Need an Expert? Try the Crowd

Need an Expert? Try the Crowd - University of Vermont

Photo: James Cridland

“Josh Bongard and Paul Hines, professors in UVM’s College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, and their students, set out to discover if volunteers who visited two different websites could pose, refine, and answer questions of each other — that could effectively predict the volunteers’ body weight and home electricity use.

The experiment, the first of its kind, was a success: the self-directed questions and answers by visitors to the websites led to computer models that effectively predict user’s monthly electricity consumption and body mass index. […]

But the UVM team primarily sees their new approach as potentially helping to accelerate the process of scientific discovery. The need for expert involvement — in shaping, say, what questions to ask on a survey or what variable to change to optimize an engineering design — “can become a bottleneck to new insights,” the scientists write.

“We’re looking for an experimental platform where, instead of waiting to read a journal article every year about what’s been learned about obesity,” Bongard says, “a research site could be changing and updating new findings constantly as people add their questions and insights.” (Joshua E. Brown, University of Vermont)

Sonia Livingstone on Children and the Internet

Sonia Livingstone on Children and the Internet on Social Science Bites (SAGE)

Nigel Warburton – You mentioned exposure to pornography, to racism, to cyber-bullying, is that the limit of risk for a child online?

Sonia Livingstone – Among the most common risks are exposure to pornography and cyber-bullying, though those remain relatively low level. The other risk that people really worry about, it the risk that strangers, paedophiles, ‘weirdos’ (as kids call them) will locate a child, especially a vulnerable child and will exploit and abuse them. And we spent quite a while thinking about firstly how to ask children about that, if they are not aware of those risks, because there are ethical issues in the research we are doing. And then, how to decide what is a risk, because many children go online precisely to meet new people and make new friends. And a ‘new friend’ before you get to know them is a stranger. So, working out which are the strangers who are going to become good friends and which are the ones who are going to harm you is a really subtle judgment that we are asking a child to make. Many children do the kinds of things that allow them to make new friends, like they post their personal information, and they add contacts to their social networking or their instant messaging that they don’t otherwise know, they put out all kinds of information about themselves. But, mainly, they don’t meet strangers and they certainly don’t meet weird strangers out to sexually abuse them.