Crowd-Sourced Science Actually Works, Shows Study


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For a few years now NASA and other scientific researchers have been using the collective power of the internet to help gather data for scientific research. In addition to older projects that crowdsource computing power for math-intensive research, other projects such as classifying space clouds and spotting early planetary systems have begun gathering data using the human touch. Now a new study published in the journal Icarus shows that these initiatives could actually be working quite well.

Researchers at the University of Colorado have been able to show that online volunteers may be just as good as experts when it comes to certain types of data-gathering. The study was based on a CosmoQuest crowdsource citizen science project that asked participants to count the number of craters in pictures of the moon.

"What we can say is that a very large group of volunteers was able to chart these features on the moon just as well as professional researchers," said Stuart Robbins, lead author of the study and a research scientist at CU. "More importantly, we now have evidence that we can use the power of crowdsourcing to gather more reliable data from the moon than we ever thought was possible before."

Robbins and his colleagues looked at multiple images of the moon that were put online as part of the project. Planetary scientists with between five and 50 years of experience were asked to count the number of craters in each image. Study results found that the accuracy of volunteer crater counters was comparable to that of the trained scientists.

"The results from the study were very reassuring to us," said Robbins. "Without this first step of verifying the accuracy of volunteer crater counters, there would be no point in continuing the project. Our study results mean we can now use the power of crowdsourcing to gather more data than we ever thought possible before."