Ask a Scientist


NYU Press Release: “Unreliable tips on how to protect oneself from the novel coronavirus and fake news about the COVID-19 pandemic are spreading as quickly as the virus itself.

The Governance Lab (The GovLab) at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering has collaborated with the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and the State of New Jersey Office of Innovation to launch a free, interactive tool aimed at cutting through the noise and presenting clear, scientist-led, and evidence-based information and advice to the public.

Available in English and Spanish, “Ask a Scientist,” allows users to find answers to a wide range of commonly asked questions about the virus, the severity of the outbreak, best methods of prevention, and steps to take in the event you fall ill. All posted content is obtained from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other rigorously verified sources.

screenshot of website that allows users to type in questions about COVID-19

“Ask a Scientist” features a free, interactive tool allowing users to submit questions to a team of FAS researchers and a crowdsourced network of vetted science experts. In English and Spanish, the site also includes top articles and the latest information, and answers to a wide range of commonly asked questions about the COVID-19 epidemic, the severity of the outbreak, best methods of prevention, and steps to take in the event you fall ill.

If users do not find an answer to their specific questions, they have the option of submitting them to a team of FAS researchers and a crowdsourced network of vetted science experts led by the National Science Policy Network. Users can expect an answer within an hour, although that timeframe is expected to shorten as the network increases in size. Every answer is reviewed to ensure accuracy and timeliness, then added to the knowledge base for the benefit of others….(More)”.

How scientists are crowdsourcing a coronavirus treatment


Article by Evan Nicole Brown: “… There’s currently no cure for COVID-19, but scientists are working on drugs that could help slow its spread. Fortunately, citizens can get involved in the process.

Foldit is an online video game that challenges players to fold various proteins into shapes where they are stable. Generally, folding proteins allows scientists (and citizens) to design new proteins from scratch, but in the case of coronavirus, Foldit players are trying to design the drugs to combat it. “Coronavirus has a ‘spike’ protein that it uses to recognize human cells,” says Brian Koepnick, a biochemist and researcher with the University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design who has been using Foldit for protein research for six years. “Foldit players are designing new protein drugs that can bind to the COVID spike and block this recognition, [which could] potentially stop the virus from infecting more cells in an individual who has already been exposed to the virus.”

“In Foldit, you change the shape of a protein model to optimize your score. This score is actually a sophisticated calculation of the fold’s potential energy,” says Koepnick, adding that professional researchers use an identical score function in their work. “The coronavirus puzzles are set up such that high-scoring models have a better chance of actually binding to the target spike protein.” Ultimately, high-scoring solutions are analyzed by researchers and considered for real-world use….(More)”.

Crowdsourcing hypothesis tests: making transparent how design choices shape research results


Paper by J.F. Landy and Leonid Tiokhin: “To what extent are research results influenced by subjective decisions that scientists make as they design studies?

Fifteen research teams independently designed studies to answer five original research questions related to moral judgments, negotiations, and implicit cognition. Participants from two separate large samples (total N > 15,000) were then randomly assigned to complete one version of each study. Effect sizes varied dramatically across different sets of materials designed to test the same hypothesis: materials from different teams rendered statistically significant effects in opposite directions for four out of five hypotheses, with the narrowest range in estimates being d = -0.37 to +0.26. Meta-analysis and a Bayesian perspective on the results revealed overall support for two hypotheses, and a lack of support for three hypotheses.

Overall, practically none of the variability in effect sizes was attributable to the skill of the research team in designing materials, while considerable variability was attributable to the hypothesis being tested. In a forecasting survey, predictions of other scientists were significantly correlated with study results, both across and within hypotheses. Crowdsourced testing of research hypotheses helps reveal the true consistency of empirical support for a scientific claim….(More)”.

Research co-design in health: a rapid overview of reviews


Paper by Peter Slattery, Alexander K. Saeri & Peter Bragge: “Billions of dollars are lost annually in health research that fails to create meaningful benefits for patients. Engaging in research co-design – the meaningful involvement of end-users in research – may help address this research waste. This rapid overview of reviews addressed three related questions, namely (1) what approaches to research co-design exist in health settings? (2) What activities do these research co-design approaches involve? (3) What do we know about the effectiveness of existing research co-design approaches? The review focused on the study planning phase of research, defined as the point up to which the research question and study design are finalised….

