Citizen Science; Fight or Flight?
Uploaded by Evette Clayton on behalf of author, Steven Correia
We all know that people are stubborn, five minutes in any internet forum could tell you that, so is it really all that necessary to try and change their minds? That is what The Bird Network (TBN) of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (CLO) tried to do.
Citizen science is a term used for projects or ongoing programmes of scientific work in which individual volunteers or networks of volunteers, many of whom may have no specific scientific training, perform or manage research-related tasks such as observation, measurement, or computation. Among the more complex of the CLO’s citizen science projects, The Bird Network set out to change
the attitude of its participants towards environmental science basing their work on the framework of the ‘Elaboration Likelihood Model’. This theory argues that thoughtful attention to a stimuli will activate a central or main route to persuasion, this is particularly useful for citizen science as all of the participants are volunteers and will therefore be more interested in and attentive to the subject. This lead to the hypothesis that;
• Participation in the TBN will lead to positive effects on attitudes towards science and the environment in adult participants.
Although this would be supported by previous research if performed on children or young adults, the impact of direct participation on the attitudes of adults has rarely been explored.
Unfortunately, this particular citizen science project has found effectively no changes in the attitudes of participants towards science and the environment. TBN mostly attributed this lack in change of attitude to the complexity of people’s attitudes and our current methods in measuring them. Four arguments could be extrapolated to support this assumption;
1. The large number of undecided responses on both the pre- and post-tests indicate the respondents’ attitudes are complex.
2. Participants’ attitudes towards science have actually stayed moderate at the post-test stage. This has been shown to be associated with ‘belief complexity’
3. The project could have stabilised a deteriorating attitude and this was not within the scope of the TBN’s measurement of attitudes.
4. The scale may not have been sensitive enough to accurately measure a change in attitude.
So the results of this citizen science project say one of two things, either our current methods for measuring attitudes is very insufficient or adults really don’t change their mind too easily. This then asks the question should we struggle to improve the quality of measuring attitudes in citizen science projects or should we walk away from this project confirming what we already thought at
Fight or Flight?
Brossard, D, Lewenstein, B and Bonney, R. 2005. Scientific knowledge and attitude change: The impact of a citizen science project’, International Journal of Science Education, 27: 9, 1099 – 1121.