Archive for the ‘Apps’ Category
by Jennifer Cutraro
By now, you’ve surely seen, heard about, or even joined the hordes of people wandering about outdoors, phones held right in front of their faces. In the two weeks since Pokémon Go’s release, there’s been much ado about the game: how it gets people outdoors, how it promotes physical activity, how it’s already sparked a robust community of haters, and the risks of playing the game without paying attention to your surroundings.
Risks aside, I’m not the first to be jumping-up-and-down excited about the educational and research opportunities this presents. Within days of Pokémon Go’s launch, entomologist Morgan Jackson created the hashtag #PokeBlitz — a clever mashup of Pokémon and BioBlitz, a type of time-limited biodiversity scavenger hunt. He and a community of scientists and educators are using it on Twitter to help other gamers identify the IRL — in real life — plants and animals they encounter while on their Pokémon adventures. It’s a great way to learn about the plants and animals that share your neighborhood.
Pokémon Go also presents a great opportunity for citizen science — if you’re already out looking for charmeleon and poliwrath, you can contribute to one of many projects around the country looking for information about the (actual) plants, animals, and even stars you see right in your neighborhood. Here are some projects to help you get started:
If you have no idea what kind of tree, bird, or mushroom you’ve found, that’s no problem. After you share a photo on Twitter with the #PokeBlitz hashtag, send it along to iNaturalist, where a team of amateur naturalists can also help identify the species you found. iNaturalist has a free app that makes it easy for you to share photos with their community, including a “Help Me ID This Species” button. Every photograph you share with iNaturalist contributes valuable data to scientists monitoring species occurrences around the world. Browse their site to check out photos of plants and animals others in your local community have shared with iNaturalist — a simple and easy way to learn more about nature right in your neighborhood.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Celebrate Urban Birds program is a good starting point for both learning to identify common birds across the country and contributing information about your local species to this important citizen science program. If birds aren’t your thing, take time to smell the flowers, then share the flower’s location and life cycle stage with Project BudBurst, a nationwide phenology monitoring program with a robust collection of curriculum and other materials for educators and families. You can also help scientists learn more about seasonal migration by sending information about songbirds, butterflies, and other species you stumble upon at your PokéStop to Journey North.
If you’re out in the evening, count the number of stars you see for GLOBE at Night, a campaign measuring light pollution around the world. You also can use your phone’s camera to record light pollution levels in your area, data the folks at the Dark Sky Meter project would really like to have. And if you’re lucky enough to see fireflies when you’re outdoors, please share that information with our friends over at Firefly Watch.
To be fair, there’s no shortage of opinion about Pokémon Go — what it means for meaningful outdoor experience, the place of technology in the outdoors, whether it just provides another way to disengage from the world around us. In a thoughtful piece in the New York Times, Richard Louv, author of Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-RIch Life, shares his nuanced perspective on how we might consider Pokémon Go’s potential to encourage people to explore nature. He offers us all a simple frame of reference:
“Here’s a litmus test: how long does it take a person to look up from the screen and actually experience the natural world?”
To me, that’s a helpful and practical lens through which to view any piece of technology or media. Whether it’s watching TV, playing a game, hanging out on social media or, yes, playing Pokémon Go, we all need to look away from the screen from time to time. You might be more likely to do just that if you also turn your Pokémon Go adventure into an opportunity to get to know your actual neighborhood, learn a little about nature, and contribute to science research along the way.
Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!
Autoimmune Citizen Science is an app to help people with autoimmune diseases track their symptoms, lab tests, and treatments in order to see what’s working and what isn’t. Individual data is aggregated in order to see what’s working for the community as a whole. Check out the project on SciStarter and sign up for the beta testing phase of the app.
by Vivek Mandan
Despite the estimated 50 million Americans with at least one or more autoimmune diseases, public awareness is practically nonexistent. How could this be? 50 million individuals out of a national population of 320 million is almost 16%. With almost one-sixth of the nation suffering, autoimmune disease is present at epidemic proportions – yet, medical treatment remains limited and research scarce and disorganized. How did this happen silently and unnoticed when we have the most advanced medical knowledge in the history of the world?
