An Interpretive Study of Meanings Citizen Scientists Make When Participating in Galaxy Zoo
As theWeb 2.0 world lurches forward, so do intellectual opportunities for students and the general public to meaningfully engage in the scientific enterprise. In an effort to assess the intrinsic motivation afforded by participation in Galaxy Zoo, we have inductively analyzed more than 1,000 contributions in the Galaxy Zoo Forum and coded posts thematically. We find that participants overwhelmingly want to meaningfully contribute to a larger scientific enterprise as well as have seemingly unique access to high quality, professional astronomical data. While other citizen science projects work through large data sets, Galaxy Zoo is unique in its motivations and retention abilities. Many of these motivations originate in the aesthetic power of astronomical images,
which Galaxy Zoo successfully harnesses, while not compromising the scientific value of the project. From the data emerged several trends of motivation, the primary being the sense of community created within the project that promotes professional-amateur collaboration; fulfilling a dream of being an astronomer, physicist, or astronaut; tapping into a potential well of interest created during the space race era; the spiritual aspect
generated when the imagination interacts with Galaxy Zoo; and, uniting them all, the aesthetic appeal of the galaxy images. In addition, a very powerful tool also emerged
as a method of retention unique to Galaxy Zoo. This tool, known as variable ratio reinforcement in behavioral psychology, uses the most appealing images as positive
reinforcement to maintain classification rates over time.