In the end, citizen science is many things. It is a way to stimulate public interest, help collect data that would be difficult to do without engaging the community, but perhaps most importantly, citizen science allows the broader public to be engaged in science. Of the many people participating in data collection, perhaps a few will actually do some analysis, and an even fewer number will end up pursuing science as more than a hobby. That’s OK and that’s how it should be.
The key in my mind is to make sure we are developing and nurturing the frameworks that enable participation. The Zooniverse is a great example of making participation easy and fun. Foldit is another model that makes participation fun and rewarding. The current reach of the web makes such platforms very viable and very powerful. Do all models and efforts need to work? No, that is very difficult. Is it OK to leave the hard science to the “experts”? To an extent, that is a good model, but you never know who the experts really are and assuming the sit in some laboratory is both limiting and naive. Not proceeding forward in areas where work can be done by the broader community in chunks because we worry about quality is going to only hold science back. The key once again is to make sure that the underlying platforms make participation easy, and also allow quality to be managed and filtered. In the biological sciences, we haven’t quite seen a project like the Zooniverse, at least not to my knowledge. Initial success has come from efforts that involve the broader scientific community and some hobbyists. Over time, hopefully we will achieve the scale that the web enables and reach a wider set of people, not just scientists. I am pretty sure folks like Andrew Su are thinking of how to do exactly this.