An analysis of fossil identification guides to improve data reporting in citizen science programs
Butler, Dava K.
Esker, Donald A.
Juntunen, Kristopher L.
Lawver, Daniel R.
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An increasing number of organizations use untrained volunteers to gather scientific data. This citizen science movement builds enthusiasm for science by engaging the public, as well as providing a way to gather large amounts of data at little or no expense. The challenge of citizen science is obtaining accurate information from participants. Many citizen science programs encourage participants to use visual identification guides to ensure they provide correct data. Identifying an image style that increases correct identifications helps not only the citizen science movement but also scientific instruction in general. This study tests three image-based identification guides for identifying late Hemphillian (5–4.5 m.y.a.) fossils from Polk County, Florida. Each guide has identical layout and text, differing only in image style: color photos, grayscale photos, or illustrations. Untrained participants each use one guide to identify fossils. Geology and paleontology professionals also identify fossils for comparison. Comparing results reveals that color photographic images produce results most similar to data from professionals. In addition, participants provide data on their years of education, previous experience finding fossils, and enthusiasm about finding fossils. Analysis of this information reveals that participants with higher education and/or previous experience finding fossils produce data most similar to that from professionals. Paradoxically, participants with higher enthusiasm produce data less similar to that from professionals, while moderate interest levels correlated with greater similarity.
Butler, Dava K., Esker, Donald A., Juntunen, Kristopher L., and Lawver, Daniel R. 2020. An analysis of fossil identification guides to improve data reporting in citizen science programs. Palaeontologia Electronica, 23(1):a19. https://doi.org/10.26879/901