A total of 26 records (reporting on 23 reviews) met the inclusion criteria. Reviews varied widely in their application of ‘research co-design’ and their application contexts, scope and theoretical foci. The research co-design approaches identified involved interactions with end-users outside of study planning, such as recruitment and dissemination. Activities involved in research co-design included focus groups, interviews and surveys. The effectiveness of research co-design has rarely been evaluated empirically or experimentally; however, qualitative exploration has described the positive and negative outcomes associated with co-design. The research provided many recommendations for conducting research co-design, including training participating end-users in research skills, having regular communication between researchers and end-users, setting clear end-user expectations, and assigning set roles to all parties involved in co-design…

Research co-design appears to be widely used but seldom described or evaluated in detail. Though it has rarely been tested empirically or experimentally, existing research suggests that it can benefit researchers, practitioners, research processes and research outcomes. Realising the potential of research co-design may require the development of clearer and more consistent terminology, better reporting of the activities involved and better evaluation….(More)”.

Community science: A typology and its implications for governance of social-ecological systems


Paper by Anthony Charles, Laura Loucks, Fikret Berkes, and Derek Armitage: “There is an increasing recognition globally of the role to be played by community science –scientific research and monitoring driven and controlled by local communities, and characterized by place-based knowledge, social learning, collective action and empowerment. In particular, community science can support social-ecological system transformation, and help in achieving better ‘fit’ between ecological systems and governance, at local and higher levels of decision making.

This paper draws on three examples of communities as central actors in the process of knowledge co-production to present a typology of community science, and to deduce a set of key principles/conditions for success.

The typology involves three social learning models in which the community acquires scientific knowledge by (1) engaging with external bodies, (2) drawing on internal volunteer scientific expertise, and/or (3) hiring (or contracting) in-house professional scientific expertise. All of these models share the key characteristic that the local community decides with whom they wish to engage, and in each case, social learning is fundamental. Some conditions that facilitate community science include: community-driven and community-control; flexibility across leadership models; connection to place and collective values; empowerment, agency and collective action; credible trust; local knowledge; and links to governance.

Community science is not a panacea for effecting change at the local level, and there is need for critical assessment of how it can help to fill governance gaps. Nevertheless, a considerable body of experience globally illustrates how local communities are drawing effectively on community science for better conservation and livelihood outcomes, in a manner compatible with broader trends toward ecosystem-based management and local stewardship….(More)”.

Policy Perspectives on Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing


Special Issue edited by Lea A. Shanley, Alison Parker, Sven Schade, and Aletta Bonn: “Citizen science encompasses a range of methodologies that support meaningful contributions of the public to the advancement of scientific and engineering research and monitoring, in ways that may include identifying research questions; conducting scientific investigations; collecting, processing, and analyzing data; developing scientific hardware and software; and solving complex problems. As an emerging field, citizen science has been described in a variety of ways (e.g., Auerbach et al. 2019Eitzel et al. 2017Hecker et al. 2019Heigl et al. 2019Shanley, Hulbert, and Auerbach 2019). Similarly, crowdsourcing is a methodology that engages a large group of people through an open call to tackle a common task or problem, either as individuals or collectively (Howe and Robinson 2005; Howe 2006). This may include asking the public to submit new ideas, designs, algorithms, or data via an online platform or mobile app, which is sometimes incentivized through a prize or challenge.

The defining characteristic of both citizen science and crowdsourcing, however, is their “location at the point where public participation and knowledge production – or societal context and epistemology – meet, even if that intersection can take many different forms” (Irwin 2015). Irwin argues that these approaches provide an opportunity to bring members of the public and science closer together, to consider the possibilities for a more active “scientific citizenship,” [and] “to link these issues into public policy.” As several recent studies have demonstrated, citizen science and crowdsourcing can help to provide the evidence-base to inform a wide range of management and public policy decisions while fostering civic partnerships with government…

More than two decades after the publication of Irwin’s seminal book on citizen science (Irwin 1995), we see an increasing awareness and use of citizen science by national governments and multilateral organizations to address both scientific and societal challenges (e.g., Haklay 2015Nascimento et al. 2017). Governments in the United States and Europe, for example, have incorporated citizen science and crowdsourcing as part of their Open Science, Open Innovation, Open Government, and/or Open Data initiatives (e.g., OSTP 20132015OECD 2016EC 2016). The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response have used crowdsourcing and citizen science for disaster response and humanitarian relief for nearly a decade (e.g., Shanley et al. 2013), while the United Nations Environment Program is beginning to explore the use of citizen science for addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (e.g., Chandler et al. 2017Fritz et al. 2019). This growing support for citizen science and crowdsourcing by government decision-makers and policymakers is a direct result of the focused grassroots efforts of government agency staff, in partnership with professional citizen science associations and organizations such as SciStarter, as well as the strategic positioning of citizen science and crowdsourcing as methods for addressing agency missions and national priorities (e.g., Bowser et al. In preparationGöbel et al. 2019Roger et al. 2019Shanley et al. In preparation). Through our contributions to these initiatives, the editorial team was inspired to propose this Special Issue on Policy Perspectives for Citizen Science….(More)”.

