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18 June 2020

Citizen Science and COVID-19

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Your experience of the COVID-19 pandemic could be an important contribution to science. Researchers from diverse disciplinary backgrounds are keen to learn about your stories, insights, routines, thoughts and feelings. While some projects would be eager to receive diaries in the narrative style of Samuel Pepys or John Evelyn, others want more specific information in survey format.

Hand-drawn and painted cartoon illustrating various ways people have entertained themselves during lockdown
Illustration: Graham Newby, The British Library: Lockdown Rooms (3rd June 2020)

Citizen science engages self-selected members of the public in academic research that generates new knowledge and provides all participants with benefits. The engagement can vary from data gathering or participatory interpretation to shared research design. Different forms of citizen science can be referred to as public science, public participation in scientific research, community science, crowd-sourced science, distributed engagement with research and knowledge production, or trans-disciplinary research that integrates local, indigenous and academic knowledge.

Contributing to citizen science projects sustains a sense of control, sense of belonging (empowering feelings in and after isolation) and sense of being useful which are particularly important in uncertain times. According to the UK Environment Observation Framework, self-measured evidence is more trusted by people, and organisations that draw on data generated through citizen science are more trusted. Trust is linked to transparency. Better understanding of how scientific knowledge is produced, and having a role and responsibility in shaping the knowledge production process, are likely to enable citizen scientists to re-frame the often-uneasy relationship between society and science.

Scale is a distinctive feature of citizen science. The more people are engaged, the more comprehensive an understanding can be reached about the researched topic. The featured COVID-19 Symptom Study has become the largest public science project in the world in a matter of weeks:  3,881,488 citizen scientists are involved as of 18th June 2020. Big data allowed medics to develop an artificial intelligence diagnostic that can predict the likelihood of having COVID-19 based on the symptoms only: a vital tool indeed when testing is limited.

The citizen science initiatives highlighted here, COVID-19 Symptom Study, COVID-19 and You, and COVID Chronicles, may inspire you to contribute to them or find other projects where you can take an active role in developing better understanding of current and future epidemics.

COVID-19 Symptom Study
https://COVID.joinzoe.com/data
Epidemiology
Institutions: King's College London, ZOE
Launched: 25th March 2020
Your contribution helps you and researchers understand COVID-19 and the dynamics of the pandemic (UK, USA).
How: Submit your physical health status regularly.

COVID-19 and You
https://nquire.org.uk/mission/COVID-19-and-you/contribute
Social sciences
Institutions: The Open University, The Young Foundation
Launched: 7th April 2020
Your contribution helps you and researchers understand how COVID-19 is affecting households and communities across the world.
How: Fill in an online survey with choices and narratives.

In addition to supporting current research, your contribution could add to future inquiries as well. Collecting and archiving short personal stories ensures authentic data will be available when researchers in the future look back to us now with their research questions. Reliable data should be collected now, while we are still living in unprecedented times. It is especially important to record the experiences of people from less privileged backgrounds, in contrast to earlier pandemics where the voices of all but the upper and middle classes, and the political, legal and scholarly elite, have often been lost to history. COVID Chronicles, an archival initiative, is doing just that. COVID Chronicles is a joint project: BBC 4 PM collects and features some of the stories and The British Library archives them all for future academic inquiries.

COVID Chronicles
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-52487414
History, social sciences
Institutions: BBC Radio 4, The British Library
Launched: 30th April 2020
Your contribution helps you and future researchers understand how people experience the COVID-19 pandemic in their daily life, at a personal level.
How: Submit a mini-essay (about 400 words) to BBC Radio 4 PM via e-mail: pm at bbc dot co dot uk. Your essay will be archived by The British Library and made available for future research.

The gradually easing lockdown and the anticipated long journey of national and global recovery generate a growing appetite to record, reflect on and analyse the COVID-19 epidemic's influence on our life. Not all "citizen science" projects observe high standards of privacy and ethical responsibility, however. Before joining in any research with public participation, consider the principles of citizen science suggested by the European Citizen Science Association and the questions below:

Five questions before joining a citizen science initiative

  1. Can you contact the researchers and the institution(s) they belong to with your questions and concerns?
  2. Is the research approach clear to you? In order words, is it clear to you what happens to your contribution, how it shapes the investigation and what new knowledge is expected?
  3. Is your privacy protected? In other words, is the privacy policy clear to you, including how you can opt out any time and be sure that your data are deleted?
  4. Are you contacted regularly about the progress of the research you are contributing to?
  5. Are you gaining new transferable skills, new knowledge, insights and other benefits by participating in the research?


