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Book Review: Citizen Science for Now and for Always





Mary Ellen Hannibal, Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction, New York, NY: The Experiment, 2016. 432 pp. $29.95 hardcover, $17.95 paperback.

Mary Ellen Hannibal’s Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction is a beautiful collection that explores a wide range of stories. From the intimate moments of an individual’s life to the larger narratives of communities, Citizen Scientist tells stories that weave together a grand narrative of our planet through our engagements with science. Her account demonstrates the collaborative nature of citizen science, describing what it means to participate in naturalistic observation.

Citizen Scientist recounts Hannibal’s experiences as a participant in a variety of citizen science projects on the West Coast. She also relates narratives of others who have contributed to the efforts for a healthy planet through citizen science. There are eleven chapters, with every chapter discussing a new citizen science topic or project. In each chapter, there is an eclectic mix of personal anecdotes, interviews, historical journalism, and natural history.

Some of those stories come from now familiar names, including Emily Burns from Fern Watch, and “the guru of citizen science” Sam Droege. Hannibal recounts her first-hand participation in the citizen scientist efforts, as well as her discussions with other citizen scientists and researchers on projects such as Hawkwatch or iNaturalist.

Folded in are also historical backgrounds on citizen science methodology, natural historical backgrounds for the ecosystems in question for each project, and deep personal meditations on Hannibal’s own life. Most chapters also have rich histories of the contributions of great citizen scientists that Hannibal could not possibly have interviewed, such as Rollo Howard Beck (1870-1950), ornithological collector, or Alice Eastwood (1859-1953), botany enthusiast.

In the spirit of shared knowledge, the backmatter of Citizen Scientist includes a wonderful reading group guide for those who want to learn together. Hannibal documents with honesty and humor the work, and also the excitement, involved in citizen science.


Citizen Scientist shows that, just as citizen science is objective, common and shared, it is also subjective, personal, and individual. Hannibal provides an integrative context for each citizen scientist effort, illustrating just how connected we are to our local environment and how our pursuits of knowledge and culture, too, are connected with each other. Hannibal integrates science, art, and spirituality to craft a rich narrative account—so do not be surprised to find among the accounts of natural histories some references to literature or poetic language.

Hannibal describes the way citizen science cherishes local histories. Despite the benefits of the global connectedness of the internet and mass media, Hannibal shows us that local histories and personal narratives are more important than ever as she describes various citizen science contributions made up by log books, personal journals, local records, and other observational work.

Hannibal examines intensive collaborations with local communities, a form of “extreme citizen science,” where local communities are fully integrated as partners in research (111-113). The benefits of this exchange of knowledge are bountiful, as experts can contribute their research to local communities and local communities can share their histories and traditions to the experts. Hannibal faithfully demonstrates how these smaller, local histories weave together into grander narratives, a “double narrative” (30) of now and of always.

This double narrative is also evident in Hannibal’s intimate accounts of her close relationship with her father, Edward Hannibal, as he nears the end of his life and as she reflects on the nature of extinction and finitude. She writes beautifully as she meditates on her own double narrative:

“I thought about what [Joseph] Campbell means when he says the hero’s death is the most important part of his journey–it’s when we let go of the thing we have clung to, the ‘I,’ and in so doing, we acquiesce to all that bigger life around and in us. My father was okay with this; he understood what was happening and he was leaning into it. He was losing is life–why do we say it that way? There was more, not less, happening here” (389).

If you want to know more about the rich history of citizen science and the complex stories that citizen scientists reconstruct in their pursuits, Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction is the book for you. Throughout Hannibal’s narratives, there is truly a sense of all time happening at once, as the past has a profound influence on the present and the future. Citizen Scientistis a fascinating read that opens a reader’s eyes to the holistic range of citizen science: an endeavor that starts in the tidepool and ends in the stars; something that is simultaneously individual, local, and practical, while also somehow shared and philosophical.

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 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 also the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Grant program; views expressed the opinions of the author and not funding agencies.

Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone! 


About the Author

Danielle Griffin

Danielle Griffin is a B.A. Candidate in English Literature and Rhetoric, with a minor in Cognitive Science, at the University of Waterloo, in Canada. Her research interests involve genre, cognitive semantics, and metaphorical conceptual mappings in the English language.



