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# Citizen science

Old weather enlists volunteers to extract climate information from Royal Navy ships' logs. In similar vein, is weatherathome. Both build on the successful use of volunteers in the Galaxy Zoo and Protein Folding.

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I think citizen science is a good thing and should be pushed along. I think there is a big distinction between asking people to engage their computer in a project (like weatherathome and Folding@home) and asking them to engage their brains (like Old weather, Galaxy Zoo and foldit ). The latter seems to be called Crowdsourcing.

Foldit is a game where the user tries to fold proteins better than anyone else can. There are also projects for people to send in observations of plants, insects, birds, etc, and to classify photos of them. It would be great if Azimuth could start something like this.

Comment Source:I think citizen science is a good thing and should be pushed along. I think there is a big distinction between asking people to engage their computer in a project (like weatherathome and Folding@home) and asking them to engage their brains (like Old weather, Galaxy Zoo and [foldit](http://fold.it/portal/) ). The latter seems to be called Crowdsourcing. Foldit is a game where the user tries to fold proteins better than anyone else can. There are also projects for people to send in observations of plants, insects, birds, etc, and to classify photos of them. It would be great if Azimuth could start something like this.
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"People exert large amounts of problem-solving effort playing computer games. Simple image- and text-recognition tasks have been successfully ‘crowd-sourced’ through games, but it is not clear if more complex scientific problems can be solved with human-directed computing. Protein structure prediction is one such problem: locating the biologically relevant native conformation of a protein is a formidable computational challenge given the very large size of the search space. Here we describe Foldit, a multiplayer online game that engages non-scientists in solving hard prediction problems."

Beginning of the abstract in Nature, 2010, 466(7307), 756. (Subscription only).

Comment Source:"People exert large amounts of problem-solving effort playing computer games. Simple image- and text-recognition tasks have been successfully ‘crowd-sourced’ through games, but it is not clear if more complex scientific problems can be solved with human-directed computing. Protein structure prediction is one such problem: locating the biologically relevant native conformation of a protein is a formidable computational challenge given the very large size of the search space. Here we describe Foldit, a multiplayer online game that engages non-scientists in solving hard prediction problems." Beginning of the abstract in [Nature, 2010, 466(7307), 756](http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v466/n7307/full/nature09304.html). (Subscription only).
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3.
edited November 2010

I'd rather pay people to solve protein folding problems than pay them to solve captchas.

Walter - I think Mike Pelzar asked me if you had Folding@home running on your computers. Do you?

Comment Source:I'd rather pay people to solve protein folding problems than pay them to solve [captchas](http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/diary/october_2010.html#october17_10). Walter - I think Mike Pelzar asked me if you had [Folding@home](http://folding.stanford.edu/) running on your computers. Do you?
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In partial defence of academic "smudged word" captchas, they're tackling a different problem. Each one done increases the amount of "ground truth" data for automatically Optical Character Recognising books better. Unfortunately the need to have one of the two words with an immediately known answer (to grant site access) means that only half of the human work being done is advancing knowledge.

Joining the other thing Graham said, the other potentially interesting "citizen science" type thing is that mobile phones/tablets have some interesting sensors, including cameras, GPS, etc. One can imagine lots of possible tasks, some environmental, that would engage the user's brain a little to figure out useful data to gather and then actually doing the data gathering using these machines. (There have been projects in the UK about recording platnt flowering times or the first & last swallow sighting, but they've required people to be organised enough to keep journals and then fill in forms once things were clear [you can't be sure you've seen your last swallow at the time you see it]. This might be easier and hence more popular.).

Comment Source:In partial defence of academic "smudged word" captchas, they're tackling a different problem. Each one done increases the amount of "ground truth" data for automatically Optical Character Recognising books better. Unfortunately the need to have one of the two words with an immediately known answer (to grant site access) means that only half of the human work being done is advancing knowledge. Joining the other thing Graham said, the other potentially interesting "citizen science" type thing is that mobile phones/tablets have some interesting sensors, including cameras, GPS, etc. One can imagine lots of possible tasks, some environmental, that would engage the user's brain a little to figure out useful data to gather and then actually doing the data gathering using these machines. (There have been projects in the UK about recording platnt flowering times or the first & last swallow sighting, but they've required people to be organised enough to keep journals and then fill in forms once things were clear [you can't be sure you've seen your last swallow at the time you see it]. This might be easier and hence more popular.).
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In partial defence of academic "smudged word" captchas, they're tackling a different problem.