Further reading:

Bicker, A., Sillitoe, P., Pottier, J. (eds) 2004. Investigating Local Knowledge: New Directions, New Approaches. Aldershot : Ashgate.
BL Shelfmark YC.2009.a.7651, Document Supply m04/38392

Citizen Science Resources related to COVID-19 pandemic (annotated list) https://www.citizenscience.org/COVID-19/
[Accessed 18th June 2020]

Curtis, V. 2018. Online citizen science and the widening of academia: distributed engagement with research and knowledge production. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Available as an ebook in British Library reading rooms.

Open University. 2019. Citizen Science and Global Biodiversity  (free online course) https://www.open.edu/openlearn/science-maths-technology/citizen-science-and-global-biodiversity/content-section-overview?active-tab=description-tab
[Accessed 18th June 2020]

Sillitoe, P. (ed). 2007. Local science vs global science: approaches to indigenous knowledge in international development. New York : Berghahn Books.
BL Shelfmark YC.2011.a.631, also available as an ebook in British Library reading rooms.

Written by Andrea Deri, Science Reference Team

Contributions from Polly Russell, Curator, COVID Chronicles, and Phil Hatfield, Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies, are much appreciated.

 

12 November 2018

New psychology and nature databases on trial at the BL

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Starting today, users in the British Library Reading Rooms can use two new databases from Alexander Street, which are on trial until mid-January 2019. The usage figures in the next two months will determine whether we take the databases permanently.

An advertisement for "Psychological Experiments Online" shows a group of people in white coats standing with their faces to a wall and their hands over their head, overseen by a man wearing sunglasses and militaristic uniform, and armed with a stick.
Psychological Experiments Online has information on some of the most famous (or notorious, given the dark conclusions of some of them) experiments in psychology since 1900, with articles, archive material, sound or video interviews with researchers and participants, and even recordings of the experiments themselves when available.

An advertisement for the "BBC Landmark Video Collection" shows a collage of images of animals and plants.
The BBC Landmark Video Collection has complete episodes of some of the BBC's most significant nature documentary series from the last fifteen years. All of them have full subtitles and searchable transcripts.

Note that to use these databases you will have to use our desk PCs within the Reading Rooms. For the full effect of sound and video material, you will need to use a PC with headphones, although most of those in the Science reading rooms are now fitted with them.

Please can you give any feedback to the enquiry desk staff, or to science@bl.uk

Posted by Philip Eagle, Subject Librarian - STM

19 July 2013

BBSRC intern and potential ‘poster-boy’ buzzes-off…

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From organising a public debate to writing-up science conferences and festivals, my time as part of the science team at the British Library is at an end. My placement followed on from first BBSRC intern, Catriona Manville who became the ‘poster-girl’ for the BBSRC placement programme in 2012. Even though it was never really a competition, after three months at the British Library could I be the next BBSRC ‘poster-boy’?

Stu.BeinnEigheflipped.Photo_by.Kyle_MunroStuart [me], surveying a grazing exclosure on the Beinn Eighe nature reserve in Scotland. Photo by Kyle Munro.

Before my internship I was writing-up my PhD thesis in Biological Science at the University of Aberdeen, but I wanted some experience in science policy. A placement at the British Library was appealing as an intermediary between interacting with policy makers and the general public. To that effect, I have attended as many meetings, workshops, conferences as possible; from the British Science Association Science Communication conference to a day talking to MPs at the House of Commons with the Society of Biology. For many of the events I attended, I wrote articles or blog posts to share what I learned. For example, I attended my first ever festival (and kept my wristband to prove it!) - the Cheltenham Science Festival - and helped write an article in their newspaper, Litmus paper.

DSC_6836Spot Stuart during TalkScience@BL ‘Pollinators and pesticides: is there a plan bee?’ Photo: Peter Warner.

The pinnacle of the placement has been organising TalkScience. This is a quarterly evening event, similar in format to a café scientifique. After reading the news, policy briefings, publications and reports, we decided our next TalkScience topic would be on issues surrounding the potentially harmful effect of pesticides on insect pollinators. “Pollinators and pesticides: is there a plan bee?”  was chaired by Bill Turnbull, BBC presenter and beekeeper in discussion with the panel comprising Dr David Aston (British Beekeepers Association), Dr Peter Campbell (Syngenta) and Dr Lynn Dicks (University of Cambridge). Even greater public outreach was gained via Bill hosting a BBC Horizon programme about demystifying the bees - leading to the event being filmed by the BBC. Keep your eyes peeled on BBC2 on 2 August at 21.00 and you might see a few shots of the event!

