Breaking the bottleneck in biomedical research by bringing citizen scientists on board

Yesterday, an article by @CoopSciScoop made rounds in twitter that highlighted a key problem researchers face in their line of work–the difficulty of finding relevant research in a growing body of literature. Specifically, the authors of this fine paper (it’s open access so give it a read) discovered that the valuable work of citizen scientists may be underrepresented due to inconsistent use of the term ‘cititzen science’ in the literature. For example, 37 papers that utilized citizen scientists used the term ‘volunteers’ instead of ‘citizen scientists’, which would effectively render the contributions of citizen scientists ‘invisible’ upon a cursory search for the term ‘citizen science’.

As stated in yesterday’s blog post this problem is not limited to citizen science research in ornithological studies. It is a problem that plagues all of biomedical research, and as we’ve seen in last week’s post, will likely get worse over time.

Next consider the fact that the Cooper et al. paper studied the articles referenced by a review paper by Knudsen et al. which saved Cooper et al. the effort of curating relevant articles. Given the effort Cooper et al. had to extend in finding citizen science efforts in the collection of papers cited by Knudsen et al’s review, one can appreciate the effort that may have gone into finding the right papers for Knudsen et al’s review–the effort that goes into finding the right papers for any researcher’s studies.

Finally, consider how relevant papers might exist outside a particular domain of research. For example, papers detailing ‘volunteer’ efforts examining climate change on specific populations of fish–fish that are a critical component of a bird-of-interest’s diet could be overlooked unless an ornithological researcher specifically searched Ichthyological research papers. Relevant research often exists outside a particular researcher’s domain of expertise, making them harder to find. This is especially true of biomedical research because everything in biomedical research is related.

everything is related


…What can be done?

Given the tremendous amount of data that citizen scientists have contributed to ornithological research, would it be possible for citizen scientists to help biomedical researchers find and abstract the information they need so that they can spend less time on finding the right articles and more time on testing out ideas?

We think so.

And if you think so to, join the Mark2Cure interest list or help spread the word.


Join the Mark2Cure interest list and help push biomedical research forward when we launch.

Lastly, if you haven’t already taken a peek at the Cooper et al paper, you really should have a look. The paper brings much deserved attention to the contributions of citizen scientists, and makes for an excellent Friday lunch time read.

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