Besides offering fun activities for non-scientists to explore the natural world through experiments, simulations or games, the evolving concept of citizen science is increasingly allowing some serious publication quality science to be published by the practitioners (citizen scientists) themselves.
The latter is in contrast to the common perception of citizen science, where most citizen science projects such as Foldit are distribution of piecemeal segments of complex projects suitable for solution by individuals, and where the results are pooled together, or used to inform the design and direction of more complex research initiatives.
Usually novices in science publishing but nonetheless aware of the importance of journal articles as the primary medium for communicating new research to the wider community (scientific and general public), citizen scientists do encounter significant challenges in science publication.
One challenge is in navigating the lengthy and time-consuming peer review process of most journals. But, as benefactors of open access publishing where most journal articles are within pay walls inaccessible to citizen scientists without any research funding, open access publishing is one platform sought after or exist as an option for citizen scientists.
Is the option open? Yes, at the preprint level where figshare, and PeerJ Preprints help provide an avenue for citizen scientists to have a published non peer reviewed article online, but no at the higher end “journal article” level where the manuscript needs to be peer reviewed. Even the biological sciences preprint server, bioRxiv, is closed to citizen scientists as publication on the server requires an institution affiliation with either a university or research institute. Most open access publishers (except eLife) charge a publication fee (in the thousands of dollars per article) to defray the cost of maintaining an online presence for a peer reviewed manuscript as well as those for copyediting during final stages of journal publication.
This is a significant barrier to cost constrained citizen scientists who want to contribute to the scientific discourse. For the scientific enterprise, this represent a loss, whose magnitude or severity cannot be quantified since ideas help seed new research or entirely new fields.
Thus, can we as a community provide citizen scientists worldwide a chance to publish open access peer reviewed articles without significant cost through a competitive publication fee subsidy scheme where each application is reviewed by the national science funding agency?
If the above is possible, it would open up another area where ideas from citizen scientists could percolate into the scientific mainstream, where, as always, vibrancy and diversity of ideas power science forward.