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Crowdsourcing in Science: talking to whales, finding stars and curing dementia

Posted on 4th February 2015 by

Milky Way

What do you do when you have a task that is so big that you couldn’t possibly do it all on your own? Well, if you are like most people you will probably call up a few buddies and get them to help you out. That is pretty much what crowdsourcing is. The formal definition, according to the OED, is ‘to obtain by enlisting the services of a largenumber of people’.

While crowdsourcing of one kind or another has been around forever, it is only now that we are realising that crowdsourcing might have a place in science and medicine. There are some pretty cool projects out there from a wide spectrum of disciplines, ranging from astronomy to zoology. I’ll highlight a few of my favourites, but feel free to comment below with any other cool projects that you have come across.

1. The Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group

Dementian Citation ScreeningThe scientific community holds Cochrane reviews in high regard and many would agree that they produce findings of the highest level of evidence. They bring together every single piece of research on a particular question and the evidence is analysed. The problem with preparing Cochrane reviews is that it takes an enormous amount of resources to sift through thousands of papers to see which ones should be included. Now that’s where you come in. The Cochrane Collaboration has started a crowdsourcing project to help their researchers find relevant articles. If you are interested follow this link! I’ve screened 502 articles to date… try and beat me!

2. Whale Song Project

Whale FMKiller whales, or Orcas, are ridiculously sophisticated creatures and are able to communicate with each other using different calls. What is really interesting is that each family of Orcas, has their own dialect and accent! So this research team needs your help to match recordings of Orcas to ones in their database, with the hopes of helping scientists learn more about the way these beautiful creatures communicate. Find out more about here.

3. The Milky Way Project

Milky Way - ZooniverseHow would you like to discover a newly forming massive star? Well I think you’ll like this. This crowdsourcing project is asking for help to analyse nearly half a million pictures of the Milky Way taken on board the Spitzer Space Telescope. You’ll get all the training and then you will be able to start hunting for “bubbles” that are given off by newly forming stars. The images you are a looking at can be anywhere are far as 25,000 light years away. Have a look at their website to get involved.

4. Be My Eyes

Be My EyesThis is a really cool app that connects individuals with visual impairment with volunteers around the world with live video chat. Individuals requesting assistance can take a video with their smart phone of a challenge that they need help with, such as expiry dates on food or cooking instructions. Volunteers can then watch the video and provide assistance. To date, users have been helped over 29,000 times by this app. For the android users out there… don’t worry they are working on an update! Find out more here.


For some more amazing crowdsourcing opportunities check out Zooniverse. Don’t forget to comment with other crowdsourcing initiatives and your experiences.


Pishoy Gouda

Pishoy is a medical graduate from the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI Galway). He was the founding Chairperson of the Association of Medical Students in Ireland and now currently serves on their advisory panel. He is currently a PGY 1 Internal Medicine Resident and the University of Calgary and completing his MSc in Clinical Trials at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. View more posts from Pishoy

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