"Citizen science" is where members of the public participate in scientific research. It is how this blog came to be, and something it hopes to promote.
As I prepared to relaunch the blog, I realized that it might make sense to give some background. Although I have always enjoyed talking about horse color – to almost anyone who will stand still long enough! – in the years since Equine Tapestry was published, I have focused once again on data collection and analysis. It was how I started, and it is still the part that I enjoy most.
On the original Equine Tapestry blog, I tried to avoid sharing personal information. At the time, I also wrote a studio blog that had a rather intimate tone and wanted to be more disciplined with Equine Tapestry. What was intended to curb a bad habit of going off on tangents had an unintended side-effect. It gave the impression that my background – specifically, the fact that I was an artist and not a geneticist – was a secret. In the contentious world of social media, this would often end with someone angrily stating some variation of “I found out you are an unqualified nobody!”
I got undeserved credit for not getting upset by this kind of thing, but the truth is that they weren’t telling me something I would ever find hurtful. In fact, while the intent was hostile, they were stating something I actually felt to be quite affirming. My lack of “qualifications” was not something to hide. It has always been the most important thing of all.
That’s because I passionately believe that science isn’t some alien activity reserved for special people. I am married to a scientist – the official “published-cited-papers” sort – and I assure you that while I find him quite special, he is not actually that different. What makes him good at what he does is nothing more than a heightened sense of curiosity about the world around him. We all have that, and it can be used to gain a better understanding of anything we put our minds to learning. When I began the Equine Tapestry project, I had nothing more than a diploma from an underperforming public high school. I had never even seen the inside of a college classroom until I was invited to guest lecture in one. What I knew came from the drive to understand a subject I love. That was not the dark secret I hoped no one discovered – it is the point I want to make. It is why, when I finally did enter a university, it was not to become a “real geneticist” after all, but a science educator.
My belief in the accessibility of science also informs how I see horse color research. All the different participants who care about this subject – owners, breeders, scientists, and even artists – have unique gifts that they bring to the table. I think sharing our information and insights moves the field forward. In some ways, my decision to relaunch Equine Tapestry was about wanting to emphasize the importance of building a broad community where conversation can happen between those who each hold different pieces of the puzzle. That’s why the Comments have been enabled on the posts. Please keep the spirit of the site in mind when responding.
I am also going to try to share more of this side of my work because it gives a more accurate picture of what research looks like. As a trained artist, I rely a lot on pattern recognition and color sensitivity, but it is a willingness to collect and slog through piles of data that make the real difference.
In the meantime, I highly recommend this TEDTalk, "Citizen Science - Everybody Counts." It echoes my own beliefs about the value of science as a hobby.