Scientific Discovery Goes Viral

Citizen-Research Efforts Expand the Rate of Scientific Discoveries

Scientific Discovery Goes Viral - Citizen-Research Efforts Expand thr Rate of Scientific Discoveries

In 2007 Chris Lintott, who works at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois and colleagues decided to launch a website asking for volunteers to help characterize over 1 million images of galaxies. After some news coverage, “Galaxy Zoo” went viral. To date it has managed to attract 375,000 people who have made over 200 million classifications and a few big discoveries from their own home computers. Lintott’s team believes that citizen-research efforts could expand the rate and progress of science-based studies and discoveries, but he offers a few tips for those hoping to collaborate. Lintott suggests making sure the website is useful, straightforward, and error free before releasing it to the public. “The motivation for most people [is] contributing to research…you [shouldn’t] waste people’s time.” He also explains that providing tools and data for advanced users can lead to discoveries, and that any website dedicated to research should allow their users access to a broad range of data. Another tip is that ranking users seems to quell the discovery process, as some people get caught up in the classification system instead of focusing on research. Lastly, Lintott reminds us that computers and humans need each other. While telescopes are much better at finding galaxies, and computers are good at recording data, humans still possess something that machines do not: curiosity. According to the Galaxy Zoo site: “Computers will slowly get better at classifying galaxies, but looking at an image and asking ‘what’s that odd thing?’ remains uniquely human.”

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