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EPA Wants to Tap the Crowd for Research Help

venimo/Shutterstock.com

The Environmental Protection Agency wants to ask citizens to contribute their own data for scientific research, potentially about topics such as air pollution. 

Last week, the agency announced plans to get clearance from the Office of Management and Budget for crowdsourcing projects. Asking citizens to contribute environmental data could help EPA refine its scientific models, and expand the breadth of its research, according to EPA's notice

This announcement builds on an effort by the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, which last week released the “Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit," aiming at guiding agencies through the process of collecting information from the public. 

In an accompanying memo, OSTP Director John Holdren defined "citizen science" as a process by which the public volunteers to help with parts of the scientific process, including formulating research questions. Crowdsourcing, he wrote, is when organizations call for "voluntary assistance from a large group of individuals for online, distributed problem solving."

EPA is gathering information on both citizen science and crowdsourcing. 

In his memo, Holdren highlighted one of EPA's existing projects, which gives citizens information about new air quality monitoring devices. If they use these devices, "citizen scientists can help fill knowledge gaps about the quality of their local air, leading to regulatory action, technology improvements, and less air pollution."

In its notice, EPA emphasized crowdsourcing would be "low burden" and inexpensive for both participants and the federal government, potentially using automated online submission forms. Citizens would "actively seek to participate on their own initiative through an open and transparent process," and the agency would not select individuals or require them to contribute.  

Personally identifiable information would "only be collected when necessary and in accordance with applicable federal procedures and policies," the notice said. 

(Image via venimo/Shutterstock.com)

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