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Ask Slashdot: Do Citizen Science Platforms Exist? (arstechnica.com) 105

Loren Chorley writes: After reading about a new surge in the trend for citizen science (also known as community science, civic science or networked science), I was intrigued by the idea and wondered if there are websites that do this in a crowd sourced and open sourced manner. I know sites like YouTube allow people to show off their scientific experiments, but they don't facilitate uploading all their data or linking studies together to draw more advanced conclusions, or making methodologies like you'd see in academia straight forward and available through a simple interface. What about rating of experiments for peer review, revisions and refinement, requirement lists, step-by-step instructions for repeatability, ease of access, and simple language for people who don't find academia accessible? Does something like this exist already? Do you, Slashdot, think this is something useful, or that people are interested in? Or would the potential for fraud and misinformation be too great?
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Ask Slashdot: Do Citizen Science Platforms Exist?

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  • by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @08:10PM (#56570678)

    Search for 'flat earth', 'vaccine autism', 'creation science', 'labor economics', 'sociology' etc etc.

    The thing they have in common? The people involved wouldn't know science if it bit them on the ass. Instead they grind axes.

    • Search for 'flat earth', 'vaccine autism', 'creation science', 'labor economics', 'sociology' etc etc.

      ... open job postings at the EPA.

    • Search for 'flat earth', 'vaccine autism', 'creation science', 'labor economics', 'sociology' etc etc.

      The thing they have in common? The people involved wouldn't know science if it bit them on the ass. Instead they grind axes.

      And all of the "real science" that encourages citizen participation only has the citizens doing trivial things.

      Things like running "Folding@Home", viewing astronomical photographs looking for potentially interesting things, sending in local samples for analysis - things that any high-school kid could do.

      Find something in the astronomical photograph and you'll be listed as the discoverer, along with the *real* scientist who did the analysis. Send in a sample and you'll be listed as the contributor, along wit

      • St. Louis zoo was passing out vials, asking people to find local samples of algae and send them back to be cultured. They were looking for high-yield cultures that could be used for aquaculture. A fine idea, and interesting for a child, but not actual citizen science.

        Science as in real science generally involves a LOT of grunt work.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Unfortunately, that is pretty accurate. Science is a pretty complicated thing in that it requires you to understand why the scientific method works and everything else tried so far fails. You usually do that on a concrete subject and often in the context of a PhD. Just reading up on it is not enough, you have to see it work and have to see the alternatives fail to really understand why it is the only way to do things. Yes, that takes several years of working on one or a small set of closely related problems

      • Re: "The second thing "Citizen Scientists" usually fool themselves about is how slow scientific work almost universally is and how little you typically have to show for a lot of work. Hence they often try do do things faster and that universally fails. Because the thing is, if you have a little, incremental, but scientifically sound result, this result will basically stand forever."

        It's interesting to watch you guys work yourselves towards the "no, not possible" answer. It seems to me that this conclusion

      • So to sum up, you do not know what the fuck you are talking about.

        Science is hard? Science is only done at the PHD level?

        What you and the OP are talking about is conducting E-X-P-E-R-I-M-E-N-T-S.

        Yes Virginia, ANYONE can do it. Little kids in grade school do them. Students in high school do them. Yup even undergraduate students do them.

        The complexity and sophistication of the experiment will depend on your level of understanding of the subject of investigation and access to equipment. Thus s
        • by gweihir ( 88907 )

          You apparently never have heard of models, of theories and of verification of said theories. _That_ is hard. Doing experiments is easy (well, sometimes), but getting useful results and interpreting them is hard. Incidentally, when a result is known and well verified, repeating the experiments falls under "education" or "entertainment", not "Science".

      • Great post and realistic summation. It took me four years just to understand the difference between science and speculation. Much of what passes for science is really speculation and should be taken as such. I.e. fairly useless.
    • Or use it to get funding for their personal rocket. Whatever.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I participate here.

      https://boinc.berkeley.edu/

      Your choice if you want to make some gridcoin

    • Re:Lots of them. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Jahta ( 1141213 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @08:13AM (#56572902)

      Search for 'flat earth', 'vaccine autism', 'creation science', 'labor economics', 'sociology' etc etc.

      The thing they have in common? The people involved wouldn't know science if it bit them on the ass. Instead they grind axes.

      I know this was tagged as "funny", but it's disturbingly close to the truth. At a recent Flat Earth Convention [arstechnica.com] (yes, really) the folks seemed to genuinely believe they were doing legitimate science to "prove" that the earth isn't round. They regard folks who do actual peer-reviewed science as part of some "conspiracy by the elite" and therefore not to be trusted.

