The Internet’s hidden science factory

Jenny Marder at PBS Newshour: “….Marshall is a worker for Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an online job forum where “requesters” post jobs, and an army of crowdsourced workers complete them, earning fantastically small fees for each task. The work has been called microlabor, and the jobs, known as Human Intelligence Tasks, or HITs, range wildly. Some are tedious: transcribing interviews or cropping photos. Some are funny: prank calling someone’s buddy (that’s worth $1) or writing the title to a pornographic movie based on a collection of dirty screen grabs (6 cents). And others are downright bizarre. One task, for example, asked workers to strap live fish to their chests and upload the photos. That paid $5 — a lot by Mechanical Turk standards….
These aren’t obscure studies that Turkers are feeding. They span dozens of fields of research, including social, cognitive and clinical psychology, economics, political science and medicine. They teach us about human behavior. They deal in subjects like energy conservation, adolescent alcohol use, managing money and developing effective teaching methods.

….In 2010, the researcher Joseph Henrich and his team published a paper showing that an American undergraduate was about 4,000 times more likely than an average American to be the subject of a research study.
But that output pales in comparison to Mechanical Turk workers. The typical “Turker” completes more studies in a week than the typical undergraduate completes in a lifetime. That’s according to research by Rand, who surveyed both groups. Among those he surveyed, he found that the median traditional lab subject had completed 15 total academic studies — an average of one per week. The median Turker, on the other hand, had completed 300 total academic studies — an average of 20 per week….(More)”