Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Capturing knowledge

Citizen science is one of the great buzz words of the year as is crowdsourcing.

Basically citizen science and crowd sourcing represent initiatives to harness amateur scientists observational work to build datasets, much as the Victorian botany craze helped kick start UK county flora, local field societies and the like.

It could also be said that the Victorian citizen science craze was based on three technologies, basically the penny post, the railway and the bicycle that enabled people to get out into the countryside and report their results efficiently. Increased leisure time and access to education probably also helped as well.

And even though the technologies have changed the Victorian model still works well, as seen by various initiatives such as 'Springwatch' in the UK or the Atlas of Living Australia.

Many of these initiatives tend to be in what we still tend to think of as the 'developed/anglophone' world but that is not always the case - Brazil is about to launch an initiative to crowdsource a botanical flora of the Amazon levaraging off local knowledge to capture undocument information about plants and their properties.

Similarly in Thailand, there is project underway to capture the information held in Thai farmer's family herbals on the medical uses of plants - a body of knowledge likely to be lost with the increasing urbanisation and industrialisation taking place in Thailand, and a very nice example of retrospective crowdsourcing - ie not only digitising content to preserve it but also using the information to provide a valuable dataset on plants and their medicinal uses.

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