By sharing your signal data with us through the app you’re helping build a global map of signal strength. Basically your phone is acting like a ‘signal meter’, it’s like you’re part of a massive science experiment to collect data about the world’s wireless networks. That’s certainly the view of the folks at Science for Citizens who recently added us to their site.
It’s well worth going to Science for Citizens and taking a look at some of the other projects featured there. From bird-spotting, to monitoring the width of gravestones (as a way of calculating the amount of acid rain) you’re sure to find something that you can help out with.
Some of the projects such as the famous SETI@home and Foldit require no more than for you to install some programs on your computer, by letting these run in the background you can aid the search for extraterrestrial life or the understanding of the structure of proteins. Other projects involve a little more of the human touch – like Galaxy Zoo where you look for particular galactic structures, or Urban Forest Map– which is aiming to map all the trees in San Francisco, or the very simple “Snow Tweets” project: tweet the depth of snow where you are (it’s 0 here in Coghlan, Buenos Aires).
Why this is so awesome
The above projects would either be extremely costly or downright impossible without accepting user contributions. You’d need supercomputers to do what SETI@home and Foldit do, you’d need an army of experimentalists to go out and measure the depth of snow. When projects throw open the doors like this, it allows them to do things on a much greater scale. Not only this, often non-scientists have some great insights – this has been the case with Galaxy Zoo where one volunteer spotted a totally unknown objects, the mysterious Voorwerp.
Apart from helping scientific projects progress, “Citizen Science” has another great benefit: it keeps the scientific and lay communities engaged with one other. I once heard a Philosophy lecturer ask a Physics one “So if you can’t explain this theory to me in any words I can understand, why should I care? What can it mean to me?” A fair question. Science can seem so abstract, magical even, it can be easy to get disconnected from it. It needn’t and should’t be that way.
Every person is a born scientist. We all take an interest in the world around us… has anyone ever seen a baby not curious about how the world works? Not every person is destined to be a career scientist, but unfortunately people might give up on science entirely because it bores them at school, or the work of scientists feels so inaccessible. If that is so, it is up to educational systems and the scientific community to change. The projects on Citizens for Science give great examples of how to not only engage people with science, but allow them to contribute real value.
So next time you use the app… feel good! We’re not scientists, but maybe this is science.