  • Zooniverse (Score:5, Informative)

    by bjorniac ( 836863 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @08:14PM (#56570688)

    Check out Zooniverse - https://www.zooniverse.org/ [zooniverse.org] - there's a lot of projects that are helped by citizen science. A nice platform where human powered processing can contribute. I don't think there's the kind of review etc you're asking for, but it does have a very nice interface for building your own project, contributing to others etc.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There's a trend in the academic community towards that are known as science gateways. It's not well defined what a science gateway is, but they often integrate computational science tools and infrastructure (HPC, Globus online data transfer, visualization, etc.).

    I'm currently working on a project that utilizes one such science gateway platform from Purdue known as HUBzero. It's essentially a CMS tailored towards science (branched from Joomla!). Their FOSS release has virtually no community and a lot of shor

  • Just look (deep) at fusor.net to see what has happened to open science in America. Now if an amateur has a legitimate breakthrough, they can't talk about it openly without paying $30k and waiting 8 years for a patent grant. Otherwise its stolen by a commercial interest in the field. "First to File" is one of the worst things to happen in this country, and I'm saying that as someone with one issued patent and more in the pipeline. Its bad.
    • Actually, "First to File" is doesn't seem to be the problem you think it is at all. "First to Invent" was a problem because it invited fraud. You could find something in the open world, and pre-date your date of invention by up to 364 days from date of filing. Thus, you could claim priority over the open work. Now, the open work is always prior art on an application made after it becomes publicly available.
      • Also, if you actually intend to file a patent, it was never a good idea to make disclosures before filing. Besides putting doubt on whether your invention actually is an invention, the duration during which your patent can effectively be enforced runs from the data of disclosure rather than the date of filing or grant.
    • As soon as you file, you can talk about it though, right?
    • Generally, science is distributed through trade publications, not patents. The intent is different for the two.

      Publications announce new results and discuss the analysis behind them. Whereas patents announce new inventions and defend their utility.

      Look, I understand your frustration with the arduous and lengthy process of filing and obtaining a patent. But let's not confuse patents with peer-reviewed scientific papers.

  • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @08:29PM (#56570752)

    Here's one active effort:
    https://citizensciencetahoe.or... [citizensciencetahoe.org]

    They have an app for "citizens" to collect data about water quality at Lake Tahoe. They post the results on the web site.

  • by dtmos ( 447842 ) * on Monday May 07, 2018 @08:48PM (#56570812)

    While it's not general-purpose, there is Ham radio Science Citizen Investigation [hamsci.org], "a platform for the publicity and promotion of projects that are consistent with the following objectives:

            Advance scientific research and understanding through amateur radio activities;
            Encourage the development of new technologies to support this research; and
            Provide educational opportunities for the amateur community and the general public."

    If you are looking for a more universal organization, you might look at this organization's means and methods for some ideas.

  • In the same way that there isn't a simple interface to methodologies and projects in academia or science in general, I doubt you'll see one in citizen/community science.

    That said, there are some remarkable projects (or umbrella projects) that are purpose-built for the projects they support. Large-scale ones (besides Zooniverse, already mentioned) include:
    https://www.inaturalist.org/ [inaturalist.org] — observations of living organisms
    https://ebird.org/ [ebird.org] — t

  • With the possible exception for militarily-applicable research, no science should be government-sponsored. At all.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Oh look you've found a different way of spelling "gubmint is teh ebul".

    • by Squirmy McPhee ( 856939 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @05:10AM (#56572350)

      With the possible exception for militarily-applicable research, no science should be government-sponsored. At all.

      Well, we have government-sponsored research to thank for your being able to share that comment with us. Without government-funded science for both peaceful and military purposes you wouldn't have computer to type your comment on, nor an internet or World Wide Web to transmit it over. You not only wouldn't have a smart phone, you wouldn't have a cell phone, or any phone at all for that matter. Or even electricity, most likely.

      You can't rely on wealthy investors and venture capitalists to fund science for which there is not a clear application, customer, or business model, especially if that business model does not lead to profitability or an IPO in a relatively short period of time. Thirty years ago the first web browser was still two years away. The first web browser that anybody has heard of was still five years away. The only networking business case for the rabble that anybody really imagined was dial-up service à la Prodigy, Compuserv, and America Online -- and those services largely kept customers inside their walled gardens and made it difficult or impossible to access the internet itself. Even after Mosaic appeared in 1993 (a government-funded effort, by the way) and people started to get their first taste of the web as we know it, it was still years before private investment grew significantly because people needed to get online for any of it to matter, and doing that required both public investment and new business models.

