Citizen scientists ‘deserve more credit’

Academic journals should allow citizen scientists and indigenous knowledge to be formally recognised on papers, researchers have suggested.

Writing in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, a team led by Georgia Ward-Fear from Australia’s Macquarie University and Greg Pauly from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, US, argues that changes in technology mean non-professionals are taking greater roles in science work.

“Members of the general public have become pivotal contributors to research, resulting in thousands of scientific publications and measurable conservation impacts,” says Ward-Fear. “The question is: how should we credit that input?” 

Many influential science journals adhere to guidelines set out by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). These state that researchers can only be listed as authors if they made “substantial contributions” to the design of the project, the interpretation of the data, and the critical revision of the final version.

“However, there are some projects in which citizen scientists – through online species identification apps, for instance – contribute most, even all of the data,” says Pauly.

“Without that contribution, the accredited scientists might not even be able to make a discovery – and yet they are not able to be listed as authors. This really undervalues their contributions and might make them reluctant to take part in similar research ever again.”

Similarly, the authors say, the refusal to properly credit contributors who possess valuable traditional skills and knowledge could be seen as discriminatory.

They suggest that non-professionals could be recognised and the integrity of the existing system protected if citizen scientists were credited as “group co-authors” – being collectively credited, for instance, as users of the online interface deployed to gather data.

“With a little flexibility we can recognise the contribution of everyone who plays a major role in research while still deterring scientific fraud,” says Ward-Fear’s Macquarie colleague, Rick Shine.

“We all have to accept that the nature of research is changing, with more citizen scientists taking part. It’s part of the evolving social dimension of science practice, and we should celebrate it rather than stifle it.”

Please login to favourite this article.