Thursday, January 10, 2013

Can Citizen Scientists Be Our First Line Of Defense In Environmental Disasters?

It can be months before the true experts finally get into an area affected by disasters like oil spills, but there are thousands of concerned citizens interested in documenting what’s happened. The problem is: We never use their data.

How do you assess the impact of a large oil spill? Not easily, says Sabrina McCormick. If it’s like the Gulf disaster, the oil will have spread far and wide, and the effects will be lingering and insidious. It’ll take scientists years to take readings, and even then, their conclusions are likely to miss a lot.

McCormick, an associate professor at George Washington University, has studied the scientific response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. She says most reports tend to downplay the effects on the environment and human health because of a lack of good data for many areas.

Instead of traditional data-gathering, McCormick thinks disaster responders should turn to citizen-scientists, who can provide more timely, granular information. "The data collected through crowd-sourcing is generally more time-sensitive. It’s able to fill a gap in the data-collection process that otherwise wouldn’t get filled," she says.

Co.Exist - 

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