      The usual suspects were first on the scene, of course: The first time I encountered a camgirl with a live video stream was in 1996....

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        Well, we have government-sponsored research to thank for your being able to share that comment with us

        Your kind have been repeating this line for years. It is bullshit — because it presupposes, that, had ARPA not funded what later became known as "the Internet", no one else would've done it either.

        That's nonsense. Private companies did fund and successfully built networks of railroads, telegraph, and telephone. They would've built the current Internet, when the technology developed — as it did i

        • That's nonsense. Private companies did fund and successfully built networks of railroads, telegraph, and telephone.

          I think you might need to review your history a bit. Private funding didn't come in for any of those until the government had provided so much support that it reduced risk to "acceptable" levels. Yes, private funding made all of those networks pervasive, but government funding made them possible.

          They would've built the current Internet, when the technology developed — as it did in due tim

          • by mi ( 197448 )

            Private funding didn't come in for any of those until the government had provided so much support

            Been there, argued that. Step one, where are your citations?

            This is where your shrink away, or offer me to "google it". Nope, you do that. I'll wait.

            What do you mean, "as it did in due time"? Did you somehow visit another reality and see if the internet would develop in the absence of government funding?

            Now, that is rich. As if you have somehow visited another reality, where the Internet did not develop without

            • Private funding didn't come in for any of those until the government had provided so much support

              Been there, argued that. Step one, where are your citations?

              Railroads:

              • Doukas, Kimon A. The French Railroads and the State. Columbia University Press, 1945.
              • Dunham, Arthur. “How the First French Railways Were Planned.” Journal of Economic History. Vol. 1, No. 1, 1941.
              • Pirenne, Henri. Histoire de Belgique. VII: De la Révolution de 1830 à la Guerre de 1914 (2nd ed.), Maurice Lamertin, 1944.
              • Ba
  • Yes, I like the idea. Please create your website. Hell, I'll even help you if you need it. Also, shameless plug for the Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers [radio-astronomy.org] and Ham Sci [hamsci.org] who are doing stuff you describe.
  • There is https://bugguide.net/ [bugguide.net] which tracks the ecology and distribution of insects. Volunteers submit insect photographs which are identified and categorized and mapped.
  • Citizen science is awesome. Science is one of the few things things that humans have created that creates real hope our species can go far. Science should be as accessible as possible to individuals, whether or not they want to participate in academics or formal research efforts. That being said, I think that that "citizen science" is about viable as "citizen ASIC design". Not much low hanging fruit for an individual in his garage at this point.
  • by Chris Reeve ( 2962081 ) on Monday May 07, 2018 @11:17PM (#56571348)

    Hi, Loren. I am going through the responses to your thoughtful question, and am sort of imagining your reaction as unimpressed by the answers (please correct me if I am wrong).

    The fact of the matter is that we live in a unique time insofar as we have more access to information and wisdom from crowds than ever before. You might imagine that this explosion of resources should have some disruptive effect upon the way that science is done today -- something that mirrors what Amazon did to e-commerce when it commercialized the long tail ... the argument being that since specialist scientists are essentially laypeople outside of their specializations, it's conceivable that "the crowd" can outperform these specialist communities when it comes to problem-solving tasks which involve a great amount of synthesis and generalist knowledge (which is honestly not today highly valued in academia). If you've had any of these thoughts, then realize that you are not completely alone: In fact, Rob Spencer at Pfizer has I think very well documented that the crowd can indeed be mined for solutions to some of the most challenging technical challenges [scaledinnovation.com]. Pfizer has been doing just that for some years already, and they claim that the approach works.

    Before continuing, I want to differentiate the two fundamentally different types of "citizen science". It can be either top-down or bottom-up. Top-down citizen science is just laypeople doing the legwork for some pre-existing academic work (many of the answers refer to this sort of work). I would argue that the far more interesting vision for citizen science involves enlisting the support of crowds towards solving certain problems which the critics of modern science have argued academia is itself struggling to address, and I call this approach "bottom-up". For the rest of this post, I will specifically focus upon bottom-up citizen science.

    I would argue that learning the most common and most poignant critiques of modern science must be the first step towards designing a citizen science crowdsourcing platform, for the simple reason that laypeople are never going to completely replace the specialist. What you really want to achieve with these sorts of projects is a synergistic effect from combining the wisdom of crowds with the power of specialist science. An approach which fixes one or more observable problems with modern science could produce such an effect. But, like I said, to be sure that you are in the right ballpark, you have to become an expert in critiques of modern science. This first step is actually the one which Slashdotters seem to have the most difficulty with, and it is likely the reason why the answers to your question are not so great (sorry guys, downvote me if you must, but I am being honest).

