If you have never read a biography of Thomas Jefferson, America’s third President, do. Find fault if you will. There is plenty about which to find fault. You will also find one of history’s most intriguing, brilliant scientific and political minds. He was a man of many facets.
So, what does Thomas Jefferson have to do with birding and being a Bluebird Monitor? In today’s Cornell Lab eNews an article stated, “… [Thomas Jefferson] was one of the first people to realize the value of public data collection, nearly two centuries before the term ‘citizen science’ became commonplace.” Further, Jefferson had a plan, “… to provide a thermometer to a deputy in every county in Virginia with instructions to log twice-daily observations of temperature and wind direction. This founding father envisioned what is nowadays called citizen science.”
Remember Lewis and Clark’s transcontinental voyage commissioned by President Jefferson for the scientific and commercial exploration of the Louisiana Territory and beyond to the Pacific northwest? No?! Okay, well, you can read about the Corps of Discovery Expedition. Anyway, it was a pretty ambitious undertaking that reflects Jefferson’s inquisitiveness and passion for knowledge about science and nature and the role of citizens in the collection of related information. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this Scientific American article, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Data.
Until today, I never thought my trip to Costa Rica to collect data on migrating Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, my Bluebird Monitor volunteer work, my entering data online to record results of backyard chickadee nest box fledgings and FeederWatch bird counts followed in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson. Who’d a thunk?
Could Thomas Jefferson ever have conceived of the internet as a place where citizen scientists from around the globe collaborate to enter data? Brilliant scientific theorist that he was, he most certainly would have been neither shocked nor surprised by the internet. He would love reading the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights on his Kindle. He would hope every American would do the same.
If you’re interested in Thomas Jefferson’s political theory, here’s a place to visit for a quick read of great thoughts to ponder. Now, don’t forget to borrow his bio from your local library and sign up for a citizen scientist project that interests you.
Happy Independence Day America. Thank you to citizen scientists of these United States and the world. And thank you, Thomas Jefferson.