Grant aids Lagoze's studies of citizen scientist data

Birdwatching is the number one sport in the nation, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study which found over 20% of the population self-identified as birdwatchers. Through activities like compiling lifetime bird lists and conducting Great Backyard Bird Counts, many avian enthusiasts participate in their hobby as citizen scientists, helping to amass vast quantities of data on bird populations and migrations.

eBird is an online database managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a unit of Cornell University,  that collects bird observations provided by scientists, researchers and amateur naturalists. UMSI associate professor Carl Lagoze recently received a grant to improve the quality of the data and the overall impact that the eBird project has on the broader scientific community.

Lagoze’s work on the project, "SoCS: Collaborative Research: A Human Computational Approach for Improving Data Quality in Citizen Science Projects," was awarded $168,631 through a National Science Foundation grant administered by Cornell University.

“Initially, our focus will be on mining the over 70 million existing records of observations to calculate summary statistics, such as distribution of observations by observer, choice of observation, and locations of species observations,” Lagoze said. “We will then calculate many of these statistics, attempting to understand the dynamics of observer behavior over time parameterized by expertise, length of involvement in eBird, and other factors.”

The overall goal of the project is to gain a better understanding of citizen scientists’ behavior and how to improve the quality of their observations through machine learning technology.

Launched in 2002, eBird has been hailed as an example of democratizing science, creating a network of both recreational and professional bird watchers who can use their own data and the data generated by others on species distribution, migration timing, and habitat usage. The database is used by educators, land managers, ornithologists, and conservation biologists to better understand nature and the environment.

[Cedar waxwing image by Ben Thomas of Georgia, winner of the 2012 Great Backyard Bird Count photo contest.]

POsted on Thursday, May 02, 2013