Thursday, February 19, 2015

Intellectual Piecework: Platforms like Mechanical Turk Pose New Ethical Dilemmas

Nathan Schneider, Chronicle of Higher Education
February 16, 2015

Nowadays, Alfredo García studies graffiti. His dissertation in sociology at Princeton University is an ethnography of a changing Miami neighborhood, which means he spends his time chatting up strangers, arranging interviews, and climbing ladders with street artists. But during his second year at Princeton, in 2012, he tried something else. With a bit of out-of-pocket money, he surveyed 420 people about how looking at different kinds of fake Facebook profiles affected their views about Islam. He obtained clear statistical findings and produced a paper that is now under review at a respected journal. In the process he didn’t meet a single one of his subjects; not one of them was a Princeton undergraduate required to take surveys for a class.
Mr. García used Mechanical Turk, an platform that describes itself as "artificial artificial intelligence." What it offers has been called crowd-work, or digital piecework, or crowdsourcing—thousands of people around the world sitting at their computers and doing discrete tasks for pay. Each of Mr. García’s subjects earned a quarter for filling out a survey less than 10 minutes long—$1.50 an hour, that is.  Read more

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

To Win Funds, Scientists Pursue Sweeping Solutions to Social Ills

Paul Voosen, Chronicle of Higher Education
February 9, 2015

When President Obama called for a $215-million "precision medicine initiative" in his State of the Union speech last month, he was behaving very much like a politician of his times. This was mission-driven research, squarely aimed at solving society’s ills—in this case, by tailoring cures to individuals. This was not science for the sake of discovery—the "endless frontier," as the architect of U.S. science policy after World War II, Vannevar Bush, termed it. This was utilitarian. There was a promise of applied results.

Over the past decade, these promises have repeatedly been made in the name of "grand challenges." Often invoking the Apollo program, philanthropies and governments have urged researchers to pursue scientific solutions to specific societal problems. The United States, Canada, India, and Brazil have all embraced grand challenges, and the European Union has made solving "societal challenges" a pillar of its research agenda. Challenges abound.  Even as such mission-driven research has grown in scale and ambition, its ends have become increasingly specific, several science-policy researchers and historians say. Basic science is still supported under the mantle of applied work—see the National Institutes of Health—but it feels like the idea of science for discovery’s sake has lost nearly all its gravity.  Read more

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

NSF FY2016 Budget Request Continues Commitment to Discovery, Innovation and Learning

National Science Foundation
February 2, 2015

Today, National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France A. Córdova outlined President Obama's fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget request to Congress for NSF. The FY16 request calls for $7.7 billion for NSF, an increase of $379 million over FY15, which is an increase of 5.2 percent.

The budget request includes support for new approaches to research on sustainability, global climate, the food-energy-water nexus, cognitive science and neurosciences, and risk and resilience. It promotes advanced manufacturing research and clean energy activities and sustains investments in cybersecurity research. It also supports a range of investments in developing the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce, including new efforts to broaden participation in STEM fields.  Read more