For the last couple years, most articles about Citizen Science -- in which amateurs contribute to scientific projects -- have been hagiography. These articles were nearly exclusively Ra! Ra!, all about the exciting new development.
It seems that we've matured a bit as a field, because lately I've run across a couple articles that, while still being positive overall, have laid out some real criticism. For instance, in an article in Harvard Magazine, Katherine Xue concludes with the worry that citizen science may be less about involving the public and more about cheap labor (full disclosure: I was interviewed for and appear in this article). Many citizen science projects, she notes, are little more than games or, worse, rote labor, with little true engagement for the volunteer in the scientific mission.
Similarly, in a much-tweeted article at The Guardian, Michelle Kilfoyle and Hayley Birch write, "Who really benefits the most from [citizen science]: the amateurs or the professionals? … Most well-known initiatives are the big crowdsourcing projects: big on the number of participants but not necessarily the level of participation."
Introducing the VerbCorner Forum
These articles resonated with me. Ever since we launched VerbCorner, our citizen science project looking at the structure of language, meaning, and thought, we've wanted to find additional ways to get our volunteers involved in the science and get more out of participation. VerbCorner is very much a crowdsourcing project -- most of what volunteers do on the site is contribute labor. We've always had this blog, where people could learn more about the project, but that's not especially interactive.
To that end, we've added a forum where anyone and everyone involved in the project can discuss the project, offer suggestions, debate the science, and discuss anything related (syntax, semantics, etc.). We have high hopes for this forum. Over the years, I have gotten a lot of emails from participants in the various projects at GamesWithWords.org, emails with questions about the projects, ideas for new experiments, and -- all too often -- reports of bugs or type-os. These emails have been extremely useful, and in a few cases have even led to entirely new research directions. But email is a blunt instrument, and I expect that for everyone who has emailed, at least ten others had similar comments but never got around to tracking down our email address.
Unique visitors at GamesWithWords.org were up 76% in 2013 over the previous year. That's after several years of fairly steady traffic.
Meanwhile, two journal papers and a conference paper involving data collected at GamesWithWords.org were accepted (and two more are currently under review). Many thanks to everyone who participated and otherwise helped out!