Six weeks ago, a Dutch entomologist launched a crowdsourcing site, SplashTeller, that lets motorists report the date, time, and location of their latest outing and the number of pulverized insects they subsequently pick off their license plates. Judging from the late six weeks of data, he estimates that 133 billion bugs are killed by cars each month in the Netherlands alone. He has high hopes for future work with the site, Wired recounts:
“This information will give us an idea of the amount of insect presence in certain locations and also about their flight patterns. So far we have never been able to chart insect behaviour in this manner,” [he says.] As well as geographical variations in insect density, Van Vliet has been able to chart variations between different times of the day; and the influence of weather conditions. As the data continues to come in, he hopes to be able to document seasonal changes.
License plates, he says, are a scientist’s dream when it comes to sampling—they are all the same size but dispersed around the entire country. The only difficulty is finding other people who are as gung-ho about counting dead insects.
In the noble pursuit of contacting aliens, we humans have broadcast images, music, voices, and more into space, but have you ever stopped to think that maybe we’re sending mixed messages? Some astronomers have, and to counter that problem they’ve suggested creating standard rules for all future space-bound missives–and they want to harness the power of crowdsourcing to “edit” these messages.
In their Space Policy paper, a team of alien-hunting scientists say that standard message protocols would increase the likelihood that aliens would hear us, one goal for those involved with SETI, or the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Wired Science quotes astrobiologist Jacob Haqq-Misra:
“The paper is really a call for unity among thinking about messaging exraterrestrials,” Haqq-Misra said. “Right now it’s messy, it’s kind of all over the place. Maybe we can increase our success chances by being more unified about this.”
This past summer, a crowdsourcing company called Crowdflower wanted to see if the wisdom of crowds could best ESPN pundits by making better predictions of the season’s best football players. Against the power of crowdsourced labor from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk site, the ESPN list didn’t stand a chance. The results show that the crowdsourcers beat the experts hands down, and the outcome is especially clear in the top 25 players’ ranking.
Before the season started, Crowdflower had 550 workers vote on which one of a pair of players would be the more valuable member of a fantasy league team. Stats on the players were available for those who wanted help, but complete novices were warned off. “If you think football is a game where you’re really only allowed to touch the ball with your feet, this probably isn’t the job for you,” read the advert.
But how exactly does crowdsourcing harness such soothsaying powers? From New Scientist:
“The simple answer is that we got answers from a large number of individuals, so the influence of one individual’s bias is smaller,” says Crowdflower’s Josh Eveleth. “People who were uninformed would tend to cancel each other out, so any significant trend would be meaningful. We had a much larger pool than ESPN did. And because our crowd responded independently of each other, they were less likely to be influenced by groupthink than the ESPN experts.”
We wonder if the NFL will get the memo, and start crowdsourcing its draft picks…
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Image: flickr / Ed Yourdon
California science needs a favor from you. Can you drive around until you spot some roadkill, and then–instead of jerking the wheel, squealing in disgust, and averting your eyes–can you instead take careful note of the species and location?
For one year now, helpful motorists have been contributing info to the online California Roadkill Observation System, and lead scientist Fraser Shilling of the University of California, Davis has just released the data from this citizen science survey. The press release reports that over 6,700 roadkill observations were made by 300 people, and the road victims covered 205 animal species “from acorn woodpeckers to zebratail lizards.” Raccoons were the most common casualties.
Shilling hopes the data from this ongoing project will eventually help transportation planners design more wildlife-friendly roads, and is grateful to the motorists who have contributed their time. Like the man known to his friends as Doctor Roadkill, a 69-year-old retired veterinarian named Ron Ringen who has logged more than 1,000 dead animals into the system.
The New York Times reports that Shilling and his colleagues hope to expand the project by building a smartphone app.
They think one would attract new and younger volunteers, speed up the process, and, with built-in GPS function, assure more accurate location information.
Which means you may one day be able to say, “Roadkill? There’s an app for that.”
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Image: UC Davis
To build a history of how Earth’s climate has changed over centuries, you need something long-lasting that’s been around the whole time—long-lived trees, or cores from ice in Antarctica and Greenland that has built up over the years, or maybe gravestones.
Gravestones? They’re actually ideal candidates, standing in one place and receiving little touch or attention from the living. If you’ve ever tried to read inscriptions in an older cemetery, you know what the elements can do to the stone as atmospheric gasses dissolved in the rain wear it down. But to some climate scientists, the amount of wear is raw data attesting to the climate history of the area.
Citizen scientists–loosely defined as people who volunteer to aid researchers by tagging butterflies, monitoring the quality of water, sorting through galaxies, and more–by and large are committed, curious and enthusiastic about their work. But one citizen scientist has proven to be a little too enthusiastic, and it cost him his job.
Without approval, Brad Niesluchowski, a network systems administrator at Arizona’s Highley Unified School District, allegedly downloaded to every computer in the school district a program that uses Internet-connected computers to search for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence in radio communications. The program, known as SETI@home, is a research project administered by the University of California-Berkeley. The free program uses idle computer time to analyze radio telescope data.
Harnessing the power of the school district’s computers, Niesluchowski has been credited with logging 575 million hours of data search in nine years, resulting in a whopping $1.2 to $1.6 million in extra energy use and related computer expenses paid for by the school district, to its surprise.
Needless to say, he was asked to resign.
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Image: flickr / soapylovedeb