Bird watching is a popular activity among science hobbyists. Citizen scientists get involved in collecting data and sharing their findings with others through projects like Audubon Society bird counts.
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Whether bird watching, sharing gardening tips or monitoring the night sky, amateur science attracts dedicated people. Science hobbyists may take things a step further and join a citizen science project, where they may collect data or share their knowledge with others.
"Citizen scientists are motivated by a love of science, but they have an additional goal of contributing to formal science, which differentiates them from other science hobbyists," said Gail Jones, a professor of science education at North Carolina State University. "Our research shows that citizen scientists see themselves as more competent, compared with hobbyists. Citizen scientists express more confidence in their understanding of science and in skills such as observing and measuring, as well as their ability to communicate about science."
Jones and colleagues conducted a study that compared the motivations, perceived hobby benefits, and factors that influenced hobby development for citizen-scientists and non-citizen scientists. For insights, the researchers interviewed 107 amateur astronomers and birders. They developed an online survey and analyzed responses from 745 citizen scientists and 2,119 science hobbyists who didnít participate in citizen science projects. Nearly all respondents were white (98 percent) and most were male.
Among their findings: most hobbyists became interested in science while growing up and their love of science developed into a hobby they pursued in adulthood; citizen scientists said teachers and other educators had influenced them more than non-citizen scientists; and the most common reasons for participating in citizen science projects were to contribute to science, for social and community involvement, for learning, because of interest, for enjoyment and for discovery.
Additionally, compared to science hobbyists, citizen scientists were significantly more active in sharing their knowledge with others, both in person and through media; interacted more with scientists, engineers and educators as well as members of the public; were more likely to publish articles and to use electronic media to communicate with fellow hobbyists.
Jones says understanding what motivates science hobbyists and citizen scientists has implications for building science literacy and a lifelong love of science in young people.
The research was funded by National Science Foundation (grant DRI 11-14500).
Learn more about the findings from this study in the NSF News From the Field story More than a hobby: How volunteers support science. (Date image taken: 2014-2018; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Sept. 13, 2018)