Ocean Community News

Documentary Features Citizen Science Empowered by the Digital Age

Big corporations mine our online activity for profit. NASA sends probes to distant planets, and delivers astonishing images of both deep space and planet Earth. But even in this age of Big Data and Big Science, there is still a need for what’s called “citizen science.”

THE CROWD & THE CLOUD (C&C) is a four-hour public television series showcasing some of the people at the frontlines of this revolution in how science is done and their contributions to public health, environmental protection, wildlife conservation and mitigating the impacts of climate change. This new approach to science takes advantage of the almost universal availability of mobile technology, low cost sensors and other tools for collecting and sharing data. C&C travels around the U.S. and internationally to document inspiring stories of people taking charge of their health, their rivers and lakes, the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the communities in which they live.

Its inspiring vision will offer viewers who want to become doers online resources (CrowdAndCloud.org) to find out more.

The series is distributed by American Public Television (APT, APTonline.org) and is slated for release nationally on April 1, 2017 (check local listings).

The four episodes will debut on public television's WORLD Channel on April 6, 13, 20 and 27.

“Public television has been sharing breakthrough science for decades through such classics as Carl Sagan’s COSMOS, the first home-grown American science series, and NOVA,” says writer/producer Geoff Haines-Stiles. “I’m proud to have contributed to both, and am impressed by how audiences have responded with curiosity and passion. As I learned more about today’s increasingly varied and valuable citizen science projects, I became certain PBS viewers would love to know more, and perhaps be motivated to start participating. The result is our CROWD & CLOUD project, combining broadcast television and online resources.”

CROWD & CLOUD’s four programs include long-standing citizen science projects such as the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, which started in 1900, and recent start-ups such as Smartfin and Propeller Health, which—respectively—use innovative sensors to capture ocean data, and help those suffering from asthma and as their doctors track where attacks are triggered. Program 1, “Even Big Data Starts Small,” shows how armchair mappers worldwide go online to transform satellite images into maps that help speed first responders where they need to be after disasters block roads. “EyesOnALZ” uses crowdsourcing and gamification in “Stall Catchers” to enlist online volunteers to help analyze blocked blood vessels in living brains, and speed up research into Alzheimer’s disease, cutting a year of expert work down to two weeks without sacrificing data quality. Each program offers multiple intriguing examples, and engaging profiles of enthusiastic participants in the disruptive and increasingly global phenomenon of “Citizen Science in the Digital Age.” (Descriptions of the four programs follow.)

The series is hosted by Waleed Abdalati, former NASA Chief Scientist and now Director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

As Waleed comments, “My background as a scientist, working for NASA and at universities, has shown me the value of the Big Picture perspective you get from looking at Earth from space. Now that I’ve been able to dive into the projects we’ve covered in THE CROWD & THE CLOUD, I’ve learned that the up close and personal perspective, people collaborating and sharing data via the cloud, is an excellent way to gather the information we need to help solve the challenges we all face. From earthquakes to epidemics, from air quality to Alzheimer’s research, from the health of our oceans to the safety of our drinking water, citizen science and crowdsourcing canmake a difference. And citizen science is science. The better the data, the bigger the impact, for scientists, policy-makers and the public. And it's clear that we can use more help, which is where the viewers come in.”

Executive Producer Erna Akuginow adds, “Now more than ever the hundreds of thousands of Americans engaged in citizen science can help fill gaps where government agencies lack will or resources to address issues of local concern. Whether it’s community members in West Oakland counting trucks to route pollution away from homes, or retirees counting horseshoe crabs on the Delaware Bay and contributing data that shapes conservation strategies, this growing movement is a new way of doing science. It’s as American as apple pie, counting Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson as early weather watchers. And it’s fun and rewarding for those participating, and the data is often priceless, and unobtainable in any other way.”

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