The history of citizen science

I was just reading about George Lowery, who, in April 1948, recruited 200 amateur astronomers across North America to help him study the nocturnal migration of birds by having them mark the location and direction of their passage across the face of the moon. I’ve attached here some of the truly fantastic diagrams from his research.

I know the Christmas Bird Count has been around for a long time, but what other community-sourced science projects from the past interest and inspire you, even if they’re not particularly relevant today?

clock face

direction trend




Honestly, I have scant details about it, but the story still makes me laugh. So here it is. In 1905 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada was in its beginning and Dr. William Saunders wanted to do field trials (grains and potatoes) in Dawson City in the Yukon. Because the rivers were still frozen, the samples could not arrive there in time but they made it as far as White Horse. So an officer from the Mounties distributed them among seven locals who ended up reporting in some cases ‘‘excellent results’’ while others had late June frost. Apparently, the Mounties always get the potatoes planted.


I have no idea about anything related to this question, only mass science or lonely nature lovers, waiting to read about others’ knowledge!

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Beatrix Potter (of Peter Rabbit fame) made some of the best mycological field paintings of the time. Mary Anning advanced paleontology with methodological and productive field work. Unfortunately, both had a hard time penetrating the scientific world.

Aldo Leopold wrote about how a backyard birder conducting a scientific tagging campaign can uncover more answers than most academic research projects.

The Smithsonian used to run a project where people submitted natural observations to develop a calendar marked by seasonal transitions, much like Thoreaus unfinished Wild Fruit. Not sure what happened to it.


Some 4000 years ago Shennong ( ) created Chinese traditional medicine by testing all plants on himself. He is more of a mythical being than a citizen though.


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