    If this is seeming too vague to be actionable, it may be useful to dig into a specific example. One very serious problem with the modern science approach is the infamous "publish or perish" problem [junod.info]:

    Dear EPFL, I am writing to state that, after four years of hard but enjoyable PhD work at this school, I am planning to quit my thesis in January, just a few months shy of completion ...

    While I could give a multitude of reasons for leaving my studies – some more concrete, others more abstract – the essential motivation stems from my personal conclusion that I’ve lost faith in today’s academia as being something that brings a positive benefit to the world/societies we live in. Rather, I’m starting to think of it as a big money vacuum that takes in grants and spits out nebulous results, fueled by people whose main concerns are not to advance knowledge and to effect positive change, though they may talk of such things, but to build their CVs and to propel/maintain their car

  • There is a lot of good citizen science happens. One such organization is CoCoRaHS [cocorahs.org], where citizens with rain gauges add a lot more resolution to precipitation maps. Think one rainfall report for a town versus several reports all over town. The data has been used in a variety of ways. I find it interesting comparing my daily results with my neighbor 4 blocks away. Most the time there is no difference, but sometimes there is a significant difference.
  • (1) Safecast (unfortunately motivated by disaster, but most environmental monitoring spikes after such events): https://blog.safecast.org/ [safecast.org] . (2) EnviroDIY (water quality and quantity related; believe they are developing data portal): https://www.envirodiy.org/ [envirodiy.org] . (3) Wunderground has citizen network of weather stations. Not completely open, but they (proprietary company) update forecasts more often than gov't agencies due to automated data collection. The first example has been examined by peer-review (
  • There's a common misunderstanding that published science is always done by well trained professionals in well outfitted labs. That's not the case.

    Most authors on scientific papers are graduate students. These are by definition untrained people new to scientific research. Most paper authors don't have a PhD. Most science labs are stocked with decades out of date equipment. It's pretty trivial to build better equipment on your own with a bit of engineering knowledge and some searching of scientific surplus s

  • Consider citsci.org [citsci.org].

  • AKA flat earth nutjob. If that is what you mean, read the article instead of just the headline and you will find several sites of similar more-than-a-bubble-off-center friends to play with.

    If not, please clarify.

    There are many that use citizens/public/us to look at blood flows in mice brains for Alzheimer research, as well as SETI and protein folding.

    Good luck.
  • What about rating of experiments for peer review, revisions and refinement, requirement lists, step-by-step instructions for repeatability, ease of access, and simple language for people who don't find academia accessible? Does something like this exist already?

    For methods and protocols, there's protocols.io [protocols.io].

  • Next year the eVscope hopefully will make it debut. A telescope that will allow regular people to contribute to science. I bought one via kickstarter. https://unistellaroptics.com/ [unistellaroptics.com]
  • Public Lab is probably the best known - https://publiclab.org/ [publiclab.org]. Here's how they describe themselves: Public Lab is a community where you can learn how to investigate environmental concerns. Using inexpensive DIY techniques, we seek to change how people see the world in environmental, social, and political terms.
    I wrote an article about the DIY science community [economist.com] last year that tells you a bit more about how they and other "community science" outfits got started. (If the site asks you to subscribe just clear

  • The main platform that birders use is Ebird (https://ebird.org/home). Birders are somewhat self regulating in that we are pretty well versed in what is common and what is rare or improbable. And the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which at over 100 years is said to be the world's largest and longest running citizen science project, has provided a lot of data in that time about changing bird populations.
  • There are a lot more than this, but I'll leave these here - not that they are "pure" - some are just teaching existing knowledge and encouraging new people. My "thing" is non-thermal fusion so...the second one of these is my site. http://www.fusor.net/board/ind... [fusor.net] - fusor.org, helping beginners, some new science. http://www.coultersmithing.com... [coultersmithing.com] My site for a little more advanced user (no, I'm not pimping for members unless you're a super content contributor). Neither accept money or show ads....
  • There are lots of opportunities to contribute (either your personal data, or code/tech.) There are open APIs to let you design opt-in activities using everything from step data off of personal devices to entire genomes.

    https://www.openhumans.org/ [openhumans.org] [openhumans.org]

    OBJ DISCLAIMER: I was just elected to the OH Board of Directors...

I've got a bad feeling about this.

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