Citizen science is a broad term, generally referring to the participation of the public in scientific research with the collaboration of professional scientists, especially in data collection and digitization. One of our projects in IASK 107 had us engage in a citizen science initiative through Science Gossip—a collaboration between ConSciCon and the BHL which allows anyone to participate in natural history research. Users contribute to this process by viewing digitized pages of scientific journals (primarily from the Victorian era) and tagging illustrations, along with adding information including artists, engravers and species.
During this assignment I discovered a number of fascinating “artifacts”. The first one I would like to discuss is an illustration of Thury’s five-tube microscope. This illustration comes from page 792 of the Journal of the Royal Microscopic Society in the BHL. Designed by Swiss physicist M. Thury and produced in the later half of the nineteenth century, this microscope was designed to allow a professor to show a microscopic object to multiple students at once. This image is not only interesting for its design but for what it represents. It shows us a point microscopy history, before the invention of the modern microscope. Knowledge of its design is important in the tracing of human scientific development.
Another artifact of note that I found was an illustration of Trarthus Becki and other trilobite appendages, from page 246 of the Geological Magazine, or Monthly Journal of Geology, 1984. These drawings are part of an article by C. D. Walcott, who was an American paleontologist working at the Smithsonian Institution. Trilobites are one of the largest groups of extinct animals to be found in the fossil record, existing from the Cambrian to to Permian period. I found the image notable due to the quality of the drawing, which indicates the time and care the author put into their work. The findings described in the article are important because they represent a part of the colossal effort exerted by humans to discover and catalogue the history of animal life and evolution on planet Earth.
The work that Science Gossip represents—the digitization of past knowledge—is extremely beneficial to the refinement and acquisition of future knowledge. It allows us to view and build upon previous methods of knowledge acquisition and it strengthens justifications for contemporary knowledge through preserving the original sources in which it’s derived from. Further, the work at Science Gossip, and that of citizen science in general, represents a sort of new period in the democratization of knowledge. Now, not only can public citizens easily access vast amounts of human knowledge, they can also meaningfully contribute to its acquisition and refinement, hastening scientific development.