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Citizen science can be a useful addition to scientific data
Data collected by the public could be useful for academics, according to researchers who have investigated the accuracy of bird tracking applications. They compared publicly-produced data with official monitoring programme numbers and found that, with some refining, the data could be used.
Citizen science employs volunteers to answer questions and report observations to a shared database. Collective public power has helped research in many ways over the past decade, from analysing cosmic photos to measuring mosquito populations. Big data collected by such programmes is exceeding scientists’ ability to use it, especially for wildlife population decisions.
According to Erica Stuber of the Department of Wildland Resources and Ecology Center, public efforts collect more detailed and wider-ranging data than professional researchers can. If there was a means to properly filter, prioritise, and utilise such data, it may be a vital resource in a time of limited restoration budgets, insufficient feet-on-the-ground, and huge wildlife habitats.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird app is 20 years old. It offers identification tools and GPS monitoring of sightings. It lets birdwatchers track their activity and share their findings. eBird has produced a lot of data, but not always in a form scholars can use.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates bald eagle nesting sites every three years to monitor the population. Stuber worked with the EPA and eBird’s science team to discover useful information and compare filtered app data with official bald eagle population counts. Stuber found official and app numbers to be very similar.
She said the programme won’t replace official bird population counts, but it can supplement them. Official counts may miss nuance and detail. These comparisons provide a foundation for comparable work, she added. The findings are published in this month’s Biological Conservation.
Impact measurements miss academics’ social media efforts
A study of how academics use social media to get people interested in their research shows that official “impact” assessments probably miss a lot of the public value of their work.
The study looked at more than 200 examples of how academics use social media to talk about and promote their research. Based on the usage patterns it found, it suggests that the current way universities’ “impact” on the public is measured, which is set out in the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF), the official way that universities in the UK measure the quality of their research, needs to be changed. This is because academics now have more social networks than they did when the REF was originally created.
One thing the REF looks at is how well the results of finished research projects are received by the general public. The study found that researchers often have “feedback loops” with organisations, policymakers and community groups across the duration of a research project. These lead to chances to work together and share knowledge while the research is still going on, which the REF is not likely to cover.
“The official language presents impact as a top-down, outward flow from universities to a waiting public, but this is an outdated characterisation – if it was ever valid at all,” the study’s author, Dr Katy Jordan, from the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, said in a media announcement. Asking academics to describe the social media interactions that have generated the greatest impact for them yields a much broader spread of examples than those covered by the REF, she added.
Jordan says that the difference between “impact” and “public engagement” is getting harder to distinguish because of social media. As people, companies, and organisations contribute ideas, questions, and feedback to academic projects through social platforms, this creates formal and informal opportunities for “outward” exchange. This circle of interaction seems to affect and help society in many ways that the REF doesn’t track.
Age has little effect on ability to spot misinformation
Fake news is no more likely to be accepted by older individuals than younger ones, say US researchers. Only the “oldest old” were more likely to fall for misinformation because of their age.
The results could aid the design interventions to improve news communication and cut down on false information across the lifespan and in older people, so helping them make informed decisions.
Researchers at the University of Florida (UF) and the University of Central Florida conducted the study. It is the first to look at how analytical reasoning, feelings, and how often people read the news affect older adults’ ability to spot fake news across a wide age range, and how this compares to young adults.
The researchers found that both young adults and older adults were just as good at spotting fake news. Both older and younger people had different analytical reasoning skills that affected how they knew if an article was real or not. Also, both young and older adults were less able to spot fake COVID news than fake news about other things. This may be because people didn’t know much about COVID at the start of the pandemic.
Importantly, though, older adults who were 70 years or older or older had a lower ability to spot fake news, whether it was about COVID or something else. This lower ability was linked to levels of analytical reasoning, affect, and how often people read the news.
People over the age of 70 who had more positive emotions and watched the news more often were more likely to do “shallow” information processing, which means they didn’t look as closely at information or pay as much attention to details. In the study, the researchers said that people may not be especially vulnerable to being tricked by misinformation and fake news until they are very old. This is because as people get older, their cognitive abilities may start to decline and they may not be able to make up for this with more life experience and knowledge of the world.
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