Wednesday, December 18, 2013

AWIS Citizen Science Panel

Tonight I was on a panel at a meet-up for the Association for Women in Science! The panel was on Citizen Science. It was cool!

I said a bunch of things that I don't really remember. I talked about Foldit, which is pretty quintessential Citizen Science, and how the fact that it makes the sciencey tools available to normal people is what's awesome, even more so than it being a game. I also talked about the Citizen Computer Science I do, in the form of PhotoCity and the Face Frontier. There's some coooool software/algorithms out there, and I just want to make it so anyone can try it out on data they care about! So we can make things even better!

But enough about me (that was just so I remember kinda what I said for the future)... the other panelists had awesome things going on that you should know about.

COASST: Beach strolls with a purpose 

This is a beach-monitoring program for basically cataloging birds that have washed up on shore. Interested volunteers go to a training program, get their guide to dead birds, and are off! Apparently it takes about 20 hours to become an expert, and the volunteers' work quality is monitored, so COASST knows whether or not to trust your work. They're always collecting data so they're able to know what the baseline is. Agencies and and sometimes citizen volunteers ask for data a couple times a month. I heard a number like 800 people were involved, and these were all kinds of people, people in the community who live near the beach, people who like looking for sea glass, people who heard about it from their friends and family. I love that beach-monitoring can be a useful thing for the beach-enthusiast to do and learn about.

The bird-field-guide part made me think of LeafSnap. Computer vision IS trying to recognize birds... maybe they should get into washed-up-beach-bird territory. 

HiveBio: A DIY bio hacker space in Seattle

I didn't know this was a thing! Wet science... I know so little about it... I think of crowdsourced biology still being limited to spitting in a tube and sending it off, so I'm glad to know (some of) those things could be demystified and I could get the chance to do them myself! Also, the idea of a hacker space that revolves around molecular biology instead of robots and programming is really cool. I wouldn't even know where to start with such a thing, and I liked that these women realized people where getting overwhelmed with DIYbio options and addressed it by offering focused classes.

I heard they are in the middle of a microryza campaign and y'all should support them: https://www.microryza.com/projects/hivebio-community-lab-education-resources-community

Project Violet: Adopt a drug

Project Violet gives people the opportunity to help fund cancer research in an involved and transparent way. Adopt a drug, and get updates on that drug as science happens to it, as it gets tested, as it goes through trials, etc. If the drug doesn't work out (only about 1 in 1,000 succeed apparently) and your adopted drug drops out of the race, they'll give you a new drug to root for. 

Other stuff

I mentioned PoorMe and after the panel, a woman came up to me and told me about pharmacovigilance. Like the public health monolith of delayed and incomplete data that PoorMe was trying to tackle, pharmacology (prescription drugs) doesn't have a super efficient and effective way to know when drugs are ineffective or have negative effects outside the trials. A person has to be sick enough to report it to their doctor, and they might not even say anything because they think that's how the drug is supposed to work. 

I wish I could say that PoorMe totally worked and it should be copied and used it for this new purpose (which sounds like a superhero worked) but that whole idea of citizen public health still needs some work. What will incentivize people to contribute even when they're feeling unhealthy... 

Soooo, yeah! That was tonight! The world is full of cool and interesting people doing cool and amazing things and sharing the ability to do cool things with everyone else!

Another thing about people learning to program!

Oh, another thing! My dream for the world is that more women and awesome people learn to program so they can code things for science. Not just behind-the-scenes science... up front and in your face citizen science. Like, make web apps and phone apps with the people who want to get the rest of the world more involved. And as a bonus, learn all about how the sciency bit works, and how to re-engineer it to be interactive and accessible and make use of input from the crowd!