Follow the Data

A data driven blog

Citizen science and bees as data collectors

I really like the concept of citizen science, projects where anyone can contribute to scientific research. As described in this Economist article from a couple of months back, when people are able to sample their surroundings in different ways and report variables such as traffic noise and pollution levels, their view on both science and data is likely to change (this of course ties in with self-tracking of physiological parameters etc. as well; see this article for an exercise-related application).

Eric Paulos, who is interviewed in that Economist article, has equipped taxis in Accra, Ghana and street sweepers in San Francisco with pollution detectors that collect data which enabled him to construct pollution maps of those cities. This page contains an interesting description of his research project Citizen Science: Enabling Participatory Urbanism.

There is a dedicated room on FriendFeed on citizen science with frequent updates. The Maryland Science Center has a citizen science program for the earth sciences, where people can e g take daily UV radiation readings and compare them to predicted values, or take temperature measurements that will shed light on the effects of climate change.

And that takes me to the subjects of bees that collect data on climate change, from a fascinating press release that I discovered via the above-mentioned FriendFeed room. A NASA scientist named Wayne Esaias has figured out that honey bees are really good at sampling the environment around a hive in an even way when they scout for honey. This, according to the press release, “means they excel in keeping tabs on the dynamics of flowering ecosystems in ways that even a small army of graduate students can not.

Volunteering beekeepers – citizen scientists – weigh their hives on industrial-sized scales everyday to track the nectar flow. This small citizen research network is called HoneyBeeNet. The data collected by the bees and their keepers reflects a warming trend that could be due to climate change. When Esaias and his colleagues compared nectar flow data from HoneyBeeNet to satellite data on vegetation in the spring, they found a near perfect correspondence, suggesting that the citizen-science derived bee data are reliable and useful.

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