SELECTED EXCERPTS FROM REVIEWS OF CITIZEN SCIENTIST
The San Francisco Chronicle
[T]here’s an unexpectedly old-fashioned, personal and literary quality to Citizen Scientist. An ambitious book, it is generous, unhurried and discursive, stretching over centuries…. Especially valuable are Hannibal’s explanations of new ideas. If you have heard of “trophic cascade” but are vague on its exact meaning and its great importance; if you know that E.O. Wilson studied ants but are less certain of his larger ideas and their significance…[the book]is an excellent guide ….Well-crafted, moving and intelligent, Citizen Scientist is essential reading for anyone interested in the natural world. It can be enjoyed simply as a timely and readable book, but it is also clearly a recruiting manual for a new kind of exploration.
While Hannibal is contemplating extinction and habitat destruction, her father is dying from cancer. Her field expeditions become a lens through which she processes her dad’s death. The parallels make Citizen Scientist part memoir, part science tale and part history book. Hannibal has a conversational writing style that moves quickly from topic to topic, punctuated with humorous and thoughtful asides. Although centered in California, the book has a global message: Humans have much in common with the species we’re trying to save. Grizzlies and wolves, for instance, “leave their natal home, light out for a huge territory, find a mate, and establish a new base of operations,” Hannibal writes. The human heroes in our storybooks aren’t so different.
“Nature is darn dense and layered,” quips Hannibal (The Spine of the Continent) as she does her bit as citizen scientist, in this instance tallying plant life on San Francisco Bay area’s Mount Tam…. her book is richly overlaid with memoir, discussion of current issues in conservation biology, numerous in-the-field reports of crowdsourced ecological projects, and a dash of Joseph Campbell’s hero myth adapted to scientific endeavor. Hannibal reminds readers of citizen science’s giants—Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, John Muir, Aldo Leopold—and also a few of its lesser-known luminaries, most notably botanist Alice Eastwood and marine biologist Ed Ricketts.
From the “armchair” naturalist Charles Darwin to the California couple who spotted sea otters returning to Big Sur in 1938, Citizen Scientist frames the participation of both professionals and casual observers as an essential part of ecological science history…“Extreme citizen science” initiatives seek to connect western science and indigenous cultures to create new kinds of knowledge. Hannibal describes one such project, in which archaeologists have partnered with the Amah Mutsun tribe of the San Juan Valley to restore cultural and ecological connections that have been lost over time. Wonder and excitement…dance from every page of Citizen Scientist.
If climate change has you down and you’re traumatized by the thought of another critical species being lost to extinction, here’s something to think about: all your heartfelt empathy doesn’t do diddly-squat to help the planet. What’s needed is a critical mass of get-off-your-asstivism, as outlined by Mary Ellen Hannibal in Citizen Scientist. Hannibal advocates for participatory research, the longstanding tradition of amateur naturalists engaging in whale watching, bee counting, tide-pool monitoring, and other forms of nature observation. The data collected can then be shared on iNaturalist, Google Earth Outreach, Google Maps, and similar technologies which “allow us to observe with consequence.” Part personal adventure story and natural history, Hannibal proves herself to be an inspiring writer.
In this inside story on citizen science and biodiversity loss, Mary Ellen Hannibal meshes interviews with front-line scientists such as James Estes with her own stints monitoring California wildlife. Inspired by the likes of marine biologist Ed Ricketts, she records starfish die-offs, meets the geeks who track deforestation, and plans a web-based supercommunity of citizen scientists to counter what many are calling the sixth great extinction. A cogent call to action.