The normally sensible Bart went slightly gooey over Citizen Science recently, although to be fair he linked to his earlier article wherein he was distinctly more dubious about the benefits, and indeed about the good intentions about some of the wannabe scientists. And in the comments he is more equivocal.
Then by coincidence I ran across Astronomers thankful for return of Jupiter’s belt where Phil Plait again lauds the amateur:
Astronomy is an awesome science: it’s one of the few where dedicated “hobbyists” can contribute, and do so in a critical and timely way. It’s a big sky, with a lot to observe. And if I may say so, I’m thankful there are so many keeping an eye on it.
But notice that whilst the amateurs are contributing – by making observations – they aren’t actually doing the science. Just making observations is stamp collecting. Working out what is actually going on is the science. Contributing meteorological observations isn’t doing science, even if it is helpful (though it doesn’t seem to be any more; as I recall the Met Office mostly gave up on encouraging amateur obs as the quality control was poor in some cases). In fact if I was taking a hard line I’d say that even ClearClimateCode isn’t science – its coding.
Incidentally I’m not claiming that amateurs or “citroyens” can’t do science – of course they can. In principle. But doing worthwhile science is hard (there are enough people formally called scientists who aren’t really doing anything worthwhile, after all) and doing it as a citizen is harder. Most of those who think they are “citizen scientists” are just fooling themselves and contributing noise to the blogosphere. Much of this encouragement of the CS looks rather like the kind of patronising “oh haven’t the little darlings done well” sort of stuff that people get to coo over their infants pre-school work.
Incidentally I’m not a scientist any more. Though I may occasionally do the odd very minor bit of science. But nowadays I find stuff like this exciting (go on, have a look) and think “oooooh, I can’t wait until monday to try it out”.
Update: SE has a great post on Why GCMs don’t need IV&V.