Should a user’s contribution to an identification app earn them credit on a paper? File photo courtesy: Canva.

Citizen scientists deserve credit in scientific journals according to a new paper published by Dr. Georiga Ward-Fear of Australia’s Macquarie University and Dr. Greg Pauly from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.

Most of the world’s leading science journals — including NatureScience and PLOS ONE — have minimum qualification requirements for authors, meaning the efforts of citizen scientists are often uncredited.

“Members of the general public have become pivotal contributors to research, resulting in thousands of scientific publications and measurable conservation impacts,” says Dr. Ward-Fear

“The question is: how should we credit that input?”

In some projects, citizen scientists contribute the majority of the data. Information collected through online species identification apps, for example, can provide information on critically endangered plants and animals.

“Without that contribution, the accredited scientists might not even be able to make a discovery — and yet they are not able to be listed as authors. This really undervalues their contributions and might make them reluctant to take part in similar research ever again,” says Dr. Pauly.

The paper’s authors propose crediting citizen scientists as “group co-authors” — a collective credit for contributions made by a large group of people.

We asked our readers what they think about crediting citizen scientists on papers:

Is excluding citizen scientists discriminatory?

“With a little flexibility we can recognize the contribution of everyone who plays a major role in research while still deterring scientific fraud,” Dr. Ward-Fear says, adding that a refusal to acknowledge citizen contributions could be viewed as discriminatory.

“We all have to accept that the nature of research is changing, with more citizen scientists taking part. It’s part of the evolving social dimension of science practice, and we should celebrate it rather than stifle it.”

The impact of citizen science

An October 2018 analysis revealed citizen science-led (CS) papers are cited, on average, four times more often than those that do not involve public contributions:

“The CS citation history profiles peak within 3 years after paper publication but decline thereafter at a faster pace than the average paper published in 2000. This suggests that CS papers “burn brighter” but remain of interest for only half as long as other papers in space science and astronomy. Nevertheless, CS papers compare well with some of the most highly ranked “Top-1000” research papers of the modern era. The proportion of CS papers surpassing 200 citations is one-in-26, which is 40-fold higher than the proportion for the typical paper published in 2000.”


While some academics are doubtful these projects can deliver accurate results, others have embraced the trend.

A 2018 national consensus report on learning through citizen science by the United States National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, notes the importance of such projects by arguing that CS is a powerful tool that engages the public with science while supporting and extending collective knowledge.