Return to


Sign up and stay in-the-know about The Crowd & The Cloud and the world of citizen science.
* indicates required

#CrowdCloudLIVE After each episode's WORLD premiere in April, show host, producer, and people seen on the show participated in post-premiere roundtable discussions. Viewers like you listened in, asked questions, and were able to dive deeper into the power of Citizen Science.

Watch the recorded Facebook Live events now. Discover more about how Citizen Science is revolutionizing the ways we gather, analyze, and utilize the data that fuels scientific research, discovery, and community action.

Find your local station and showtimes here, or go to:

Mosquito Alert: Humans Bite Back
Code in Action
Q&A with John Palmer

My name is John Palmer and I’m a scientific modeler for Mosquito Alert.

What have you learned from using the Mosquito Alert app?

We're learning about the distribution of mosquitoes in ways that we couldn't learn before. We know a lot more about the mosquito distribution in Spain as a result of this project. We’re also getting information on a much finer scale than traditional methods. And the combination of those two things lets us understand things about distribution and spreading pattern, as well as the mechanisms of the spreading process. We start to learn about how mosquitoes seem to be using transportation and global commerce chains. Even hitchhiking in cars with people. That's something where Mosquito Alert has been very useful in giving us the data that we need to analyze those questions.

A limited number of traditional sensor locations (in blue) compared to Mosquito Alert reports in yellow.

So, in terms of the model itself, the system that we have is relatively adaptable to other species. The main question when make a decision like should we incorporate Aedes aegypti or not, is the actual identification. Will citizen scientists do a good job of providing reasonably accurate data? And will entomologists and our expert validation team be able to identify and distinguish those species from each other or from a possibly similar species? We've been hesitant at this stage to go beyond those two Aedes species. We think those two are a good group to have, they're the two main sources of concern for the spread of Zika, chikungunya, and dengue.

Why are researchers from Hong Kong interested in the Mosquito Alert app?

Catalonia was the location where Asian tiger mosquitoes were first detected [in Spain]. It appears from all the data we have that's really the epicenter of the tiger mosquito invasion [here]. They have now spread beyond Catalonia [to other parts of Spain]. In Hong Kong, they are having concerns over tiger mosquitoes, as well as Aedes aegypti. They're facing more of a disease risk, so they're more focused on the public health side. The Hong Kong people actually approached us after a hackathon, and they found a number of different people from different areas who were interested in participating. It was when Zika was hitting the news, and they were very concerned about it there. They said, "Look, we want to be involved. We wanna help out. What can we do?" And one thing they proposed was we could translate the app into Hong Kong Chinese. And we very quickly did that.

A team from Hong Kong adapted the Mosquito Alert app to address mosquitoes in China.

They've also helped us a little bit with the programming. They have a lot of experience with app development, and I think with citizen science projects as well. And then they said, "Look, we'd really like to be able to have the data in a raw form. Not just to use your web map, but to be able to analyze the data, to create our own map with it potentially." So we've created an API for them whereby they can access the same data that goes into our map, whenever they want, and it's constantly changing. This is not something that raises privacy concerns, we have no problem sharing that data with them.

How does Mosquito Alert track hitchhiking mosquitoes?

One theory that people have been exploring for a while is whether mosquitoes are in fact hitchhiking in cars with people. What we've noticed about the invasion process is that the mosquitoes seem to be spreading faster than you'd expect, in a more jumpy way than you'd expect if they were just flying. Tiger mosquitoes don't fly very far. Maybe they're catching rides in cars or other vehicles. We know that they've been spreading globally by catching rides on boats, shipping containers, and airplanes, etc. So, we worked with one of the entomologists from the team in the Mosquito Control Service and with the Catalan Police Department to actually do a sampling of cars for mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes can hitchhike in vehicles, spreading mosquito-borne diseases faster than ever.

What Mosquito Alert has let us do is talk directly to the people who are participating in the project about what their experience is of mosquitoes in cars. We already have a lot of photos from citizen scientists who work on the project, so we have a lot of evidence of what's happening. We now are able to learn about the distribution of mosquitoes across Spain and also the very fine grain resolution, so we can combine the information that we have about the probability of mosquitoes being transported in a car. We can combine that with information about the probability of somebody encountering a mosquito, and we can come up with the first estimates of how many mosquitoes are being transported between provinces in Spain.

How do you validate observations?

We got all this information from citizen scientists around the world. And we need to know, what's the quality of this information? Does the report that somebody sent us from Sant Cugat, actually represent the presence of a tiger mosquito, or were they mistaken? We have entomologists on the team who look at the photographs and assign a probability.

We've actually compared the quality of the data of Mosquito Alert with the quality of the data that we get from traditional methods. We found there's a lot of overlap in our predictions from the citizen science data and the traditional ovitrap data. I really don't see the two things in competition. I see citizen science as a necessary supplement to traditional methods. I don't think there's any reason to abandon traditional methods. They're extremely useful.

As a researcher, how do you feel about your code being put to use in real-time?

I'm incredibly excited. Simply creating an app that people use in continents all over the world, that's amazing. And they're interacting with something based on our ideas. It's like we're having a conversation with them. They're sending information to us and we're able to see immediately what photographs they think are important about the mosquitoes they found. They ask questions, they interact with us. That's an experience I have not had in any other type of science that I've been involved in.