Book Review — Be the Change: Saving the World with Citizen Science

Chandra Clarke, Be the Change: Saving the World with Citizen Science, 2nd ed. $2.25 Kindle, $6.99 Paperback.

Chandra Clarke’s self-published second edition of Be The Change: Saving the World With Citizen Science encourages readers to make the world a better place by engaging in citizen science.

The book is divided into two main parts, with “Part I – All About Citizen Science” offering a succinct overview of citizen science. Clarke describes citizen science projects as typically having two defining characteristics: the first is that individuals act in the capacity of researcher rather than subject, and the second is that the project is usually organized by professional researchers and involves groups of participants. Although projects going back hundreds of years have fit this criteria, Clarke observes that citizen science has exploded in recent years. As others have noted, she points to the convergence of technological advancement, shifting personal priorities, and institutional cuts to science budgets as explanatory factors.

“Part II – The Many Ways You Can Do Citizen Science,” is the pragmatic heart of the book. Clarke’s approach is brisk and accessible as she categorizes five levels of citizen science involvement that increase in complexity, ranging from financial support of citizen science projects à la crowdfunding (“Level 1 – Donating”) to the actual collection of data on critters and creatures in the outdoors (“Level 5 – Get Outdoors for Citizen Science”). Clarke compiles in these chapters a list of citizen science projects, offering a brief description of the project or initiative, followed by a hyperlink that readers can take to the web should they want to learn more and participate in the project themselves. Levels 1 to 3 all fall on the “easy” range of the difficulty continuum; involvement in these projects rarely involves leaving the security of your own home.

“Level 2 – Set and Forget,” is a chapter that discusses distributed computing. Because supercomputers are difficult to access and are expensive, Clarke explains how researchers will take a complex problem, divide it into thousands of much smaller parts and dole those problems out across the internet to individuals who have “volunteered” their computer’s computing power. All you have to do to participate in these projects is install a special program on your device, and as your computer sits idle, it can “receive one slice of a problem and ‘donate’ your spare computer calculation cycles to solve it.” Clarke describes 15 different citizen science projects that fall within the “Set and Forget” scope, and Einstein@Home, which searches for spinning neutron stars by using your computer’s idle time to search for weak astrophysical signals, is but one example.

“Level 3 – Web-Based Citizen Science” moves into doing citizen science rather than donating, and these projects – like Flu Near You or the oh-so-adorable Baby Laughter Project – require participants to log into a website and play games, complete surveys, classify images, upload video, and so on. While Web-Based Citizen Science mostly requires participants to process data, “Level 4 – App-Based Citizen Science” often involves collecting data. Contributing to citizen science in this capacity often involves on-the-go reporting, like with the Marine Debris Tracker that allows app-users to “check in” at bodies of water and report and describe any trash that they see.

Falling outside of Part II, Clarke includes a chapter that compiles resources for the science enthusiast ranging from e-learning sites to fun and games. Be the Change is a practical let’s-get-started guide; by the time one finishes the book they might end up like me, an RNA-folding pro that volunteers computing time for the advancement of cognitive science and who has three new apps on their phone.

This review is part of an ongoing series of book reviews written by members of Dr. Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher’s research team in partnership with SciStarter. If you have a recommendation for a book to review, please contact SciStarter Editor Caroline Nickerson at This work has been partially supported by the Ontario Ministry of Research; Innovation and Science’s Early Research Award program; and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Grant program. Views expressed are the opinions of the author and not funding agencies.

Categories: Book Review, Citizen Science


About the Author

Devon Moriarty

Devon Moriarty

Devon Moriarty is a PhD Candidate in English, Rhetoric at the University of Waterloo. She investigates science communication as it unfolds in online social voting communities like Reddit