When government and industry have a vested interest in minimizing a crisis, and partisans have an interest in pumping it up, who do you look to for accurate information?
Crowdsourcing may be one answer…
Since the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, people in Japan have been keeping up on the radiation levels in their area. And, like people all over the world, they look for information on the Internet. Surprisingly, one of the most interesting new websites aggregating and creating Japanese radiation data is coming from a small advertising studio in Portland, OR. If you were to picture the sort of person who might take the lead in gathering radiation data from the Fukushima nuclear accident, Marcelino Alvarez probably wouldn’t come to mind. “My background is actually not in physics or nuclear physics or science or radiation data, it’s actually in advertising,” Alvarez said. “So building websites, and doing product development.” But Alvarez is also a news junkie. During the early days of the Fukushima crisis, he was watching the news nonstop. And he was surprised, in this post-Chernobyl age that even the experts were fumbling around to find up to date information. “So I said, there’s got to be a better way,” Alvarez said.
Citizens post radiation readings from different locations in Japan and Safecast puts them on a map. Click on any balloon and see how many milisieverts per hour were recorded. It’s a crowdsource, amateur and uncredentialed. But when there’s enough raw data the bumps and omissions even out, and this may be a new and powerful information source. Safecast site is here.
Citizen scientists are collecting data on many projects, we recently had Bioblitz here in RI to get stats on which species of plants and animals are increasing or decreasing in our state. Measuring radioactivity has its own particular problems, some scientists discuss the pros and cons here.