3 Free App for the Citizen Scientist

I read an article this morning that had stats on the genre of porn sites favored by the residents of several large cities. Why would anyone but porn site operators want such info escapes me, but there it was. (The denizens of my hometown, B-more, seem to favor young or animated...,um, stimulation, which bothers me on some undefined level.)

I also read an article where some serious eggheads studied which dance moves members of each sex found attractive. They really got into this study too. They created dancing avatars so that physical appearances negated any influence over the observers, and collected data on which body part garnered the most positive and negative attention. (Guys, good hip and right knee movement is a turn-on for the ladies.)

I've read many other articles where stats and the analysis of such provided all sort of meaningful, and arguably meaningless info, proving only one thing to this stat avoiding person; There are people who'll collect and analyze data on just about anything.

While dance moves and porn surfing stats may have marginal scientific importance, statistics of more mundane, but fundamentally far more important info go uncollected. It's not for the lack of brainiacs lusting such input, its just that the sheer scope of the data needing to be collected is far to unwieldy to handle even by a whole semester of undergrads.

What stats, you might ask? How about the migratory patterns of Ruby Throated Hummingbirds? (Come on! Who doesn't love to watch hummingbirds in the wild?) The habits and habitats of these wee creatures could be bellwethers for larger and potentially serious environmental problems. Or what about the identification and location of Giant African Land Snails? These humongous, slimy gastropods were imported to the U.S. as pets, now they're pests because they will not only eat that rose bush you planted in front of your home, they'll also eat your home! That right! These puppy-size snails eat plaster (think drywall) and stucco (the concrete-like material that covers many Florida homes) for the calcium which they use to grow their shells. I don't know about you, but if I were living in a stucco home I'd want to know if stucco eating snails are devouring my house from under me.

Tracking such creatures can only be done by crowd sourcing, getting the average Joe or Jill to enter a data point whenever he or she runs into these and other creatures. It's good that the professors needing such input can turn to the general public for help. Of course there are apps for that, and some are pretty interesting, and free! As you might have guessed by now, that is the topic of this week's Free on iTunes, so lets get to it.

Project Squirrel [9.7 MB, runs on all iOS devices capable of running iOS 5.0, Maker: The Chicago Academy of Sciences]

Project SquirrelSimple app for tracking squirrels

A few years back I was walking in a wooded area near my home when I spotted a (relatively) large dark brown squirrel with a big bushy tail. This animal was about the size of a house cat and its tail was as long as its body, maybe a bit longer. It crossed the path in front of me then scampered out of sight.

I told my friends and family about my encounter, but I was mocked. "Nut-Muncher, The Killer Squirrel," my daughter called it. "Squirrel Sasquatch," my friends named it. (I get no respect!)

I was vindicated, however, when I was able to find that monster squirrel on the Internet. It was a fox squirrel and its the largest species of squirrel in North America. (So there!)

It turns out that my sighting could have been a useful data point if I had Project Squirrel at my disposal.

The app is the front end of a project run by The Chicago Academy of Sciences that is studying the habitats of squirrels around the country, noting changes in population, range, food supply and other squirrel oriented variables. The app helps you identify which of the three major species of squirrels you may be looking at, allows you to submit observation reports, and take photos of your encounters.

Project SquirrelEasy to enter data

The report you complete is a simple set of Q&As and it takes less than a minute to finish, making data gathering painless. The app is pretty painless too, and pretty plain. Still, if you want to help out and you've got squirrels about grab the app and get started.

Project Noah [9.8 MB, runs on all iOS devices capable of running iOS 4.0, Maker: Networked Organisms LLC]

Project NoahProject Noah lets you enter a broader range of flora and fauna sightings

Stalking killer squirrels may not be something everyone will enjoy, traipsing through your local woodlands can be fun, however, and you never know what you'll see out there. Whatever you do find you should let Project Noah know about it.

What's Project Noah? It's an effort by Networked Organisms Org to catalog the world's flora and fauna, and the app is where average Joes and Jills can enter data and help.

With the app you can send reports of anything you find interesting. The reports can include photos and other info. If you're not sure what it is you're reporting, you can get help from the Project Noah community.

Project NoahThe field guide helps you ID what you see

There's also a nifty field guide that'll help you identify your findings. As with the report feature, the field guide can get a crowd sourced answer for you if you run across something you can't identify. It can also list posting of others on the project, both near and far, so you can see and help ID critters and greenery.

For greater involvement the app lists missions which are data gathering efforts requested by organizations from around the world. You can find mission that are local to you or try something with global impact. It's a lot of fun, doesn't require a lot of your time, and you'd be helping the scientific community. The app is free too.

Merlin Bird ID [568 MB, runs on all iOS devices capable of running iOS 7.0, Maker: Cornell University]

Merlin Bird ID

If you'd rather focus on birds then Merlin Bird ID may be what you want. Created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this app will not only help you identify birds, but it will automagically post a report for you to the Cornell Lab to help them track migratory patterns.

Merlin Bird ID is easy to use too. Answer a few questions about the bird you're observing and it will then provide a focused list of possibilities. You can then learn more about your discovery through the library listing. You can even listen to bird calls.

Merlin Bird IDEasily find the bird you're looking at, even hear bird calls

The app is full of excellent photos too. You can just browse through the photos and select a bird of interest to learn more about it.

This is really a good app, especially for those who like bird watching.

And that's a wrap for this week. Before you run off please take a look at these other freebies. The Free App of the Week is Drawnimal, a very interesting app for kids which turns your iOS device into a cool creature.

The Free Single of the Week is I'm Just Joking by KONGOS.