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My adventure in becoming a citizen scientist includes wading into tide pools, following hawks, and scouring mountains to collect data on species, to contribute to science, and to deepen my own sense of place. Citizen science has centuries-old roots and multiple meanings.  With technological tools like iNaturalist, regular people can make geo-located observations in nature that allow for the same kind of analysis that inspired Charles Darwin.  Darwin was a citizen scientist, or amateur—he had no advanced degree and worked for himself.

For me the most compelling reason to do citizen science is the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals currently underway.  In the book I do a lot of reporting and research on this scourge, but contextualize what’s happening within a broad framework. “Extreme citizen science” often focuses on indigenous traditions for caring for the land, and I learn a great deal from the Amah Mutsun tribal band.  I take great inspiration from three literary figures who contributed to citizen science—John Steinbeck, Ed Ricketts, and Joseph Campbell.  While the hero’s journey as discerned by Campbell needs updating for dealing with today’s global issues, he still provides a model for aggregating individual efforts on behalf of nature to achieve collective impact.  That’s the job of the citizen scientist.

“The idea that science is something for a caste of high priests to attend to is simply wrong: Science is all around us, and we each can revel in its pleasures and processes. This is a lovely, empowering narrative.”

Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth

Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist

“What an extraordinary book! Mary Ellen Hannibal weaves together natural history, cutting-edge technology, and her own adventures into a story that is certain to inspire.”

“Deeply informed and highly readable, this is as much a soul-search as a book about science. Fortunately for us, Mary Ellen Hannibal locates some luminous souls who, by the light of their knowledge and determination, can lead us out of these dark times for life on Earth.”

Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words; What Animals Think and Feel

“Species are going extinct a thousand times faster than they should, our science tells us. But how do we know which, and where, any why, and above all what we can do about this crisis? No expensive technological machine counts biodiversity. Our knowledge comes globally, across decades, and from every land and sea, from the ‘citizen scientist.’ That’s you and me, our kids, grandkids, and friends, armed with a notebook or perhaps a smartphone, but with those priceless and essential attributes of passion and curiosity. This book tells their story brilliantly.”

Stuart Pimm, Doris Duke Professor of Conservation

Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University

“One of Hannibal’s themes in this ambitious new book is the ‘double narrative,’ or the contradiction between what we tell ourselves we are doing every day and what is really going on. She explains that empires have been built on a biotic cleansing of species the loss of which now threatens the very foundation of our lives. Hannibal poses citizen science, or the contribution of amateurs to research, as a platform not only for change, but also as a new way of seeing without the old blinders. Invoking literary, historic, and scientific touchstones, and telling a personal story as well, she provides what citizen scientists John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts called the ‘toto picture.’ We can’t afford to see the Earth any other way.”

Paul Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University

“An informative, emotional, and fascinating account of a personal journey to ecological citizen science.” 

Muki Haklay, Professor of Geographical Information Science, Co-Director of the Extreme Citizen Science Group, University College London

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