How online citizen science games can bring more diversity to the research industry

COVID-19 has been a wake-up call for people to become more scientifically savvy. It’s not uncommon to hear people casually talking about protein spikes and vaccine effectiveness over drinks or lunch. For all its devastating consequences, the pandemic has also opened up new opportunities to spread scientific research globally and engage the public in these efforts. But these are opportunities we are rapidly squandering, preventing the growth of new world-class scientists who can help protect us against current public health crises. now and in the future.

Citizen Science Game bringing scientists and ordinary people together online to collaborate on fascinating research is emerging as a giant tool that can make scientific research a regular part of the community our. But to realize this potential, aid agencies and organizations must be willing to reimagine science as a form of diplomatic assistance.

Philanthropy and foreign aid are aimed at transforming the socio-economic – political system, not just providing charity to those in need. Following this trend, the citizen science game is creating a new model of how scientific research is done while promoting open science, where advances are freely shared.

One of the most popular examples of citizen science games is EyeWire, in which the player three-dimensionally maps the branches of an individual neuron from two-dimensional images of real brain data. Scientists have used works from this game to perform practical research investigations into how the retina works and how its neurons process visual information.

Usually, the existing route for citizens from low-income countries to conduct scientific research is to migrate to richer countries. Thanks to the internet, video games have the potential to encourage scientists around the developing world while they stay at home. Researchers can divide science problems into video game challenges that people with no prior science training can play. Thousands of players can come up with solutions that are often far better than those generated by the most advanced artificial intelligence. The larger the number of players, the more likely we are to solve scientific questions like how atoms move, fix errors in quantum computing systems, and find breakthroughs for vaccines and new medicine. Much of this work is underpinned by the diverse backgrounds of players, as different nationalities, cultures and professional backgrounds can present different assumptions, approaches and ideas for problems.

Take Eterna, an open science game that you can play on your desktop or as a mobile app. Players design RNA sequences from scratch. The goal is to solve a puzzle that represents a target conformation that allows the RNA to perform a specific function. In the real world, scientists test dozens of these proposed puzzle solutions in the lab to see if they work. They were able to tap into the collective experience of tens of thousands of players to better understand how the makeup of RNA molecules determines how they fold in three dimensions.

This is important to investigate the full range of questions in the field of biochemistry, including some at the heart of our current pandemic. The makers of Eterna recently launched OpenVaccine Challenge as a specific way to use insights from the game to help drugmakers create refrigerator-stable mRNA vaccines. The work of the Eterna users led to new insights into how to produce mRNA vaccine can be distributed worldwide before they degrade.

These online games also act as an alternative to the traditional science education system. In the process of teaching players a particular science from scratch, citizen science games can highlight the skills and aptitudes of one of a thousand rare geniuses who can help those in top science and engineering companies make money. Many of these players may be from low-income countries or communities with little opportunity for a rigorous science education. For example, a diverse influx of new talent can boost productivity at pharmaceutical companies, which have seen a Significant reduction in the development of breakthrough non-COVID therapies in recent years.

More diversity among players will also help researchers determine which challenges need to be addressed. Health sectors such as pharmaceuticals have generally ignored major diseases in countries that cannot afford new drugs or rare diseases. affliction few individuals. There are more than 400 million people worldwide (25 million in the US) with one of more than 5,000 so-called “orphan diseases”.

And best of all, these games have been able to capitalize on the kinds of initiatives that traditional scientific institutions have created. The Rockefeller Foundation has awarded financial awards to challenge members of the for-profit foundation InnoCosystem to discover solutions to health and scientific problems faced by individuals in developing countries. Sponsored by the European Commission Ground Truth 2.0, a research project on flora, fauna and water issues in two demonstration cases in Africa. Both initiatives take the important step of engaging the local community and actually asking people in the field what challenges they would like new research to address. There’s no reason citizen science games can’t do the same thing—perhaps better.

The citizen science game is not without its challenges. In addition to seeking investment, these games also open up a whole new model of scientific research that we are not completely familiar with. It can labor intensive for scientists to rummage through the data these games provide — like looking for a needle in a haystack. Not all fields of science are easily transformed into citizen science games. Most Citizen Science programme There is limited participation of volunteers in data collection and verification, such as on bird migration, weather patterns and pollution levels. It will take some creative leaps (and money, of course) to create a stimulating game around these kinds of investigations.

However, we need to move beyond the current paradigm, where ordinary people’s participation in science is essentially just to function as volunteers in drug and vaccine trials. We need more people’s help to make discoveries, generate new insights and offer new perspectives on how to apply scientific findings more equitably to the rest of the world. .

The citizen science game is an untapped resource for these interests. They are harder to defeat through corruption than many forms of foreign aid. They can raise education. They can seed science programs in the country. And they can help us discover special talents. Let’s be careful not to overlook potential world-class scientists or deprive the world of potential breakthroughs.

Martin Skladany is a professor of law at Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson Law, and an advisor to Eterna. His most recent book is Copyright by Arc. How online citizen science games can bring more diversity to the research industry


ClareFora is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. ClareFora joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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