advancing science would be great for me if I didn't have to worry about eating or paying rent. I'd love to see an episode about ways that I can get money for my time while still bettering our understanding of our universe (While lacking a phd)

    May 10, 2016
  58. Fil Lamo said:

    Ribonucleic acid rules!

    May 16, 2016
  59. MrARKY89 said:

    "Mob Rule" Thesis=Citizen Science

    May 19, 2016
  60. Aidan Or said:

    How do I know people won't hack my computer with this?

    May 27, 2016
  61. Will Odell said:

    9:02 most motivational sentence ever!

    May 28, 2016
  62. DreamsCatcher101 said:

    I used to run seti on an old computer, it used to run while i was asleep, bonus was the running screen was sooooooo boring it knocked be out cold, but now i share the time using boinc between asteroid hunting and medical research.

    May 30, 2016
  63. FirstRisingSouI said:

    "Citizen Science" sounds like a Socialist superhero.

    June 1, 2016
  64. granny sweet said:

    thank you

    June 5, 2016
  65. Kinza N said:

    Volunteers and un-paid students are unfairly exploited in the research field. But the students trying to build their resumes by volunteering in labs are pretty desperate, and will grind themselves down for that experience even if they are not given credit for their contributions. 🙁

    July 31, 2016
  66. Alexander Lefkowitz said:

    SciShow, what is my suck so squishy and what's the deal with it's stretchy super powers.

    I'm a JavaScript engineer, I wish there was something I could do with script for the good of science.

    August 15, 2016
  67. Tyler Strong said:

    posted on 4/20

    September 15, 2016
  68. Max Kuchenkiller said:

    For everyone who wants to get started in really cool Citizen Science Projects check out
    Galaxy Zoo, the project discussed in the video is just one of several huge projects. You can, for example help scientists discover the martian surface (Project Planet Four), hunt down supernovas and even help analyze data from the LHC.
    The best thing is, if something is discovered with your contribution you will get to be in the research paper!

    September 20, 2016
  69. Frank Harrison said:

    We need a pervasive Science Culture to replace the superstitious cultures that hold us back. 😐 Everyone should embrace science to some degree.

    October 12, 2016
  70. asherael said:

    As an archivist, I just wanted to point out, that "archives" the noun always has an s on the end. Even when you'd expect the singular, like, "this belongs in an archives."

    October 13, 2016
  71. saare said:

    do a video on asmr science!

    November 18, 2016
  72. Tom P. said:

    great hobby to get into!

    November 23, 2016
  73. Jesiol Silvera said:

    Is this what Argentinean philosopher Mario Bunge is referring at when he speaks of ''scientific communism''?

    April 2, 2017
  74. Pee JeeWee said:

    That was pretty inspiring

    June 1, 2017
  75. Ricardo Pesenti said:

    Too lazy for your research?
    Make a free internet game out of it and let millions of volunteers do it xD

    August 2, 2017
  76. Pepper said:

    The guy on the thumbnail looks like Jeremy

    August 19, 2017
  77. Phil Knowles said:

    There's also this cool thing where you can analyse data from radio telescopes to see when stars dim (evidence that there may be a planet moving in from of it. The name escapes me at the moment.

    September 7, 2017
  78. Exoss Citizen Science said:

    Congrats for the video

    November 6, 2017
  79. Andrew O'Hara said:

    You just reminded me to sign up for [email protected] Now they have 12 overclocked logical cores helping them out!

    November 27, 2017
  80. Matt Ryu said:

    5:03. Is computer vision better than humans now in this area?

    January 2, 2018
  81. Epistemologically said:

    why before this video I got a 1:20 long ad, without any skip button? D:

    January 19, 2018
  82. John Heeter said:


    January 25, 2018
  83. Kimberly Rachels said:

    Would have been neat if he would have talked about the role citizen science played in tracking the migration of monarch butterflies

    January 27, 2018
  84. jess said:

    finally, i can feel like my life has meaning again. thank you.

    January 30, 2018
  85. KingOfGames said:

    I have Boinc installed and run World Community Grid and [email protected]

    February 12, 2018
  86. blackkittyfreak said:

    I went to download [email protected] and saw that they use a software called BOINC, and I instantly thought of Calvin and Hobbes.

    "Scientific progress goes 'BOINC.'" XD

    February 12, 2018
  87. Arya Pourtabatabaie said:

    So… do the busy work?

    February 13, 2018
  88. Mme. Hyraelle said:

    I had to pause boinc so i could watch this flawlesly. Ps: [email protected] is a lie. It has found conclusive data, but carl sagan is a scam. Look for the large hadron collider or rosetta ( protein research ) instead.

    February 21, 2018
  89. Jac Windsor said:

    I am an environmental citizen scientist it is a lot of fun, met interesting people, and even had free tickets to places and attend posh events.

    March 10, 2018
  90. Richard Rester said:

    sci·en·tist (sī′ən-tĭst)
    A person who is engaged in and has expert knowledge of a science, especially a biological or physical science.

    Therefore, "citizen science" is science. "Citizen" is tacked on there simply to promote elitism. Look, if you study or have expert knowledge in a scientific field then you are a scientist, and "citizen" is an unnecessary word.

    April 10, 2018
  91. Hari Anugrah said:

    cara mudah menjadi scienctist

    June 13, 2018
  92. Shaun Arkadies said:

    EVE:Online have free accounts and a citizen science mini game.

    July 8, 2018
  93. shinkoryu14 said:

    I actually participated in a citizen science thing- it's called "QuestaGame," an app game created to study biodiversity by encouraging people to take photographs of various fauna and flora in the world around them, and awarding points based on how rare the particular sighting is to the given area. Earlier this year a QuestaGame player found a completely new species of spider previously unknown to science, and had it named after him!

    August 19, 2018
  94. Spiraling Universe said:

    I guess I'm a natural scientist, because I love history spirituality philosophy religious teachings perspective hello and any perspective really.

    To know what is life how it functions from small to large.

    All life is like a entenna each bond also the entenna .

    All life in end polarizes a way of direction every embodiment is this function of life polarization action.

    Think torus fields the wave polarizes one way but reality can't resist it reflects the opposite as well with a wave or vibration.

    All life is a entenna that polarizes postive one way but its opposite is negative.

    2 energies spiraling around each other yin yang is what I see every where seeking to synchronize with the other that's existence.

    October 23, 2018
  95. marmar sacar said:


    Read more

    January 12, 2019
  96. marmar sacar said:


    Read more

    January 12, 2019
  97. James Bowen said:

    these data? data are? interesting.

    February 16, 2019
  98. Emilee Weir said:

    Shameless self-plug here: I just did a TEDx talk earlier this year about why to participate in citizen science (I participate in some of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's projects). Here's the link if you're interested, titled "We want YOU to help our Scientists: The Power of Citizen Science":

    May 20, 2019
  99. K1naku5ana3R1ka said:

    Another great video about citizen science:

    June 24, 2019

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