ISBN 9780870717536 (ebook)
Diary of a Citizen Scientist
Sharman Apt Russell
Winner of the 2016 John Burroughs Medal Award for Natural History Writing
In the exploding world of citizen science, hundreds of thousands of volunteers are monitoring climate change, tracking bird migration, finding stardust for NASA, and excavating mastodons. The sheer number of citizen scientists, combined with new technology, has begun to shape how research is conducted. Non-professionals become acknowledged experts: dentists turn into astronomers and accountants into botanists.
Diary of a Citizen Scientist is a timely exploration of this phenomenon, told through the lens of nature writer Sharman Apt Russell’s yearlong study of a little-known species, the Western red-bellied tiger beetle. In a voice both humorous and lyrical, Russell recounts her persistent and joyful tracking of an insect she calls “charismatic,” “elegant,” and “fierce.” Patrolling the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico, collector’s net in hand, she negotiates the realities of climate change even as she celebrates the beauty of a still-wild and rural landscape.
Russell’s self-awareness—of her occasionally-misplaced confidence, her quest to fill in “that blank spot on the map of tiger beetles,” and her desire to become newly engaged in her life—creates a portrait not only of the tiger beetle she tracks, but of the mindset behind self-driven scientific inquiry. Falling in love with the diversity of citizen science, she participates in crowdsourcing programs that range from cataloging galaxies to monitoring the phenology of native plants, applauds the growing role of citizen science in environmental activism, and marvels at the profusion of projects around the world.
Diary of a Citizen Scientist offers its readers a glimpse into the transformative properties of citizen science—and documents the transformation of the field as a whole.
About the author
Sharman Apt Russell lives in southwestern New Mexico and taught writing at Western New Mexico University and Antioch University in Los Angeles. Her books include Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist (Basic Books, 2008); Hunger: An Unnatural History (Basic Books, 2005); An Obsession with Butterflies (Perseus Books, 2003); and Anatomy of a Rose: The Secret Life of Flowers (Perseus Books, 2001). Her work has been widely anthologized and translated into nine languages. Her awards include a Rockefeller Fellowship and a Pushcart Prize.
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"With Diary of a Citizen Scientist, her most personal book yet, Russell ranges from thoughtful examination to luminous revelation that reads like William Wordsworth or Annie Dillard, the soul shivering with ecstasy ... Diary of a Citizen Scientist is both a journey that transforms Russell and her understanding of herself and the planet she loves, and a clarion call to join a movement."
–Susan J. Tweit, Story Circle Book Reviews (www.storycirclebookreviews.org)
"The participation of lay people in scientific projects is a laudable thing, with many diffuse benefits over and above the results they create or help to be born. Sharman Russell, a teacher and writer, gives an account . . . of her personal involvement with a study of tiger beetles in the southwestern part of the United States. She also presents a wider and enthusiastically supportive portrait of the phenomenon of 'citizen science.' There are numerous ideas and links for anyone contemplating such involvement, and it is hoped this book will not be ready only by the already converted."
-- Conservation Biology
"Russell has always been a thoughtful writer, able to examine issues . . . with balance and clarity. With Diary of a Citizen Scientist, her most personal book yet, Russell ranges from thoughtful examination to luminous revelation. Diary of a Citizen Scientist is both a journey that transforms Russell and her understanding of herself and the planet she loves, and a clarion call to join a movement . . . Sign me up."
-- Susan J. Tweit, Story Circle Book Reviews