"Community Science" vs "Citizen Science"

Sadly, I agree. Amateur has become somewhat pejorative, yet that is what most of us are. We are not getting paid, we collect observations both for our own interest and for a larger purpose. It’s a shame the term has fallen out of favour. Many excellent amateurs are self taught or use what they learned from formal education as a springboard to a specific interest.


I haven’t heard or thought of the phrasing before, but I do like the sound of “community science”… to me it doesn’t sound like it excludes individuals, but rather that it’s inclusive of ALL who are contributing to the scientific community, whether or not as formally trained scientists.


Looked in a dictionary.

Citizen Science, mass noun:
the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists

Community Science: no entries found


I’ve been promoting “citizen” science for 30 years and never once did the issue of legal citizenship enter the discussion. Maybe I’m too old, but back in the day when citizenship was a part of the school curriculum, a good citizen was someone who worked well with others for the common good of the community. The word citizen in the old school sense focuses on what the individual can do for his/her community, not whether their papers were in order. Good citizenship is independent of the legal definition. It is, instead, the very essence of: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It is unfortunate that the term citizen has been devalued to (apparently) mean nothing more than legal resident. And it is unfortunate that we, as citizens in the old school sense, are obliged to let go of the term in its more proper sense, because of stuff that has nothing to do with citizenship or science.

We are global citizens. We do citizen science for global reasons. We all think globally and act locally. The term “community science”, in spite of its good intentions, is ambiguous and blurs the role and responsibility of the individual in creating change.

I, for one, will continue to use the term citizen scientist, but I am a good citizen and will work with community scientists and avocational scientists and professional scientists and amateur scientists and curious 5-year-olds who haven’t decided what they are yet, because that’s how I roll.


I think it is also useful to note that, historically, the professional (academic) scientist is relatively recent invention. Prior to the early 20th Century, many (if not most) science was done by people who had a day job outside their field of interest. This is particularly true of those sciences that fall under the nebulous umbrella of “natural history”.

Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin were all non-professional scientists who contributed significantly to our common knowledge base. Even Einstein worked as a patents clerk during his most productive period.

It does not take a degree in science to do science, to ask questions, to collect evidence or to test hypotheses. The notion that a degree is necessary for these things (largely propagated by academics in the early 20th Century) is, I would argue, a significant cause for the growing anti-science culture we are seeing today.


Some of these concepts and caveats of particular terminologies are explored here (see Table 4):

Eitzel, M V, Cappadonna, J L, Santos-Lang, C, Duerr, R E, Virapongse, A, West, S E, Kyba, C C M, Bowser, A, Cooper, C B, Sforzi, A, Metcalfe, A N, Harris, E S, Thiel, M, Haklay, M, Ponciano, L, Roche, J, Ceccaroni, L, Shilling, F M, Dörler, D, Heigl, F, Kiessling, T, Davis, B Y, Jiang, Q. 2017. Citizen Science Terminology Matters: Exploring Key Terms. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, 2(1): 1.


Thanks so much to @janetwright for making this point. The problem with the many comments explaining, “to me, ‘citizen’ means…,” is that although each is true with regard to the writer’s intentions, language is public and not entirely intentional to the core. The fact that personal meanings can exist doesn’t cancel the fact that for millions of people, the parameter “citizen” brings a chill. Also, if someone loses a bit of the ability to assume your sense of the word, it doesn’t really matter–there’s no real harm. For non-citizens, there’s real harm in always coming up against the fact that other people aren’t thinking of you.


I second the point above saying citizen science is opposed to scientist’s science, and is exclusionary in that sense. I don’t think of it as having the same status as science practiced by universities and their denizens. Partly that’s true, because as someone said, the activities that all under citizens science might not be question driven, like iNat is not. Most users aren’t participating in confirming or generating hypotheses. They/we are participating in discovery, in that we’re helping build a corpus of the word’s organisms, and also private discoveries,where people identify and have identified species which are new to them or whose names are new to them. What it amounts to is exploration of the world. And the fruits of that are used for scientific research, as I gather. Similarly, there are other projects which are called ciizen science which are question driven, but where the question is not come up with by the citizens, and as a participant besides the researchers you just classify images(e.g. galaxy zoo). I don’t quite like the stratification in status but it’s there.