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Today’s letters: ‘Visionary’ plans don’t always work in Ottawa





The opinion piece written by Tobi Nussbaum, CEO of the NCC, declares that a “bold, visionary transit plan” would showcase the capital.

As a long-term resident of Ottawa, I’ve had it with visionary plans. In the 1950s, the streetcars serving Ottawa so well were sent to the scrapyards. In the early ’60s, Queensway construction bulldozed established neighbourhoods and ripped the city apart. Later in the decade, the downtown railway station, which could have formed the hub of a commuter network, was relocated to the suburbs. These actions, in the name of “progress,” were undertaken with the “vision” to make Ottawa a car-reliant city.

Now we have an LRT, built just in time for most people to realize that they do not have to go downtown as they can work from home.

Current thinking is pushing a new “link” between Ottawa and Gatineau, with yet more expensive and disruptive infrastructure projects being touted, including a tramway or another tunnel under the downtown core.

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That was then: Biggest earthquake since 1653 rocked Ottawa in 1925





A regular weekly look-back at some offbeat or interesting stories that have appeared in the Ottawa Citizen over its 175-year history. Today: The big one hits.

The Ottawa Senators were playing a Saturday night game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Auditorium, the score tied 0-0 halfway through the second period. Sens’ rookie Ed Gorman and the Habs’ Billy Boucher had just served penalties for a dustup when the building began to make “ominous creaking sounds.” A window crashed to the ground.

Nearby, at Lisgar Collegiate, all eyes were on teenager Roxie Carrier, in the role of Donna Cyrilla in the musical comedy El Bandido. She had the stage to herself and was singing “Sometime” when the building rocked, the spotlight went out, and someone in the audience yelled “Fire!”

At a home on Carey Avenue, one woman’s normally relaxed cat suddenly arched its back, rushed around the room two or three times, spitting angrily, and climbed up the front-window curtains.

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Ottawa delays small nuclear reactor plan as critics decry push for new reactors





TORONTO — Canadians will have to wait a little while longer to see the federal government’s plan for the development of small nuclear reactors, seen by proponents as critical to the country’s fight against global warming.

Speaking at the opening of a two-day virtual international conference on Wednesday, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of natural resources said the plan will lay out key actions regarding the reactors. Its launch, Paul Lefebvre said, would come in the next few weeks.

“We’re still putting the finishing touches on it,” Lefebvre said. “The action plan is too important to be rushed.”

Small modular reactors — SMRs — are smaller in size and energy output than traditional nuclear power units, and more flexible in their deployment. While conventional reactors produce around 800 megawatts of power, SMRs can deliver up to 300 megawatts.

Proponents consider them ideal as both part of the regular electricity grid as well as for use in remote locations, including industrial sites and isolated northern communities. They could also play a role in the production of hydrogen and local heating.

“SMRs will allow us to take a bold step of meeting our goal of net-zero (emissions) by 2050 while creating good, middle class jobs and strengthening our competitive advantage,” said Lefebvre.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan had been scheduled to speak at the conference but did not due to a family emergency.

Industry critics were quick to pounce on the government’s expected SMR announcement. They called on Ottawa to halt its plans to fund the experimental technology.

While nuclear power generation produces no greenhouse gas emissions, a major problem facing the industry is its growing mound of radioactive waste. This week, the government embarked on a round of consultations about what do with the dangerous material.

Dozens of groups, including the NDP, Bloc Quebecois, Green Party and some Indigenous organizations, oppose the plan for developing small modular reactors. They want the government to fight climate change by investing more in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“We have options that are cheaper and safer and will be available quicker,” Richard Cannings, the NDP natural resources critic, said in a statement.

Lefebvre, however, said the global market for SMRs is expected to be worth between $150 billion and $300 billion a year by 2040. As one of the world’s largest producers of uranium, Canada has to be part of the wave both for economic and environmental reasons, he said.

“There’s a growing demand for smaller, simpler and affordable nuclear technology energy,” Lefebvre said.

Joe McBrearty, head of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, told the conference the company had signed a host agreement this week with Ottawa-based Global First Power for a demonstration SMR at its Chalk River campus in eastern Ontario. A demonstration reactor will allow for the assessment of the technology’s overall viability, he said.

“When talking about deploying a new technology like an SMR, building a demonstration unit is vital to the success of that process,” McBrearty said. “Most importantly, it allows the public to see the reactor, to kick the tires so to speak, and to have confidence in the safety of its operation.”

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