Neat Science Thursday – Growing Science with Games

Gamification has become increasingly useful in getting people involved in science. Everyone can now contribute to science or learn more about science by playing fun and interesting games. Fortunately, you do not have to search very hard in order to find these awesome citizen science games because Chandra Clarke has already compiled them into an extensive list on her site. Here is just a small sample of the games that are available:

Astro Drone – Created by the European Space Agency, fly your Parrot AR drone in virtual space and compare yourself with real-life astronauts. Data from your successful flights will be used to train robots on how to navigate their environment. Website: http://www.astrodrone.org/.

Apetopia – Run over a landscape and then choose the door with the colour that best matches the sky at that moment. Collect coins and avoid obstacles too. The game helps determine perceived color differences; player choices are used to model better color metrics. Website: http://colors.htw-berlin.de.

Beat the Bots – Are you smarter than a spambot? VouchSafe has built an anti-spam program that uses the way humans think to try to outsmart spammers. Draw a line with your mouse to join an object to its best match, or circle the object that doesn’t belong. Yeah, okay, this isn’t really citizen science, but defeating spam is definitely for the greater good, don’t you think? Facebook: https://apps.facebook.com/beatthebots/

Cell Slider – Join the effort to defeat cancer by reviewing images to spot cancer cells. http://www.cellslider.net/

Collabio – Participate in social psychology research. Collabio is a Facebook application that wants you to guess tags that other friends have used to describe an individual. Points are awarded according to the number of other friends who have agreed with each tag. Facebook: http://apps.facebook.com/collabio/

Cropland Capture – Want to help improve the world’s food security? Help to improve basic information about where cropland is located on the Earth’s surface. Website: http://www.geo-wiki.org/games/croplandcapture/

Dizeez – Help researchers link various genes to diseases. The game is very simple: You are shown one gene name, and five diseases. Pick the disease that is linked to the gene to get points, and get as many points as you can in one minute. Website: http://sulab.scripps.edu/dizeez/

There are loads and loads more games so check out her Ultimate list of Citizen Science Games

More citizen science games can also be found on the Games for Change website which seeks to use gamification to catalyze social impact. Look under the STEM category, though science-related games can also be found under the other categories like ‘Environment.’ Many of these games are more on the science educational side rather than citizen science, but citizen science games like Foldit are sprinkled around the site.

If you prefer RPGs, try “Citizen Science” or “Oncology” on <a href="http://www.brainpop.com/"the BrainPop site.

Finally,

Neat Science Thursday – citizen science is a solution

In case you missed it, Caren Cooper et al. just published a fascinating research article on PLOS One (it’s open access, so check it out!) detailing her investigations on the contributions of citizen scientists in ornithological (bird) research. In this article the researchers aimed to “evaluate the use and confidence of citizen science in advancing understanding in an important area of ecology and global change research” by attempting to:

  1. Quantify the scientific contribution of citizen science to research on birds and climate change
  2. Assess whether professionals held volunteer-based research in equal regard to research by professionals
  3. Evaluate the extent to which citizen science was readily visible or noted in the focal studies

 
In other words, the authors were attempting to see how important citizen science was to a particular area of research, and whether or not the contributions of citizen scientists were sufficiently acknowledged in publications. What they found was that data from citizen scientists were useful (and even critical in some projects) for this area of research. Unfortunately, the lack of consistent terminology acknowledging these contributions may have undermined the perceived impact of citizen scientists in this area of research. They went further to suggest that other research areas such as invasive species research may also benefit greatly from the “invisible prevalence” of citizen scientists.

Talk about timely! MJ Epps et al. just published a research article on the cryptic invasion of Asian camel crickets in North American houses. Fortunately, the researchers were upfront about their use of citizen scientists as they, “launched a continental-scale citizen science campaign to better understand the relative distributions and frequency of native and nonnative camel crickets in human homes across North America.” Oh, and you can read intriguing their open access article here: Too big to be noticed: cryptic invasion of Asian camel crickets in North American houses.

The problem of finding citizen science papers in this research area described by Caren Cooper et al. is by no means unique to citizen science and ecological research. All research areas suffer from insufficiently annotated publications making finding the right articles a growing challenge. While one solution may be to encourage researchers that utilize citizen scientists to use the term “citizen science” in their research publications, this will not solve the annotation issues that thrive in the existing and growing body of research literature.

Given how citizen scientists have solved protein structures, mapped neurons in the brain, and analyzed astronomical images on an unprecedented scale, perhaps the solution to the annotation issue in research literature lies in citizen science as well.

