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Encyclopedia of Life: Motivating Public Enthusiasts and Expert Scientists to Document the World's Species

Encyclopedia of Life: Motivating Public Enthusiasts and Expert Scientists to Document the World's Species






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  • Hi, I’m Cyndy Parr. A couple things about this presentation – it will be atag team presentation, as Dana will take over from me.It also reflects a very interdiscilpinary effort. Derek, Jenny, Kezee and Dana are in the school of information.Jen Hammock and I are biologists. Actually, I began my career as a biologist but I spent a number of years as a member of the HCIL lab working with Ben Bederson before moving on to the Smithsonian. I’m very happy to be able to continue to collaborate with HCIL on the research we’ll be talking about today.
  • In fact, recentassessments by the International Union for the conservation of Natureindicate that, for example, nearly 25% of mammals and one-third of amphibians are endangered or threatened [3].Yet as much as 90% of the needs of the world’s poorest people depend directly on biodiversity for food, fuel, medicine, etc. [1] [2].
  • ThisTreemap summarizes the 1.9million described species that each have a page on the Encyclopedis of life. Some of these pages have only a name so far but about a million of them actually have more than that, with maps, multimedia, text, at least literature references.Each of these species potentially represents a volume in a “living library,” as each has evolved solutions to nature’s challenges, solutions that can benefit human society. For example, the genomics revolution and half of our synthetic drugs were made possible by understanding the characteristics of particular species
  • Part of the problem is that as we are losing biodiversity we are also losing the scientists trained to study it. An article earlier this year called it another mass extinction. Society hasn’t been creating jobs for scientists like me.
  • For this reason, we are increasingly turning to citizen science.These are a few well-known citizen science projects. They encourage people to report sightings of individual organisms. Can they help to gather together all the knowledge of every species on the planet?What about sites like Wikipedia? They allow anybody to CREATE the kind of descriptions you might want to read on the internet. But scientists haven’t jumped on board the Wikipedia bandwagon because they don’t get much credit and their work is too easily undone.
  • Instead, EOL is taking a different approach. It isan example of a new breed of website. We’ve coined the term “contentcuration community” to describe it.EOL is a giant mashup that merges information that were created elsewhere on its pages which are then available for curators (mostly credentialed scientists) to trust or untrustand rate, or for anybody to provide comments or tags.We’re partnering with over a hundred scientific databases as well as public conribution sites like Flickr and Wikipedia.100+ partner databases700 curators/1000s contributors/46,000 members2.8 million pages500 thousand pages with Creative Commons contentOver 2 million data objects and >1 million pages with links to research literatureTraffic in past year: 1.7 million unique users, 6.2 million page views
  • But these new kinds of communities face challenges.Here we have a Marabou stork (Leptoptiloscrumeniferus) surrounded by White-breasted cormorants (Phalacrocoraxcarbolucidus)Content curation communities deal with large bodies of content from diverse sources, which must be selected, organized, managed, and integrated into a holistic resource. We won’t be talking much aboutthe challenge of information integration, that’s pretty technical. Instead we’ll be honing in on the challenging of integrating the people:How can we help them to work better together – should they move in opposite directions (doing different kinds of tasks for example) or should we get them all moving in the same direction.
  • To answer these questions, we conducted surveys of nearly 300 scientists and interviews with 12 people who either curate on EOL or are participating in Wikipedia and are familiar with EOL.importing data from open projects such as flickr and wikipediaraise concerns among scientists. The good news is that many scientists acknowledge that they could use the help of non-scientists and both groups acknowledging that expert review was important. The devil is in the details, though. Distilling the responses, we find that successful collaboration will depend on three things:Shared vocabulary. For example, biologists often don’t agree among themselves on how to name and organize the tree of life. These controversies can be important, but they can pose problems with nonscientists who have usually been taught that there is a single “truth” . We suggest that it is necessary to support the scientists with the full range of options, and we need to filter that complexity for other audiences without completely hiding it. Over time we want both groups to develop a shared understanding of each other’s point of view.Mutual recognition – need to reward effort, even when the kind of effort is different and the incentives needed are differentScientist are evaluated by their peer-reviewed publication recordsRight now scientists don’t get academic credit for curation activityAddress that by making it easier for curators to put their stats on their resumes – may not be valued now but administrators love metrics – and by encouraging institutions to reward EOL activity as outreach in their performance plans. Scientists are using EOL as an easy way to disseminate the results of their research. We even have ways for a published paper in certain journals to automatically appear on EOL pages. The rewards for citizen scientists will likely be different and Dana will talk more about that.What about motivation?
