Sigal Samuel at Vox: “…The pandemic has driven a huge increase in participation in citizen science, where people without specialized training collect data out in the world or perform simple analyses of data online to help out scientists.
Stuck at home with time on their hands, millions of amateurs arouennd the world are gathering information on everything from birds to plants to Covid-19 at the request of institutional researchers. And while quarantine is mostly a nightmare for us, it’s been a great accelerant for science.
Early in the pandemic, a firehose of data started gushing forth on citizen science platforms like Zooniverse and SciStarter, where scientists ask the public to analyze their data online.It’s a form of crowdsourcing that has the added bonus of giving volunteers a real sense of community; each project has a discussion forum where participants can pose questions to each other (and often to the scientists behind the projects) and forge friendly connections.
“There’s a wonderful project called Rainfall Rescue that’s transcribing historical weather records. It’s a climate change project to understand how weather has changed over the past few centuries,” Laura Trouille, vice president of citizen science at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and co-lead of Zooniverse, told me. “They uploaded a dataset of 10,000 weather logs that needed transcribing — and that was completed in one day!”
Some Zooniverse projects, like Snapshot Safari, ask participants to classify animals in images from wildlife cameras. That project saw daily classifications go from 25,000 to 200,000 per day in the initial days of lockdown. And across all its projects, Zooniverse reported that 200,000 participants contributed more than 5 million classifications of images in one week alone — the equivalent of 48 years of research. Although participation has slowed a bit since the spring, it’s still four times what it was pre-pandemic.
Many people are particularly eager to help tackle Covid-19, and scientists have harnessed their energy. Carnegie Mellon University’s Roni Rosenfeld set up a platform where volunteers can help artificial intelligence predict the spread of the coronavirus, even if they know nothing about AI. Researchers at the University of Washington invited people to contribute to Covid-19 drug discovery using a computer game called Foldit; they experimented with designing proteins that could attach to the virus that causes Covid-19 and prevent it from entering cells….(More)”.