There are some faculty at UCR who are trying to start "citizen science" project on climate change. The idea is let school kids do science projects where they use cell phones to contribute data to a geographic information system or "GIS". One of the biggest GIS companies happens to be located near UCR, and they've volunteered to help. But the project needs some grant money to get started.

When I go back, I'll join that team...

From my May 3rd 2010 diary:

I went to the ESRI office in Redlands, to a meeting led by Rusty Russell, who is trying to organize a group to integrate geographic information systems software into education at the elementary and secondary school levels. One goal is to teach kids science and give them more of a sense of their local landscape by having them go around and collect data on flora and fauna... data which could then instantly appear on maps. Another goal is to actually get useful data this way. It's an interesting concept: people call it citizen science. In my idealistic dreams I can imagine kids getting really excited about science by actually doing it and seeing how it works, rather than learning science as a collection of pre-established facts.

There was a very diverse mix of people there. Maria Simani, who invited me, works at the Alpha Center at UCR, connecting UCR faculty to K-12 teachers. Rusty Russell is a botany collections manager for the Smithsonian, who has worked on mapping climate change in the San Jacinto Mountains with the help of geographic information systems (or "GIS") technology.

Some people were from ESRI, which is an leading company when it comes to GIS technology. Charles Convis leads the ESRI conservation program and knows a lot about citizen science. When I told him that I want to interview mathematicians working on environmental projects, he mentioned Abel Wohlman, a mathematician at Johns Hopkins who works on conservation planning, and Steve Kelling at Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, who has extended John Tukey's exploratory data analysis techniques to deal with the occasional unreliability of data sets produced by citizen scientists.

Sean Lahmeyer works at the Huntington Garden Herbarium and is getting people in Pasadena to map the Arroyo Seco area. Jennifer Futterman of the Coachella Valley school district has been working on replacing their science curriculum with one that incorporates ecology. Kim McNulty runs the Career Pathways Initiative for Coachella Valley high schools.

Comment Source:> In partial defence of academic "smudged word" captchas, they're tackling a different problem. If you read my link, you'll see I was talking about something far more sinister. There are some faculty at UCR who are trying to start "citizen science" project on climate change. The idea is let school kids do science projects where they use cell phones to contribute data to a [geographic information system](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geographic_information_system) or "GIS". One of the biggest GIS companies happens to be located near UCR, and they've volunteered to help. But the project needs some grant money to get started. When I go back, I'll join that team... From my May 3rd 2010 diary: I went to the <a href = "http://www.esri.com/">ESRI</a> office in Redlands, to a meeting led by Rusty Russell, who is trying to organize a group to integrate <a href = "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_geographic_information_systems_software">geographic information systems software</a> into education at the elementary and secondary school levels. One goal is to teach kids science and give them more of a sense of their local landscape by having them go around and collect data on flora and fauna... data which could then instantly appear on maps. Another goal is to actually get useful data this way. It's an interesting concept: people call it <a href = "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizen_science">citizen science</a>. In my idealistic dreams I can imagine kids getting really excited about science by actually doing it and seeing how it works, rather than learning science as a collection of pre-established facts. There was a very diverse mix of people there. Maria Simani, who invited me, works at the Alpha Center at UCR, connecting UCR faculty to K-12 teachers. <a href = "http://botany.si.edu/staff/staffPage.cfm?ThisName=38&amp;homepage=no">Rusty Russell</a> is a botany collections manager for the Smithsonian, who has worked on <a href = "http://www.earthwatch.org/exped/russellr.html">mapping climate change</a> in the San Jacinto Mountains with the help of geographic information systems (or &quot;GIS&quot;) technology. Some people were from ESRI, which is an leading company when it comes to GIS technology. Charles Convis leads the <a href = "http://www.conservationgis.org/ecpstory/aboutecp.html">ESRI conservation program</a> and knows a lot about citizen science. When I told him that I want to interview mathematicians working on environmental projects, he mentioned <a href = "http://www.grizzlybear.org/about/index.php?cmd=c">Abel Wohlman</a>, a mathematician at Johns Hopkins who works on conservation planning, and <a href = "http://www.birds.cornell.edu/is/staff/staff_steve.html">Steve Kelling</a> at Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, who has extended John Tukey's exploratory data analysis techniques to deal with the occasional unreliability of data sets produced by citizen scientists. <a href = "http://www.biodiversitycollectionsindex.org/collection/view/id/15504">Sean Lahmeyer</a> works at the Huntington Garden Herbarium and is getting people in Pasadena to map the Arroyo Seco area. Jennifer Futterman of the Coachella Valley school district has been working on replacing their science curriculum with one that incorporates ecology. Kim McNulty runs the Career Pathways Initiative for Coachella Valley high schools.