Saturday, 15 February 2020

The costs of citizen science

Way back in 1984 I started on my first proper job after graduate school, working for an environmental science field centre.

I was paid, not a lot, but enough to get by on.

There were graduate students working there who had a bit of funding, some people on internships who got a little bit of money for survey work and so on.

However, most of the basic overheads were paid for, so other than rubber boots and army surplus parkas, going to work didn't really cost anyone anything, other than a personal copy of a plant reference book or a better headtorch.

Fast forward to the present day.

I'm now retired and working happily as a volunteer, documenting artefacts for the National Trust.

This actually costs me something to do, buying rubber gloves, bits and pieces to aid the documentation process, such as extra usb sticks and gizmos to read sd cards.

It's not a lot, and there's a degree of crossover with what I spend on my hobby of family history, so I'm happy to spend the money because I enjoy what I'm doing.

Treat it as a hobby and it's much the same as what J spends on art materials, a cost of doing something you find fun and enjoyable. If instead, I enjoyed breeding orchids, recording old churches, or censusing bats, there would still be an overhead.

And then there's the all the other things that go around it, my office 365 subscription, really to pay for cloud storage of my digitised materials, evernote subscription, replacement printer cartridges, a wordpress account, and a few other memberships.

Now, I'm in the fortunate position of being able to afford to do this.

I'm also by no means unique in doing this, since I've retired I've met amateur astronomers, former professional botanists, historians and so on who are doing good work for the fun of doing so.

Other people of course, may not be so fortunate and find it difficult to pursue citizen research despite being well qualified to do so.

I don't have an answer to the funding conundrum, but as there is increasingly less and less state and federal funding for humanities research and simple observational scientific research, such as recording plant and animal species as they recolonize bushfire damaged areas, it's inevitable that 'big' research is going to be more and more dependent on low level citizen research volunteer efforts.

But I do have a suggestion. Most people who carry out citizen research are members of a local field studies group, history or archaeological society (by the way, I'm not).

If we had a citizen research body that people could register their projects with via accredited local bodies such as history societies, we could perhaps have the citizen research body negotiate small discounts with suppliers.

That way no money changes hands, but these modest costs might help see a project through to completion, as well as getting the data out there.

No more daily tweet summary

For longer than I can remember I've used the services of to post a daily twitter summary at 12.43 Australian east coast time to where else, twitter.

No more.

I've been running in freetard mode, using a basic account to provide a daily summary of the most popular tweets of both myself and the people I follow.

As I've said elsewhere, I started using twitter as a way of sharing interesting snippets with my team, colleagues and indeed anyone who wanted to follow me. Over the years my feed has changed from being focused on digital preservation and archiving with a bit of classical and medieval history thrown in for amusement, to a mixture of material about history, cultural repatriation and a smidgin of technical stuff - especially after I retired and no longer had a team of people.

The thing came about because some people asked me if I could post a summary every so often, and I was too lazy to write a script to do it for me, and what's more, added value in picking other popular posts from people I follow.

So I started pushing out an automated daily summary using their service.

Well, all good things come to an end.

For perfectly understandable reasons, the people have recently started being less generous as regards what you got with a basic (free) account, and I didn't want to pay for a pro account.

I suppose if I had my own consultancy and more importantly, it made money, I could have claimed a pro subscription as marketing, but I don't, so I havn't, and being genuinely retired I have no external lines of funding to tap.

As an aside, this is a little commented on problem with volunteer working (or if you're grand citizen research) - everything from my blue nitrile gloves for handling artefacts at the pharmacy to my Office 365 subscription comes out of my own money. I don't begrudge a cent of it, after all, it helps keep me sane, but there are limits as to what I can reasonably afford.

So, the long and short of it was that when you looked at what you got from the new basic plan it wasn't worth continuing.

I did think about compiling a weekly summary, but rejected that idea - explorator is better established and does a better job, and I'm not sure if I can deliver the commitment required.

So that's it, I'll still keep tweeting about the stuff that interests me, but there will be no more 12.43 summary carefully timed for an Australian lunch break ...