15 August 2011

TNA podcast: Galaxy Zoo and old weather: exploring the potential of citizen science

This is quite an unusual topic for a TNA podcast. It certainly appeals to me as a former research meteorologist, but beyond that illustrates how techniques developed in one discipline, astronomy, can find application in another, climate research, drawing on data in the Royal Navy ships logs archived at TNA.  
But beyond that there are lessons for how to properly engage citizen volunteers in an Internet based crowdsourcing project. I particularly appreciate the comment that volunteers are not just cheap labour; to treat them as such is unethical. It also misses out on the real contributions that volunteers can make.
Here, paraphrased, are three principles mentioned in the talk: 
1. We treat our community volunteers as collaborators not users; original ideas come from the community and all their efforts are credited;
2. Community volunteers should be contributing their efforts towards projects that will advance the state of knowledge;
3. We shouldn't waste people's time asking people to do things that could equally well be done by a computer.

Here's the summary from the TNA website. 

A team at Oxford University has launched a range of 'citizen science' projects, all aimed at delivering real research through the efforts of a large community of public volunteers. 'Old Weather' is the first non-astronomical project for the team and asks members of the public to transcribe Royal Navy ships logs from the First World War - to date more than 2 million entities have been transcribed. 

The team has previously enjoyed great success with 'Galaxy Zoo'. By asking hundreds of thousands of members of the public to classify galaxies by their shape, Galaxy Zoo produced a fantastically rich dataset of more than 100 million galaxy classifications that has resulted in more than 25 peer-reviewed publications.
In this talk, Dr Arfon Smith discusses the potential of citizen science and 'crowdsourcing' for large digital collections.  

This is not only one of the most unusual but also one of the most interesting TNA podcasts I've heard. Listen at http://goo.gl/4I0sj

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