Finding buried treasure in shifting sand

The problem of keeping up with scientic literature is not new. In 1986, information scientist, Don R. Swanson, published an article about mining the wealth of knowledge buried in academic literature. In his article, “Undiscovered public knowledge”, Swanson investigated information that was not readily available simply because individual biomedical research papers were (and in many ways still are today) created “to some degree independently of one another.” By investigating literature that was “logically connected”, but was otherwise “non-interactive”, Swanson teased out a hypothesis essentially joining two small fields of research.

Since then, researchers are still trying to develop methods to wade through this ever-growing body of literature, only now there are about one million new biomedical research articles being published per year compared to the roughly 350 thousand published in 1986.

Finding the right information is a problem that's only going to get worse unless we do something
Finding the right information is a problem that’s only going to get worse unless we do something

Compound this issue with the growing amount of information that is now contained within biomedical research literature, but is not readily accessible due to lack of appropriate annotations.

This post was originally written for Mark2Cure and can be viewed in its entirety here.

Neat Science Thursday – Everybody can do science!

The crowdsourcing of science is not new with professor Olmsted’s crowdsourcing of meteorological observations in early half of the 19th century followed by the Audubon bird counts and National Weather Service weather observations since the early 1900s. Prior to the 1990’s and the widespread availability of the internet, crowdsourced science faced many logistical hurdles. Imagine trying to crowdsource research prior to the advent of computers! Sure, scientists could reach citizen scientists via newspapers or newsletters, but the effort needed to compile the data obtained from citizen scientists could not have been easy! For example, a scientist collecting information from citizen scientists might have to parse through snail mailed letters, or telegraphs, or carefully document information collected from phone calls. Once compiled, the local agency scientist or collaborator might then have to send the information to a national agency scientific team (depending how vast the effort). This information would then have to be compiled meticulously for useful analysis.

This post was originally written as part of the Neat Science Thursday series as well as an intro for Mark2Cure and can be viewed in its entirety here.

Crowd sourcing justice–Jury duty

For some people, jury summons is like a short, welcome vacation–an experience worthy of appraisal. For most people, it’s an exercise in creativity in order to generate sufficient grounds to be dismissed. For people interested in crowdsourcing and open participation, it’s an interesting case to be studied.

Jury duty begins with a line to enter the courthouse and pass through the security (remove belts, jacket, but at least you can keep your shoes on). If you arrived early, you will have to wait till the reporting time in order to enjoy the informational video (complete with testimonials), explaining how important jury duty is, and how it is “a deep and moving experience to be on a jury”.

After the 20 min video, a chipper judge peps the jury pool about how wonderful it is to be called for jury duty because “our system of justice is the envy of the world,” so even if you never get called to court and just sat in the jury lounge all day, you shouldn’t “think that you wasted your day”, because “patience is required.” If you do get called to a court, you should not “conduct independent research” on anything you heard in the court, because all the relevant information will be presented to you in due time, so just remember that, “patience is required.”

The Jury duty summons elicits groans in most people for a reason:

  1. Jury duty pulls you to court at the convenience of the court, irrespective of your schedule. Yes, there are excuses, and you can postpone service, but many of the excuses are only for those with slightly more extreme circumstances.
  2. Jury duty is held in one of the most inconvenient places in the city. The downtown court has NO free parking, and driving around the maze of one way streets in downtown is no fun anyway.
  3. The waiting game is not fun.

 
It’s a bit like being dragged to an amusement park that you don’t find in the least bit amusing; line to get in, lot of waiting around, limited places to get food you wouldn’t normally eat, unless you want to go outside and then play with the Superior Court TSA again.

I understand that jury duty is important–not only are the stakes high, but people who sit on trials are more likely to participate in the democratic process. While I appreciate the gravitas involved in jury duty (lives will be affected by the outcome of the decision), I wonder if there isn’t a way to make the juror selection process more efficient?

Crowdsourcing has been explored in the context of improving patient care, financing entrepreneurs and alleviating poverty, solving complex biological research problems, and is on track to solve many additional scientific research issues in research itself, neuroscience, astronomy amongst many other subjects. Heck, a crowd of gamers players were even able to organize themselves such that they were able to actually complete the game they were playing.

If crowdsourcing can potentially play a role in making medical care more affordable, and more efficient, could it play a role in improving jury duty? The idea has emerged before, but has yet to be fully explored. Anyone up for the challenge?

On a side note, if you’re interested in citizen science, visit http://scistarter.com to find a citizen science project, or sign up on the interest list for http://mark2cure.org.