  • How many of you have seen this XKCD comic?
  • Why are scientists motivated to curate EOL? Here we show the average response across all respondents on a scale of least important to most importantNote the the most popular reason is to make sure there is accurate information on the internet. That’s good news because it is probably a shared motivation of both scientists and non-scientists. You’ll hear more from Dana about Altruism like this.The rest of the highly ranked reasons all have to do with the scientist’s own work, citable work online, being known as as expert, motives about their own projects their own research. This is what Dana will talk about being Egoism.
  • We’re diving deeper into the theory of motivations in the Biotracker project. Biotracker is a three year project on social computation funded by NSF. This is a the first of two talks by the Biotrackerteam, as Jenny mentioned yesterday. In this talk we’ve been focussing on groundwork necessary to start answering the first of two research questions. As Jenny said yesterday, they may seem like old questions but the answers may be domain specific. So in this domain of biodiversity science, what are the most effective strategies for motivating people?
  • The theory of motivations for social involvement (Bastson et al):4 motivational principals for community involvement – Egoism – doing something for one’s own benefit (intrinsic motivations)Altruism – doing something for the pure benefit of another – person or group – which has no effect on the person who is actingCollectivism – doing something for the greater good of a group, community or collective that that person belongs to, he is peer group (sharing resources)Principalism – the most murky one – upholding a principal that is dear to that person or to the group he or she belongs to (justice, knowledge sharing)These motivation can be solitary or combined to foster a specific behavior that aims to reach a certain goal.This is a good framework to examine community involvement, such as participation in collaborative science projects
  • When teasing out the different motivational factors using qualitative interviews, it was clear that the Batson et al. motivational framework which looks at community involvement (and its associated tasks) through the prism of singular motivational factors, may not necessarily apply here. What presented itself is a complex motivational framework, involving different aspects of Batson’s theory in the various steps volunteers take when they are engaged in citizen science projects. Stemming from their initial interest in a topic, an environment or habitat, reflecting egoistical, communal and sometimes altruistic motivations, they often look for a project that will involve them in scientific work (perhaps say more about the time of projects, community involvement, if we have time). Once involved in such project, volunteers seek recognition and reification of their role within the scientific community. They expect scientists to credit them for their work (egoism) and are often disappointed by the lack of recognition and attribution. When this happens, their motivation drops and they often quite the scientific work and refrain from further collaboration with those scientists (though not necessarily from other citizen science projects). However, when volunteers feel needed, appreciated and valued by scientists – and this can be done in surprising ways, for example by training them in a way that “initiates” them in the ranks of those who “can do science” – their involvement will continue on a deeper scale. This is where volunteers identified altruism and collectivism as being the most potent motivators.It should be noted that recognition and other motivation-facilitating actions should be done throughout the lifecycle of the volunteer’s involvement in the project, as the volunteers reported that lack of constant attribution and inclusion activities directly affect their levels of involvement beyond the initial effot that they make.
  • Here’s the new home page again, and now I’ll scroll up and show the bottom which starts to get at some of the new features we are designing to provide social rewards. In addition to tallies of the pages we have with information, we’ll also encourage people to form communities and interact with each other and there will be visible sign of the activies these people are doing.Communities will include scientists and non-scientists, and we will encourage everyone to build and discuss lists of species they care about, called “collections” They will use communities to organize their work on those pages. We hope to see you there.

Encyclopedia of Life: Motivating Public Enthusiasts and Expert Scientists to Document the World's Species Encyclopedia of Life: Motivating Public Enthusiasts and Expert Scientists to Document the World's Species Presentation Transcript