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Public Lab team doing research on "The Crowd and the Cloud"
Public Lab enlisted citizen scientists to map sites affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, using cameras carried aloft by balloons and kites. (American Public Television)

It’s fitting that a four-hour documentary series about citizen scientists, titled “The Crowd and the Cloud,” is available to the crowd via the cloud a week before its debut on public television.

The first episode makes its TV debut on April 6 on the World Channel, but all four episodes can be watched anytime on the PBS.org website, on YouTube or using the PBS mobile app.

“The Crowd and the Cloud” showcases some of the people on the front lines of the citizen science movement, which enlists regular folks to gather observations and crunch data, often using online tools.

Researchers say citizen science projects contribute billions of dollars a year in donated labor. Such efforts can be as old as the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, which dates back to 1900, or as new as Astronomy Rewind, a cosmic picture-sorting project that went online just last week.

The TV series is hosted by Waleed Abdalati, former chief scientist and now director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado.

“From earthquakes to epidemics, from air quality to Alzheimer’s research, from the health of our oceans to the safety of our drinking water, citizen science and crowdsourcing can make a difference,” Abdalati said in a news release. “And citizen science is science. The better the data, the bigger the impact, for scientists, policymakers and the public. And it’s clear that we can use more help, which is where the viewers come in.”

The website for “The Crowd and the Cloud” provides links to the videos, plus transcripts, bios and Web-only clips. But the online portal goes beyond the show to lay out a calendar of citizen-science events to attend, projects to join and links to Facebook Live events on April 6.

It should go without saying that the show has social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. There’s also been a groundswell of support from citizen-science groups.

If “The Crowd and the Cloud” swells the ranks of citizen scientists even further, the series will have provided a service worth far more than mere TV ratings.

“The Crowd and the Cloud” is distributed by American Public Television. The show was written and produced by Geoff Haines-Stiles with financial support from the National Science Foundation. The series makes its debut on Seattle-area television on April 12 on KBTC.

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