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Doing Good Science With Rank Amateurs

Picture this You’re in an isolated corner of Easter Island, leading a research expedition peopled by lay volunteers who have actually paid for the privilege of helping you find and catalogue a series of ancient rock paintings. You’ve hiked for hours over extremely rough terrain to get to your site, a cliffside so precipitous that the volunteers have to be anchored to solid ground with ropes. Out of the blue, a female vol unteer approaches you and asks if there’s anyplace nearby

Bill Lawren

Picture this You’re in an isolated corner of Easter Island, leading a research expedition peopled by lay volunteers who have actually paid for the privilege of helping you find and catalogue a series of ancient rock paintings. You’ve hiked for hours over extremely rough terrain to get to your site, a cliffside so precipitous that the volunteers have to be anchored to solid ground with ropes. Out of the blue, a female vol unteer approaches you and asks if there’s anyplace nearby where she can get her wig styled. You roll your eyes heavenward and ask yourself “Is this any way to do science?”

That’s the question that occurred to archaeologist Georgia Lee of the University of California on a recent expedition to Easter Island. Lee and her charges were the product of the University Research Expeditions Program (UREP), one of a number of organizations— Earthwatch of Watertown, Mass is...

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