We’re all experts! Wait…is that a good thing?

By October 11th, 2010 at 10:41 pm | Comments (2)

On Thursday, October 14, ScienceForCitizens.net will host a panel discussion in partnership with George Mason University, Discover Magazine, and the USA Science and Engineering Festival.

The discussion, which is a preamble to the USA Science and Engineering Festival, will focus on the potential and the perils of turning everyone into an expert. The timing is perfect: These days, it seems as if researchers are drawing on the collective insights of ordinary citizens like never before for issues ranging from advancing science to improving public policy. Called crowd-sourcing, it’s a technique that finds the best solution by asking many minds and hands to work on the same problem at the same time.

Sci4Cits has several terrific examples of crowd-sourcing initiatives in our project finder now, including: Galaxy Zoo, Citizen Sky, Open Dinosaur Project, Foldit, and, most recently, Innocentive’s Challenge, a partnership with Boston’s Museum of Science in which citizens are called upon to submit creative concepts for the next great large-scale science or technology museum exhibit. The winner takes home $8,000!

So, let’s do a little crowd-sourcing of our own right now. Tell me your thoughts about these two questions:

Can tapping the wisdom of crowds provide better solutions to today’s greatest questions and challenges?

What are the potentials and the perils of turning everyone into an expert?

I’ll be moderating Thursday’s discussion and I’d like to hear your responses to these questions soon. Post a comment or question below, and I’ll do my best to work it into the public discussion.

And if you live in the D.C. area, try to attend. If you do, come say “hi”  and I’ll introduce you to the panelists:

  • Kirk Borne, Associate Professor, Astrophysics and Computational Science, George Mason University. Borne is the principal investigator of the Galaxy Zoo project.
  • David Rejeski, Director, Science and Technology Innovation, Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. Rejeski creates techniques to include citizens in public policy formation, from online video games to prediction markets.
  • Dwayne Spradlin, President and CEO, Innocentive. Spradlin has helped ignite public-private partnerships enabling hundreds of thousands of “regular” people to participate in the development of solutions to challenges facing industry and nonprofits.
  • Robynn Sturm, Advisor to Deputy Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Sturm has worked on opening government data to the public and currently guides federal agencies towards participatory and incentive-based approaches to solving grand challenges.

The panel discussion takes place from 7 pm to 8:30 pm at George Mason University, Research 1 Building, Room 163, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax, Virginia. Please RSVP to PSNELLIN@GMU.EDU

Can’t attend? Catch video highlights afterward via our YouTube Channel and our Video Gallery.

2 Responses to 'We’re all experts! Wait…is that a good thing?'

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  1. One plus side of having a science-educated public is simply that we end up with more-informed voters when it comes time for our elected officials to vote on science- or technology-related issues, which is happening more frequently. People who know the subject matter are less likely to be swayed by demagoguery or slogans, nor will they automatically defer to “experts” just because of their status.

    One downside to citizen science is amateurism–a problem that plagued early efforts at observation before the beginnings of what we call “science” (~1500-1800). However, if the amateurs are willing to operate by scientific rules–clear descriptions of their process, repeatable results, and so forth–amateurism can be overcome.

    /b

    Bart

    12 Oct 10 at 10:48 am

  2. Can tapping the wisdom of crowds provide better solutions to today’s greatest questions and challenges?

    Absolutely! Everyone has a different perspective depending on so many different factors that, while many times nobody has a single best solution to a problem, collectively a “best” solution may be more easily extracted from the morass of possible ones! This can be derived from a combination of possibilities from the mix or, more rarely, that one needle in the haystack presents itself. This is clearly evident by the breaking down of the walls between the science subjects and even within the subjects themselves- there is no longer just biology and chemistry working independently, but biochemistry or organometallic chemistry where metals are used to synthesize a whole range of organic compounds more efficiently. It’s kind of like accessing a neural network of information that comes from various sources when one can truly take advantage of the broad range of mindsets,

    What are the potentials and the perils of turning everyone into an expert?

    This can’t happen because of our current educational system- and I think it is a good thing! Depending on what level of “expertise” is used as the benchmark, the more highly educated one becomes, the more specialized in a specific field one becomes. I once saw this quote in graduate school, but can’t seem to find the proper reference, but it goes, “I never met a more ignorant man when asked a question outside his field of specialty!” The more we wish to learn about a subject, because there is so much to know or learn, there is way anyone can know everything about any one subject comprehensively. Because will cannot and will not ever all become experts in everything, we can still take advantage of the diversity of thought and of that most outstanding human trait, creativity! Per Einstein, “I believe in intuition and inspiration. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.”

    Paul Shin

    12 Oct 10 at 10:54 am

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