Caren Cooper

Katherine Hayhoe

Caren Cooper

Democratizing Research. Sounds nice! It’s popular. There’s an increasing role to be played by non-scientists in providing key data for researchers.

Caren Cooper is a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. She relies on volunteers and citizen scientists to supply her data. She studies bird life.  She is also the co-creator of NestWatch, CamClickr, Celebrate Urban Birds, YardMap©, and the House Sparrow Project.

According to Cooper, citizen science is changing the relationship between science and society by fostering more collaborative, interdisciplinary research. Massive collaboration is a solution that Cooper values. In order to make it happen, she is building all the infrastructures for these collaborations.


It’s heartening to see calls by Cooper and her group Globe at Night project seeking participants for unique new studies, like their call in March 2014 asking participants to measure and report light levels near Barn Swallow nests after sundown in the Lebanon Express.

Initially embracing the concept of citizen participation in scientific research was a bit unsettling to her, since she couldn’t see the benefit to it.

By allowing communities to harness the knowledge to advance change, the research doesn’t just sit there and implementation can occur.

In an article response that she published in Democracy & Education Journal on the future of citizen science, she concluded that,

“All models of PPSR (public participation in scientific research) are advancing toward being a means for civic engagement, empowering people to contribute to the formation of knowledge and the articulation of values as needed for decision making in policy, management, and environmental issues.”

Read the entire response here ~ it’s worth it.

When she talks about some of the pitfalls, she’s got a great point. First, the collaboration should lead to the use of the data not just sales off of an app. Secondly, the procedures and observations applied in citizen science still need to be scientifically rigorous.

I also like how she opens her mind to seeing the collaboration between scientists and citizen scientists as more than a black and white issue by seeing it as a multi-disciplinary approach. It’s refreshing also to see that she sees it as a time-honored tradition not a new fad.

Stories like Gerald Clark’s experience from 2013 bring so much hope to citizen science collaborations. As a retiree, he enjoys birds in his backyard, by monitoring the nests of Eastern Bluebirds in Pennsylvania. He worked with NestWatch on a twinning event that he suspected by contributed field notes and photographs of the nesting attempts to a paper. It turned out to be a very rare event that they documented.

This adds to my thirst for scientific knowledge and appreciation for how so many people can work together, think critically, feel accomplished, and build a knowledgeable wonderful world. She’s compared citizen science to “the folktale of stone soup” and to a lottery where a lucky few make unique discoveries.

If we’re going to communicate about sciences that fascinate us, one way is to open ourselves to the challenge of learning more by doing, especially after you’ve read something that makes you ask more questions. Learning activities abound, but consider participating as a data collector on a science project. Stay knowledgeable and work with scientifically curious people, who respect citizen science. Search for opportunities, look at new possible discoveries, ask questions, hypothesize, learn the scientific method and participate! Here’s a great place to start.

Sources: Yale Environment360, Lebanon Express, Democracy & Education Journal, Youtube, open-access journal Ecology & Society, citizenscience.org, Scientific American, Citizen Sci PLOS

Katherine Hayhoe

Now here’s someone who understands the value of finding common ground. If perpetuating stereotypes is in your bag of tricks, she’s not going to conveniently fit into a mold. She’s actually an atmospheric scientist, the director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, and an evangelical Christian.

Her biggest influence in her approach to science and to religion?  Her father, who was a former Toronto science educator and also, at one time, a missionary. She saw that he had never had a conflict between the ideas supporting his faith and the science that explains the world.

Her elevator pitch to the question, “So you’re a climate scientist – what’s all this about climate change and global warming?”

Her appeal?

She tells people we can’t afford complacency with a flair for humor, analogy, and finding common ground. At her presentations, she skims climate change, doesn’t delve deeply into any one area like religion or resenting alarmists, while she avoids diminishing the importance of warnings and threats with keen insights and an effective use of humor. She’s been known to tell audience members, “If you want to go back to Jurassic Park, be my guest.” Essentially, she finds it effective to address the questions people have: How do we know that climate change is even real? How can a Christian/Conservative/Republican care about climate change?

Her track record?

She has spent the last few years trying to convince other Christians that climate change is real. She also conveys that if they are looking for one of the most Christian things to do, then it would be to care about the issue. She acknowledges that Americans have been sluggish in accepting it, in part, because of media and leadership misrepresentations, but also due to psychological barriers to coming to grips with the feeling of helplessness that is associated with becoming informed. She is convinced that climate change “requires a shift in the foundation of our society larger than the one it took to abolish slavery.” It is disproportionately affecting the poor and the vulnerable.

She appreciates the problem personally as a conservative. She understands that conservatives see that the people conservatives trust, the people conservatives respect, and the people whose values conservatives share, in the conservative community are telling conservatives, that it’s a hoax. They have created a false choice for those who are Christian and think that climate change is real and supported with science.

When she is challenged by Christians who often ask, “if God is in control, how could this happen?” she says, “It’s free will. God gave us the brains to make good choices and there’s consequences to the choices that we make.” She explains that people cannot ignore the consequence of an industrialized society that depends on coal, oil and gas for many of our resources in understanding the contributors to climate change.

Although like many activists who don’t want people to feel like the only answer is giving up their identity in order to care about climate change, she feels a sense of accomplishment when people ask her what they can do about the problem. She has experienced more people asking this question over time. It fills her with a sense of relief that some have moved away from the specifics of climate change or the news and are more collaborative rather than perpetuating the dividing lines.

In addressing how leadership in the community, more particularly the conservative community, has presented climate change as incompatible with conservative values, she’s got a better answer as a leader: they are compatible.

Sources: Grist, climatecrocks.com, NPR, Mountain Town News



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