Autoimmunity and Medical Specialization
The medical system is segmented into specialties. If someone has a hormonal issue, they go to an endocrinologist; kidneys, a nephrologist; digestion, a gastroenterologist. There are immense benefits to specialization – with a system as complex as the human body, it is impossible to make any progress without systematic specialization.
However, autoimmune diseases were only recognized as a class of disease around 60 years ago in 1957, long after the creation of medical specialties. Since autoimmune diseases tend to affect multiple biological systems and have a shared etiology, dividing autoimmune diseases by the primary physiological location in which the worst symptoms manifest is both inefficient and inaccurate with regards to treatment and research.
This mismatch between specialized providers and multifaceted diseases becomes clearer as we examine the numbers surrounding research and treatment. Currently, autoimmune disease related healthcare expenses come to over $100 billion per year, while cancer costs come to $57 billion. However, research funding for autoimmune diseases are a paltry $850 million, compared to the $5.4 billion for cancer. Why is the funding for cancer over 6 times that of autoimmune diseases, while the healthcare expense of autoimmune diseases is nearly double that of cancer?
Cancers have been grouped together as a class of disease when it comes to research and treatment. While individual treatments vary, investigating the common factors between various cancers has led to tremendous progress in understanding the mechanisms behind them. It’s time to do the same for autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune disease research is fragmented – Hashimoto’s is researched as a thyroid disease, psoriasis as a skin disorder, rheumatoid arthritis as a joint disease. In order to understand autoimmune diseases, the first step is to group them together.
Lab tests and the patient experience
The other major challenge in autoimmune disease research is the lack of comprehensive patient information. People with autoimmune diseases tend to have many symptoms that aren’t alleviated by standard medical treatment. As a result, many individuals start doing research on their own to see if diet, lifestyle changes, supplements, and more can make a positive impact on their quality of life.
The disconnect occurs because researchers and healthcare providers are unable to effectively access a scientific, well organized form of individual information. There is currently no lab test or combination of tests that can account for the myriad symptoms and treatments that patients experience throughout their time outside of the doctor’s office. The problem is somewhat cyclical – research is stifled by inefficient organization of disease information and patients can’t centralize their information without new research technology that addresses the entirety of their condition. How can we make progress?
Like a Pedometer for the 21st Century
With the AICS app, patients will be able to track everything they’re trying and study how it affects their symptoms and lab tests in detail. While they focus on tracking their daily progress, we’ll be aggregating the data across everyone who uses the app (anonymously and privately) giving them immediate access to real statistics based on real data. This app helps citizen scientists manage their autoimmune diseases right away, while applying the data they provide to make progress for the entire autoimmune community.
Citizen science can play a key role in finding cures to autoimmune diseases. Through seeing what people with autoimmune diseases are going through and trying on a daily basis, we take the first step toward understanding how to solve the mystery behind these illnesses. The AICS app is currently under development and our first beta release happened on May 22nd. Want to be a beta user? Sign up here. We hope to see you join us as a citizen scientist today.
Vivek Mandan is a software engineer by trade and helped design the Autoimmune Citizen Science app. He was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease at the age of 12. He understands what people with chronic illnesses go through on a daily basis and strongly believes in the power of tracking software and big data to help people with chronic illnesses on their journey to health.
Help researchers monitor and understand light pollution with a simple smartphone app
Guest post by Christopher Kyba
How many stars can you see when you look up at the night sky? The answer depends a bit on your vision and a lot on where you live. The bright sky over cities reduces the contrast between the stars and the spaces between them, making them difficult or impossible to see. It’s similar to how the noise from traffic makes it hard to hear singing birds.
This phenomenon is known as light pollution and is of concern for both ecological and human health reasons. For example, the croaking of frogs and toads is a nighttime breeding ritual and artificial right disrupts this activity, reducing populations. Similarly, birds that migrate or hunt at night can have their navigation severely affected by artificial light. Read the rest of this entry »