The most innovative political projects in Europe 2019


The Innovation in Politics Institute: “Since 2017, the Innovation in Politics Awards have been honouring successfully implemented political initiatives – regardless of party affiliation, political level or region. The aim is to strengthen, further develop and inspire democratic politics…

The winning projects by category are:

COOPERATIVE COUNCIL GRONINGEN: Trust is crucial in life – and in politics. The open citizens’ council in Groningen builds trust between citizens and politicians. When they sit shoulder to shoulder in the local council and decide together, a joint sense of responsibility quickly develops. The citizens are chosen at random in order to motivate a variety of people to participate. An evaluation by the University of Groningen showed increased trust on all sides, more active voting behaviour and a stronger community. …

SMART CITY BAD HERSFELD: The “Smart City Bad Hersfeld” project links public administration, citizens and businesses in the city to improve living and working conditions. With 30,000 inhabitants, it is the smallest city in Germany to have developed such a programme. A digital parking guidance system optimises the use of space and the finding of a parking space. Municipal charging stations for electric cars promote environmentally friendly transport. “Smartboxes” on main roads collect data on traffic noise and waste materials for effective environmental management. Free Internet in the city centre motivates everyone to use such services….(More)”

The Crowd and the Cosmos: Adventures in the Zooniverse


Book by Chris Lintott: “The world of science has been transformed. Where once astronomers sat at the controls of giant telescopes in remote locations, praying for clear skies, now they have no need to budge from their desks, as data arrives in their inbox. And what they receive is overwhelming; projects now being built provide more data in a few nights than in the whole of humanity’s history of observing the Universe. It’s not just astronomy either – dealing with this deluge of data is the major challenge for scientists at CERN, and for biologists who use automated cameras to spy on animals in their natural habitats. Artificial intelligence is one part of the solution – but will it spell the end of human involvement in scientific discovery?

No, argues Chris Lintott. We humans still have unique capabilities to bring to bear – our curiosity, our capacity for wonder, and, most importantly, our capacity for surprise. It seems that humans and computers working together do better than computers can on their own. But with so much scientific data, you need a lot of scientists – a crowd, in fact. Lintott found such a crowd in the Zooniverse, the web-based project that allows hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic volunteers to contribute to science.

In this book, Lintott describes the exciting discoveries that people all over the world have made, from galaxies to pulsars, exoplanets to moons, and from penguin behavior to old ship’s logs. This approach builds on a long history of so-called “citizen science,” given new power by fast internet and distributed data. Discovery is no longer the remit only of scientists in specialist labs or academics in ivory towers. It’s something we can all take part in. As Lintott shows, it’s a wonderful way to engage with science, yielding new insights daily. You, too, can help explore the Universe in your lunch hour…(More)”.

Unregulated Health Research Using Mobile Devices: Ethical Considerations and Policy Recommendations


Paper by Mark A. Rothstein et al: “Mobile devices with health apps, direct-to-consumer genetic testing, crowd-sourced information, and other data sources have enabled research by new classes of researchers. Independent researchers, citizen scientists, patient-directed researchers, self-experimenters, and others are not covered by federal research regulations because they are not recipients of federal financial assistance or conducting research in anticipation of a submission to the FDA for approval of a new drug or medical device. This article addresses the difficult policy challenge of promoting the welfare and interests of research participants, as well as the public, in the absence of regulatory requirements and without discouraging independent, innovative scientific inquiry. The article recommends a series of measures, including education, consultation, transparency, self-governance, and regulation to strike the appropriate balance….(More)”.

The Psychological Basis of Motivation to Take Part in Online Citizen Science


Paper by Liz Dowthwaite et al: “Increasing motivation to contribute to online citizen science projects can improve user experience and is critical in retaining and attracting users. Drawing on previous studies of motivation, this paper suggests self-determination theory as a framework for explaining the psychological constructs behind participation in Citizen Science. Through examining existing studies of motivation for 6 Zooniverse projects through this lens, the paper suggests how appealing to basic psychological needs could increase participation in online citizen science, considering current practices and directions for future developments and research….(More)”.