One reason for the sudden turn to crowd science is that it offers an imaginative answer to a central problem of 21st-century science: too much information.
Today there are firefly counts, herring counts, and ladybug counts. One can help track spiders or bats or coral reefs. A new iPhone app called Noah (for Networked Organisms and Habitats) allows users to snap pictures of species they come across and share the information with researchers and others.
None of these projects would be possible without countless amateurs willing to serve as devoted foot soldiers across the planet.
The advent of the Internet has also opened up a new possibility: that the interested public could offer scholars more than help gathering data. In the best-known early example, they offered up their computers: 1999 saw the launch of SETI@home, an example of “distributed computing” in which volunteers downloaded software so their idling computers could help crunch radio-telescope data for signs of alien life.
More recently, though, has come a truly fascinating turn: the move from people volunteering their computers’ down time, to people volunteering their brains’ down time — from distributed computing to distributed thinking.
willingness, interest, tech or online enablers and info overload, these are the key behind crowdsourcing science.