I have a major caveat to a different poster on their opinion of community science being inclusionary to certain people vs citizen science - and it’s that I feel I’m being modeled wrong. I’m not white, but I grew up in a country where the majority is the same race as I am, which feel like it’s almost the same thing. Also I’m cis, and apart from that a regular majority-group member yet social outsider, which might be relevant. And I’m a studying as a scientist. And I don’t have a naturally strong feeling one way or the other about the terms except that I’m not excluded by the term citizen, as I take it to mean people, and I’m vaguely put off by’community’ because it stresses the group participatory aspect and the notion that the direction of the project comes from the group and not yourself and it’s no longer just you and your, say, camera, finding something and then, only then, showing it to/ sharing it with the world.
But I’m very put off by reasons given in thismanner almost to the point of having my hair standing on end:

“”“Citizen science” may seem harmless to people like myself (white, cis, born in the US), but others may think twice before signing up and participating in this work.""

And it’s definitely something I would not want to do, to be part of a project that has its ethos developed like this, although I might be a minority opinion.
In a way it almost feels like only white people are meant to be well adjusted, because I always felt like acceptance of citizen science and some such term was a measure of happiness in the community and adjustment to it, and that the objections anticipated here to come from other groups are anticipated out of a feeling that they themselves will not see themselves as a part of the group identified by the term. And often that expectation is being applied to terms that I’ve felt a part of long before I’ve been a part of, say, the US, or even iNat, or anything else you might think I’m definitely, definitively a part of. So the exclusion here might be US specific and the direction of it I’d guess is definitely US specific. It works just the opposite direction on me than seems to be intended. I almost feel as if the speakers assume that I’m not well, happy, or even as robust to external effects as they, because of who I am, which is strange as I think such reasoning is meant to be inclusionary in itself. I don’t think it’s very good or broad-minded reasoning as a result.


A lot of what I do is not science. I do try and make what I do as useful to science as I can, kind of maximising the benefit out of what I do… if that makes sense. But I do disagree that iNat doesn’t represent question based science. The question for most of us is “what is out there”, and the tool to investigate that is iNat. It’s no different to the journeys of Linnaeus’ disciples, most notably for me being Banks and Solander in the Pacific


I suspect that you are over thinking this topic. What drives a project like this is an interest to discover and document. I know very little about the people with whom I interact. If I was in Mexico, or Armenia, illegally, I suspect I would still post photos and identifications to iNat.
I have stated above that I prefer the term amateur, but quite frankly, I don’t care about the terminology. From my experience, a person on this site is judged only on their observations and identifications. Making the leap from a term like citizen science to being well adjusted is very odd. I din’t consider myself all that well adjusted, but still contribute to this site.


It is a quote, not mine, but yeah I probably am in responding.

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FYI you can highlight text and then hit the ‘quote’ button that appears and that way it puts it in that little box so it’s easier to see it’s a quote and people can tell it isn’t you. It took me a while to figure it out but it works really well.


“Open” I like…very much.

Sorry to be so late in responding. I did not recognise that the quote was a quote of another person (a reference may have been helpful). However, I stand by my comments - race, gender, location & etc are irrelevant to this site. I would like to see more observations from the African continent, as well as Asia, and hope that we will see more in the future. A lot of things get in the way - language, culture, priorities, even internet access. If I have offended you, I apologise. I did not mean to, but I do believe that this platform is not biased.

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I was never aware of this problem, but I agree. Community science it is. After all, community science is something both professionals and non-professional participate in.

If it is not obvious, let me state it simply - you are not going to find a simple name that can not be mis-interpreted by someone, or doesn’t have different implications in different cultures. That one definition of one of the constituent words gives the phrase a different meaning is neither here nor there - this is the English language, surely not the first time we’ve found that phrases can be interpreted in different ways ;-)

Just do what people in many movements do, claim the word, define the phrase by what we do.


I just want to say that I love the fact that iNaturalist is as international as it is. The controversy of using the word “citizen” vs. “community” seems somewhat specific to A) the English language and B) the current political environment in the United States. I have appreciated hearing from users outside the U.S. who have a different take on this issue.

I understand that the word “citizen” now is far too loaded in the US. My own perspective is that we shouldn’t have the narrow legal definition of “citizen” forced upon us at all, I think we ought to reclaim the definition. Everyone is born with dignity no matter where that happens to occur and no matter what legal obstacles that governments erect. Ultimately everyone should have the right to be treated as equal Citizens (with a capital ‘C’) of the communities in which they reside and the world as a whole. I hold out hope we can one day use the term Citizen science with that more just definition in mind.


Speaking as a ‘subject’ of a monarchy I like the term ‘citizen’ and I hope that one day it will accurately describe my status in a democratic republic.