Being part of the British Library science team was a large learning curve and has increased my awareness of activities supporting, using and extending scientific research. For example, I gained new insights into Open Access and how recent policy changes are influencing libraries, funders, publishers and researchers. Even on a day-to-day basis, the transition from PhD student to science outreach is a change in mind-set and routine.

•    Preparing for a monthly supervisor meeting to participating in daily meetings with a wide range of people
•    Preparing for a single yearly conference to attending a conference every few weeks
•    Focusing on a single specific area of science to following multiple disciplines
•    Expanding sources of information from primarily research articles to journal and society news, policy briefings and blogs/Twitter!

DSCF0847A typical internship job at the British Library; fixing the life support system in the office to stop rising CO2 concentration killing the team! This was a team away day at the Leicester Space Centre.

Should I become the next ‘poster-boy’? To be honest, as a PhD student, I feel lucky to have experienced my fair share of media engagement with BBC Horizon. There are many scientists, societies and government advisors completely immersed in outreach and policy that deserve more recognition. Undertaking a placement at the British Library has been a rewarding experience in itself and I would encourage future PhD students to consider the opportunity.

Stuart Smith is a PhD student studing the effect of livestock grazing on the carbon cycle at the University of Aberdeen and has finished his internship as part of the BBSRC policy placement scheme.

12 July 2013

A bee-friendly British Library on the horizon…

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On the evening of 26 June, the British Library was abuzz with discussion of issues surrounding the plight of the humble bee. This was our 21st event in the Science Team’s popular café scientifique series, TalkScience. “Pollinators and pesticides: is there a plan bee?” brought together scientists, policymakers and representatives from industry, along with the general public (many of them beekeepers), for a lively debate about the pressures facing bees and other wild insect pollinators.

British_Library_logo_and_honeybeeBee and pesticide discussions held at the British Library. Bee image © Photos.com photo Eric Isselée.

BBC presenter and beekeeper, Bill Turnbull, chaired the panel comprising Dr David Aston (British Beekeepers Association), Dr Peter Campbell (Syngenta) and Dr Lynn Dicks (University of Cambridge), who expressed a diverse range of views on the decline of insect pollinators and the effects of pesticides on bees. While some research suggests pesticides do have a detrimental effect on bee populations, the issue, as we heard, is far from clear-cut; land-use, diseases and poor weather conditions also contribute to the decline in numbers.

Introducing_TalkScience21_panel.Pollinators_and_pesticides_v2. Lee-Ann Coleman (British Library science team) introduces the panel. L-R: Bill Turnbull (BBC), David Aston (BBKA), Lynn Dicks (University of Cambridge) and Peter Campbell (Syngenta). Photo: Peter Warner

The BBC Horizon team filmed the event as part of an upcoming programme on demystifying the issues impacting bees.  As well as highlighting the discussion from various experts to demonstrate the complexity of the issue, they wanted to reflect public concern for the plight of the bee. The BBC Horizon programme, which will likely contain clips from our TalkScience event, will be broadcast on Friday 2 August at 21.00, after Springwatch.

BBC_Horizon_filming_TalkScience21_panel.Pollinators_and_pesticidesTalkScience being filmed for the first time by BBC Horizon. Photo: Peter Warner

As a result of this TalkScience event, the Science Team is exploring how to make the British Library more bee-friendly. Please let us know about success stories from other public or city buildings that have made a bee-friendly transition, whether it’s planting more flowers or hosting hives of their own. And we'll report back on our own experiences.

 

The bee boleA potential idea of how to use books as solitary bee homes at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Photo: Alec Finlay http://www.the-bee-bole.com/

Following on from TalkScience, lively discussion continues via the blog posting of beekeeper Emily Heath, who attended the event. Lynn Dicks, one of our panellists, also summarised her four key action points to protect bees and other wind insect pollinators after TalkScience, and in preparation for the Bee Summit.

Audience_talking_at_TalkScience21.Pollinators_and_pesticides
Audience members discussing pollinators and pesticides during the TalkScience interval. Photo: Peter Warner.

The event was organised by the Science Team with significant contribution from our PhD student intern, Stuart Smith. Stuart has spent three months with us through a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) funded policy placement. Next week read about his un-bee-lievable placement at the British Library.

Stuart Smith and Johanna Kieniewicz