Are German scientists smarter than other nationals

Citizen Science
Citizens create knowledge

The Citizen Science project “Loss of the Night” determines the brightness of the sky. | © kentauros / Fotolia

Laypeople work as research assistants on research projects or develop their own projects - that is the idea of ​​Citizen Science. A trend that is also catching on in Germany.

They watch butterflies, catch flies or monitor their health with a smartphone app. We're talking about citizen scientists. They collect important data or otherwise support science projects. The USA and Great Britain have long recognized the benefits that collaboration between laypeople and scientists can bring not only for research, but also for business, politics and, last but not least, for everyday life.

There is now an increasing number of citizen science projects in Germany as well. One of these is the research project led by the Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries Loss of the night. The idea: A smartphone app guides amateur astronomers to certain stars and asks how bright they are. The citizen scientists also indicate how many stars they see in total and which star is the faintest. Thanks to the collaboration of lay researchers, the brightness of the sky is to be determined worldwide in this way.

The websites Buergerschaffenwissen.de and Citizen-science-germany.de provide an overview of Citizen Science projects. The concept is basically not new. As early as 1900, the National Audubon Society called on American citizens to join Christmas Bird Count on: a national bird census that has taken place every year since then.

It's all about mass

The participation of laypeople in science is also nothing new for the art historian Hubertus Kohl. What has changed, however, is that some projects can be “organized much better” with the help of digital media and that far more potential participants can be reached via the Internet. And that is exactly what is crucial in most citizen science projects. It is seldom a question of finding a new world formula, but primarily about mass. That means: collecting as much data as possible, which then serve as a basis for further research or application.

This is the case with the project led by Hubertus Kohlen at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich Atigo, one of the few German humanities citizen science projects, no different. Artigo is a so called game with a purpose, a game with a purpose, in which the aim is to describe works of art with keywords. The scientific benefits of Artigo: every keyword that is used by at least two different players ends up as a search term in the art history database Artemis. And the benefit for the player: entertainment and art-historical education. You can find out the title, artist and other important data after each round of the game.

Of course, you could also entrust a purely scientific team with entering the key word. But with the around 50,000 works of art that are recorded in Artemis, that should take decades. Hubertus coal came up with the idea of ​​delegating the whole thing to the “crowd” through James Surowiecki's book The wisdom of the many. The author advocates the basic thesis that groups are often smarter than individuals. “A great concept,” says the art historian, which has meanwhile helped him and his team to get more than eight million catchwords.

Developed in the laundry room

Another Citizen Science project shows that even an individual with a good idea can make a big difference: the one-dollar glasses. These are glasses that can be manufactured quickly and are intended for the estimated 150 million people around the world who need glasses but cannot afford them.

The glasses were developed by the math and physics teacher Martin Aufmuth from Erlangen. A book also gave him the idea: Out of Poverty by Paul Polak. He writes that there must be glasses that even a “one-dollar worker” can afford. When Aufmuth discovered eyeglasses shortly afterwards in a one-euro shop, he wondered why something like this didn't also exist in Africa. In his laundry room he then experimented with bicycle brake cables or other materials and ended up with a robust and easy-to-manufacture model made of spring steel wire.

The real highlight, however, is not the glasses, but the associated bending machine. This contains, including various lenses, all the materials and tools with which glasses can be manufactured within ten to 30 minutes. To teach the people in Africa and South America how to manufacture them, to become “one dollar glasses opticians”, that is also the actual goal pursued by Aufmuth and his around 30 volunteer employees of the EinDollarGrille association. A simple idea that has already helped more than 1,000 people. That too is citizen science.