A small change for a big impact

Jul 10, 2020

Who can participate in citizen science? Everyone. Our 4,000 certified California Naturalists recorded over 7,000 volunteer hours under citizen science in 2019.

Though citizen science is a relatively new term, people have been participating and contributing to scientific research for years. With the field growing immensely within the past 10 years, technological advances have helped researchers involve more people, communities have come together to answer important questions, different groups have contributed and shared information, and so much more. It's a powerful tool to teach about and experience science.

However, many in the field have begun to acknowledge a problem: the name. Citizen science - currently the most recognizable term for this practice - implies that citizens are the ones who may contribute to science. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, California is home to almost 11 million immigrants; a larger proportion of the population than in any other state. The Center for Migration Studies reports 23% of immigrants in California are undocumented. The word "citizen" doesn't apply to over 2.5 million Californians.

If we want everyone to feel welcome to the field and participate in science, it's important that we re-evaluate the use of the word "citizen." To describe the two approaches, a community-driven "community science" and a more individual-driven "citizen science," the CalNat program is moving forward in referring to them both as one, "participatory science."

Since the killing of George Floyd has sparked Black Lives Matter movements across the world, the CalNat team has decided to make this one small change of many we hope to implement in the near future to make our program more inclusive to more budding California Naturalists. While the field of citizen science as a whole re-evaluates the use of "citizen," CalNat will lead the way in describing it in a way that includes all people who contribute to science: participatory science.

Learn more on the UC California Naturalist website.

By Sarah Angulo
Author - Community Education Specialist 2 (Central & Sierra)
By Gregory Ira
Editor - Director, UC California Naturalist Statewide Program
By Brook Gamble
Editor - Community Education Specialist 3 (NorCal)