SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on Backpacker.com


Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – September 2007

I, Citizen Scientist

Learn how you can help combat climate change by researching everything from Alaska's Bering Glacier to tracking pumas in Argentina through citizen scientist programs

by: Bruce Barcott

PAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6

Our group (none of whose members is in rehab) is typically eclectic. Kaye, the doctor, is a veteran of 13 Earthwatch expeditions. He's tracked butterflies in Vietnam, chopped down invasive trees in the Galapagos Islands, studied marsupials in Australia, and scuba-mapped a coral reef in the Philippines. At 68, he's like a science addict on a bender, merrily blowing through his retirement fund to collect as much data in as many exotic locales as he can before he shuffles off the mortal coil. The rest of us are novices. Alice Gamper is a shy 19-year-old college student from Scotland. David Outman, 33, works for a nature conservancy group in Massachusetts. Matthew Goodwin, 48, owns a construction business in the Boston area. Tina Woolston, 34, works at Earthwatch headquarters in Maynard, MA (staffers get trip discounts). Paul Bonazzi, 32, is a high school science teacher from New Jersey. Bonazzi came with his father, 59-year-old R.D., an auto technician.

Each group member has his or her own reason for coming. Gamper wants to get some experience handling small animals before applying for veterinary school. The younger Bonazzi plans to post a daily blog to show his students how real science is done in the field. His dad confesses to a recent environmental awakening. "I'm here to make up for all those catalytic converters we 'customized' back in the '70s," he says, half-jokingly.

The use of amateur assistants isn't without controversy. Some scientists distrust volunteer-collected findings. It's a legitimate concern. Poorly trained or wrongly utilized volunteers can produce data so inaccurate as to be useless. In addition to studying badgers and using volunteers, Buesching and Newman study the effectiveness of citizen science. They've found that information gathered by amateurs, under the right conditions, can be as good as, or better than, that collected by professional researchers. The novelty and challenge of identifying animal scat, for instance, can motivate a trained volunteer to find more specimens than a bored graduate student who's sweeping his 500th test plot.

Our training starts with a brisk 5-mile hike along the Nova Scotia coast. It's a postcard scene, with pond-dappled forests running down to meet the rocky, windswept shore. But Buesching and Newman want us to see beyond the surface beauty. "Take a look at this," says Newman. He bends down to pick up some animal poop. "It's raccoon feces," he says, picking it apart with his fingers. "See the shell bits? He's been filling up on mollusks."

After an hour, the hike becomes a treasure hunt. The group is scanning the ground for scat. We identify deer droppings (which look like raisins). Snowshoe hares (Kix cereal). Porcupines (Cheetos Puffs). Soon, we're spotting and identifying animal poop with increasing precision. Bonazzi the science teacher is videotaping it for his students. He holds up a fox dropping to Goodwin, the contractor. "Go ahead, Matthew, work your way through that," he says. Goodwin demurs. "No thanks," he says. "I'm holding out for something a little more special, like moose."


PAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6

Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip:
Email (req):
Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

GUCCI LOVER
Jul 06, 2009

Thanks, I Didnt Really Get It But Yeah It Helped Out

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Gear
Hiking on rocks
Posted On: Aug 28, 2014
Submitted By: GoBlueHiker
Gear
Finally going Backpacking!
Posted On: Aug 28, 2014
Submitted By: 92hatchattack

Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions