What is Citizen Science?

July 23, 2019 - 5 minutes read

Do you look at the world around you and try to figure out what’s going on? Do you like to think? You can do citizen science.— Bill Nye the Science Guy

Here at the Dog Aging Project, scientists from top institutions around the world are collaborating on a rigorous, comprehensive, and carefully planned research program to unlock the secrets of healthy aging in dogs. It’s a huge project that will take at least ten years to complete. Our hope is that the discoveries we make will be used to improve the quality of life for dogs and their owners in the future.

We have big plans and big goals, but none of it will be possible without YOU!

For each of the 10,000 dogs enrolled in the Dog Aging Project, we will collect information about their physical measurements, activity levels, health, habits, environment, life style, and many other things. There’s no way that our team could collect all that information by ourselves, but the science is critically important. So we decided to launch the Dog Aging Project as a citizen science initiative. 

Citizen science springs from the premise that anyone and everyone can think like a scientist. After all, at its most basic, scientific discovery is the result of a fundamental curiosity about the world and how it works. Scientists ask questions, make observations, design experiments, and collect data to answer our questions. You don’t need a PhD or a lab coat to make important contributions to the world’s body of knowledge. 

Sometimes referred to as crowdsourced science, amateur science, or community science, the practice of citizen science has several important features:

  • Anyone can participate, even kids.
  • There are common protocols that all participants use to make observations and collect high quality data.
  • The work of citizen scientists results in real science and real discoveries. There is nothing amateur about the results.
  • Citizen science builds a community around working together on topics of mutual interest.

There are many different kinds of citizen science projects. Some, like the Christmas Bird Count or the Chesapeake Bay Monitoring Cooperative, involve getting into nature and observing animals or collecting samples. Others, like the Citizen Science Grid, allow you to volunteer your computer’s CPU time to power huge computational projects. There are citizen science opportunities for ocean lovers at the National Ocean Service, and Wikipedia has a list of projects around the world in many fields, including astronomy, environmental science, botany, zoology, ecology, art history, meteorology, computer science, climatology, hydrology, seismology, neuroscience, and genetics. 

At the Dog Aging Project, we view the owners of enrolled dogs as our partners as we attempt to unravel the causes of healthy and unhealthy aging in dogs. For example, one area we will study in depth is diet. There is a lot of variation in what owners offer their dogs for regular meals as well as treats, snacks or “people food.” The only way for us to learn this information is for our participants to tell us precisely what, and how often, they feed their dogs. Then we will be able to learn about how different food choices impact healthy lifespan. Only by working together can we collect information like this from dogs across the United States and over a decade. Citizen scientists are the key to building an incredibly powerful dataset that will allow us to meet our scientific goals. 

In one important way, our project is different from most citizen science projects. Notably, the scientific knowledge gained through the help of citizen scientists might benefit those very same people and their dogs. Through newsletters, social media, and our website, we will keep our citizen scientists informed as we discover the factors that contribute to healthy aging!

If you haven’t yet nominated your dog, there’s still time. Join our team of citizen scientists today.