The Open-Source Project to Build a Citizen Radiation Detection Network in Japan

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If a new Kickstarter project gets funded, Japanese citizens will soon have access to radiation data by, for, and of the people.

Building on other crowdsourced radiation maps, a volunteer team is trying to assemble a network of up to 600 geiger counters that will provide independent measurements of radiation in Japan. Citizen scientists would be responsible for setting up and monitoring the stations, but that data would be fed back to RDTN.org.

The accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant has highlighted the trust gap that exists between official data sources and people. It was apparent after Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and in dozens of smaller incidents that people just don't know if they can believe the radiation measurements coming from governments or the entities who run nuclear reactors.

In the past, there was no way to systematically build a citizen scientific network that could provide a check for official numbers. But now there is.

RDTN is running a Kickstarter micropatronage campaign to raise the $33,000 necessary to purchase 100 geiger counters, which would jumpstart the network. So far, 21 backers have contributed $2,125, but they've got 26 days left to reach their goal.

"This site is not meant as a replacement for government nor official nuclear agencies," RDTN notes on its website. "Our hope is that data sets from various sources can provide additional context to the official word in these rapidly changing events."

Really, what a citizen science effort like this could add is trust in or skepticism about the data provided by official sources. And as sociologist Zeynep Tufekci noted last month, it's institutions we can trust that has stalemated our nuclear question.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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