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Citizens and scientists

Laypeople can help drive and expand agriculture research

Non-scientists can have a powerful role in advancing scientific research 
at the farm level.

An international team of researchers has published a paper highlighting the potential of citizen science to address pressing research challenges in agriculture and food systems.

One key to capitalizing on such efforts, the researchers find, may be to build stronger ties between citizen science and agricultural extension efforts.

“We define citizen science as research in which non-scientists play a role in project development, data collection or discovery and which is subject to conventional peer review,” says Sean Ryan, lead author of a paper on the work. “Our goal with this work was to capture the extent to which modern citizen science has helped us address meaningful research questions related to agriculture and food.”

To assess the state of citizen science, the researchers analyzed hundreds of academic articles, singling out dozens of examples that address issues from crop pests and pathogens to biodiversity and ecosystem services. The researchers also looked at a number of ongoing projects.

“In all of the areas we looked at, we found that citizen science has been used to both produce scientifically robust findings that address real-world issues and to engage the public,” Ryan says.

Specifically, the researchers found that — as long as a study was well designed — citizen science could produce solid findings, make a research project more cost effective and allow researchers to expand the scale of their studies dramatically.

Another key idea to come out of the work is that agricultural extension and citizen science practitioners could learn from each other.

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