A Videogame That Recruits Players to Map the Brain

Wired: “I’m no neuroscientist, and yet, here I am at my computer attempting to reconstruct a neural circuit of a mouse’s retina. It’s not quite as difficult and definitely not as boring as it sounds. In fact, it’s actually pretty fun, which is a good thing considering I’m playing a videogame.
Called EyeWire, the browser-based game asks players to map the connections between retinal neurons by coloring in 3-D slices of the brain. Much like any other game out there, being good at EyeWire earns you points, but the difference is that the data you produce during gameplay doesn’t just get you on a leader board—it’s actually used by scientists to build a better picture of the human brain.
Created by neuroscientist Sebastian Seung’s lab at MIT, EyeWire basically gamifies the professional research Seung and his collaborators do on a daily basis. Seung is studying the connectome, the hyper-complex tangle of connections among neurons in the brain.”

How to do scientific research without even trying (much)

Ars Technica: “To some extent, scientific research requires expensive or specialized equipment—some work just requires a particle accelerator or a virus containment facility. But plenty of other research has very simple requirements: a decent camera, a bit of patience, or being in the right place at the right time. Since that sort of work is open to anyone, getting the public involved can be a huge win for scientists, who can then obtain much more information than they could have gathered on their own.
A group of Spanish researchers has now written an article that is a mixture of praise for this sort of citizen science, a resource list for people hoping to get involved, and a how-to guide for anyone inspired to join in. The researchers focus on their own area of interest—insects, specifically the hemiptera or “true bugs”—but a lot of what they say applies to other areas of research.

The paper also lists a variety of regional-specific sites that focus on insect identification and tracking, such as ones for the UK, Belgium, and Slovenia. But a dedicated system isn’t required for this sort of resource. In the researchers’ home base on the Iberian Peninsula, insects are tracked via a Flickr group. (If you’re interested in insect research and based in the US, you can also find dozens of projects at the SciStarter site.) We’ve uploaded some of the most amazing images into a gallery that accompanies this article.
ZooKeys, 2013. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.319.4342

The Charitable-Industrial Complex

Peter Buffett in the New York Times: “It’s time for a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New code.

What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it. Foundation dollars should be the best “risk capital” out there.

There are people working hard at showing examples of other ways to live in a functioning society that truly creates greater prosperity for all (and I don’t mean more people getting to have more stuff).

Money should be spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market. Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.

It’s an old story; we really need a new one.”

Citizen Science Profile: SeaSketch

Blog entry from the Commons Lab within the  Science and Technology Innovation Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: “As part of the Commons Lab’s ongoing initiative to highlight the intersection of emerging technologies and citizen science, we present a profile of SeaSketch, a marine management software that makes complex spatial planning tools accessible to everyone. This was prepared with the gracious assistance of Will McClintock, director of the McClintock Lab.
The SeaSketch initiative highlights key components of successful citizen science projects. The end product is a result of an iterative process where the developers applied previous successes and learned from mistakes. The tool was designed to allow people without technical training to participate, expanding access to stakeholders. MarineMap had a quantifiable impact on California marine protected areas, increasing their size from 1 percent to 16 percent of the coastline. The subsequent version, SeaSketch, is uniquely suited to scale out worldwide, addressing coastal and land management challenges. By emphasizing iterative development, non-expert accessibility and scalability, SeaSketch offers a model of successful citizen science….
SeaSketch succeeded as a citizen science initiative by focusing on three project priorities:

  • Iterative Development: The current version of SeaSketch’s PGIS software is the result of seven years of trial and error. Doris and MarineMap helped the project team learn what worked and adjust accordingly. The final result would have been impossible without a sustained commitment to the project and regular product assessments.
  • Non-Expert Accessibility: GIS software is traditionally limited to those with technical expertise. SeaSketch was developed anticipating that stakeholders without GIS training would use the software. New features allow users to contribute spatial surveys, sharing their knowledge of the area to better inform planning. This ease of use means the project is outward facing: More people can participate, meaning the analyses better reflect community priorities.
  • Scalability: Although MarineMap was built specifically to guide the MLPA process, the concept is highly flexible. SeaSketch  is being used to support oceanic management issues worldwide, including in areas of international jurisdiction. The software can support planning with legal implications as well as cooperative agreements. SeaSketch’s project team believes it can also be used for freshwater and terrestrial management issues.”

Great groups: What 15 things do breakthrough genius teams share?

Barking Up The Wrong Tree: “Warren Bennis and Patricia Biederman studied a number of breakthrough great groups to see what made them so successful. They compiled the results into their book, Organizing Genius.
They looked at the Disney’s Animation division, the Manhattan Project (developed the nuclear bomb), Xerox PARC (designed the modern computer interface), the 1992 Clinton campaign (pulled off an enormous victory), Lockheed’s Skunk Works (created the U2 spy plane and the Stealth Bomber), and others.
Highlights from Organizing Genius summarized by Erik Barker can be found here.”

Smart Citizen Kit enables crowdsourced environmental monitoring

Emma Hutchings at PSFK: “The Smart Citizen Kit is a crowdsourced environmental monitoring platform. By scattering devices around the world, the creators hope to build a global network of sensors that report local environmental conditions like CO and NO2 levels, light, noise, temperature and humidity.
Organized by the Fab Lab at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, a team of scientists, architects, and engineers are paving the way to humanize environmental monitoring. The open-source platform consists of arduino-compatible hardware, data visualization web API and a mobile app. Users are invited to take part in the interactive global environmental database, visualizing their data and comparing it with others around the world.”
Smart Citizen Kit Calls For Environmental Monitoring

The Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Individualism

Paper by NetLab (Toronto University) scholars in the latest issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication: “We review the evidence from a number of surveys in which our NetLab has been involved about the extent to which the Internet is transforming or enhancing community. The studies show that the Internet is used for connectivity locally as well as globally, although the nature of its use varies in different countries. Internet use is adding on to other forms of communication, rather than replacing them. Internet use is reinforcing the pre-existing turn to societies in the developed world that are organized around networked individualism rather than group or local solidarities. The result has important implications for civic involvement.”

Crowd diagnosis could spot rare diseases doctors miss

New Scientist: “Diagnosing rare illnesses could get easier, thanks to new web-based tools that pool information from a wide variety of sources…CrowdMed, launched on 16 April at the TedMed conference in Washington DC, uses crowds to solve tough medical cases.

Anyone can join CrowdMed and analyse cases, regardless of their background or training. Participants are given points that they can then use to bet on the correct diagnosis from lists of suggestions. This creates a prediction market, with diagnoses falling and rising in value based on their popularity, like stocks in a stock market. Algorithms then calculate the probability that each diagnosis will be correct. In 20 initial test cases, around 700 participants identified each of the mystery diseases as one of their top three suggestions….

Frustrated patients and doctors can also turn to FindZebra, a recently launched search engine for rare diseases. It lets users search an index of rare disease databases looked after by a team of researchers. In initial trials, FindZebra returned more helpful results than Google on searches within this same dataset.”

June 1: National Day of Civic Hacking

From Peter Welsch at the White House: “On the first weekend in June, civic activists, technology experts, and entrepreneurs around the country will gather together for the National Day of Civic Hacking. By combining their expertise with new technologies and publicly released data, participants hope to build tools that help others in their own neighborhoods and across the United States”.

Apply for the National Day of Civic Hacking at the White House. The deadline for applications is 5:00pm on Friday, April 19.