Article: Social inequities and citizen science can skew our view of the natural world

I don’t believe it’s possible to avoid the problem - and I completely agree that it’s a social issue. In the Western world, one is able to afford a phone and/or a camera that costs several salaries’ worth in developing countries. The same applies on a city scale, though to a lesser extent.

There is also the factor of available time for hobbies. People in low-income jobs may take longer shifts or more than one job, leaving less time for social media and fun. It’s a sad part of reality, going beyond city science.

I think the key point for researchers is that this is city science. It is not a pre-planned research project where you carefully ensure random sampling and unified methods to ensure reproducibility. But reproducibility is a painful topic that many scientists ignore which goes beyond the scope of this thread.


There have been threads on these Forums related to this aspect. One that was fairly recent was Filling in rural areas. It was trying to encourage those city and town dwellers who have the phones and cameras to take more of an interest in the less densely populated areas.


Anyone want to help ID for Africa.
That has exploded in the last few days (mostly difficult dicots - fair warning)

1 Like

There are very slight differences in the details but this is remarkably consistent with the experience we had working on the river systems in Guelph, Ontario in the 1980s. One work day, early in the project, some folks walking on the path along the river stopped to ask what we were doing. They were of the opinion that we were wasting our time because the rivers were such a mess that they weren’t worth saving. It was a pretty widely held opinion in the community at the time and was clearly most pronounced in poorer areas where the river was degraded by industrial activities.

We also encountered the concerns about safety and vegetation and had a long, sometimes difficult conversation about tradeoffs, but those concerns came from across the income and social/cultural spectrum.

Here’s the thing, shopping carts are sometimes the only environmental structure left in an urban watercourse. One of the things we did during the annual river clean-up was show people what was living on and in the trash they were pulling out and talking about the need to go beyond garbage removal to ecological restoration. We made pretty good progress over tbe years, but it took a lot of work. Working with school kids and youth groups had a significant impact.

Engagement with iNat will always reflect social realities. Pretty much every human activity does. Insofar as learning about nature is iNat’s mission it’s one of the major challenges. Informed persistence is key. And kids. Work with kids.


1 Like

But in so doing, understand that this is a loaded phrase. Longtimers here in the Forums will have seen threads about “class projects,” which are object lessons in how NOT to “work with kids” in this regard. One thing that makes “work with kids” so fraught is that many people still have difficulty perceiving kids as volitional persons in their own right. Some people might say that they want to “work with kids,” when they really mean that they want to work with schools, counting on those schools to provide them with a captive audience of kids.

What do you have to offer young people that would cause them to come to you of their own free will? This is important to ponder when considering “working with kids.”


Really listen to what they would like to tell you. Let them show you things that they have observed. They will usually like that, and you may learn some things from them, perhaps something about the environment near where they live …

That day in Farmingdale …

It felt good, and they did learn something that they had not noticed themselves. Because of that, I even considered how good it might be to go to school there. It seemed like a place where discovery was valued.


Sure. So is pondering how to get past the reflex hostility some kids feel when dealing with someone they see as an authority figure trying to sell them something. So is dealing with teachers stretched to the breaking point trying to help kids learn in overstuffed classes, with poor resources and shrinking budgets.

In general, I have found that kids of all backgrounds like mucking about in streams, looking under rocks and getting grossed out by the crap people throw into the river or the forest. Mostly they are primed for conversation about the things they see. In classroom settings it’s a pretty sure bet that there will be at least one or two folks whose world view doesn’t include an interest in birds, bugs and green things or who are resistant to activities that they see as dorky. It’s almost always still possible to have a conversation with them.

You don’t instantly teach anybody anything useful. You provide them with the opportunity to learn and help them make the most of it.


It sounds like some kind of research in Anthropology or sociology. Instead of going into some remote jungles to look at native people, they are doing research in their own cities. I see the word ‘race’ and ‘poverty’ being brought up. Didn’t read the article in full, but I’d think race is a concealed factor. I think many people today is of mixed race in europe. It is not binary or the older classification involve 4 main racial grouping. My view is imperfect because I never been to Europe or UK. I was looking at some youtube vids, there is a presenter who looks like Indian/Pakistani or half caucasian who speaks Queen’s English. He is talking about immigrant matters. There are some strange happenings around the world. Anthropology right at their own backyards. Tents and schools being used as refugee centers in USA. I doubt the research is about squirrels. The data generated by Citizen science is by nature imperfect. It is not on the people who are volunteering their time and bandwidth. In exchange for a way to learn about things, world citizens are feeding a big data construct. I think people should avoid making sensationalistic research. Some privacy concerns. but maybe it is cutting age research, then I’m wrong. The trend of things in the internet, ideas are spiced up to increase traffic, and it has a commercial and political reasonings. Especially the headings on major social medium articles that are pushed into our minds. It compells you to read the article. Lastly, There are also authority bias. Nature is definitely more complex than what we will ever know.


Excellent points, chugbug.
I would also note that many of the above posts seem steer for skewed science. The subject incomparable, but pointing towards Lysenkoism.

I am sure interested in readinthis this post, even if it has been flagged and hidden.

No, it’s okay. It was ‘off topic’ so I deleted it. Now I will never find the iNat profile I asked for.

Its not deleted, it got hidden. Also, who were you talking to?

However, sorry for being angry on here. My patience is unfortunately very low with regards to social issues caused by what I mentioned.

My comment above shows as a reply to bobasil.

I did, delete my comment - after it was flagged.

1 Like

Thanks for posting a link to the article in Anthropocene. One research study cited therein – Elizabeth J. Carlen et al., “A framework for contextualizing social-ecological biases in contributory science data,” People and Nature, 03 March 2024, – was really worth reading. I was especially struck by this passage (in section 5.3):

“Research institutions, including academia, have traditionally been antithetical to community-centred science practices and research. Although this is changing (Esmail et al., 2023), the formal education of natural scientists often does not include training on how to engage with local communities at any scale or even how to collaborate with organizations that work with communities (Leshner, 2007).”

This tallies with my own experience as an educator. Of the scientists I’ve come into contact with, most have only moderate skills as educators and communicators. Nor should they be expected to have competencies beyond their training in the sciences. No shame, no blame. However, the authors of this study go on to note the following:

“Instead, our education defines success as the rapid gathering, analysis and publication of results in academic journals, which are rarely accessible to the public. This structure not only incentivizes non-collaborative work but also actively depreciates involvement with the community where the work is being conducted.”

This last bit, about incentivizing non-collaborative work and actively depreciating involvement with the wider community, is where things get more troublesome for scientists. I say troublesome for scientists because, as the article points out, this can lead to unconscious biases creeping into science.

So the good thing about citizen science projects is that they have to potential to connect scientists and citizens; to lead to collaboration. Citizens enjoy participating in science. Papers like this show that scientists are beginning understand that it would be fruitful for them to collaborate with citizens, with wider communities, and with other professionals with skills in community outreach. From the scientist’s point of view, such collaboration can lead to better science. In short, I’m seeing iNaturalist (and similar efforts) to be part of the solution – part of the way we can nurture more collaboration between scientists and the diverse communities they’re embedded in.


Oh sorry, I somehow didn’t see that you replied to someone else and I didn’t see your hidden comment either at the time.

1 Like

Thanks, for sharing this lynkos. It is an important comment. No cynicism here, statistician speaking here: it is basic statistics really :-)


Could it be that the epidemic of all kinds of science denial is a result of this?

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.