Enter citizen science

All opinions my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

h/t to @engagedethics for the heads up.

What do you think of when you think of citizen science?  Maybe dads buying Geek Dad and helping their kids build Lego robots that can manipulate a lego binary clock.  Maybe people tracking their health, thoughts, bodies, or other things in a really granular way in an effort to get at their quantified self.  Maybe hobbyists building and flying drones to sample atmospheric particle levels or track neighborhood traffic patterns.  Maybe patients groups banding together and funding research into cures, like the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation did with Kalydeco.  Maybe birdwatchers helping researchers track the migration patterns and populations of North American birds.  Maybe it’s something else, something you know about or have heard about or are planning to do right now.  Choose any or all of the above and you’re completely right.

Because citizen science, like a lot of movements these days, isn’t something legislated or codified or directed from on high. It’s something organic and crowd-based and bottom up, and it’s going on everywhere.

This is the world that’s being enabled by technology.  Whether it’s 3D printing, DIY Bio, computer modeling, personal monitoring or other kinds of tools, the barriers to experimentation are falling rapidly, and interest in figuring stuff out is on the rise.

The Citizens Science Association has been working on ways to support this new way of doing science.  They’ve been convening groups to look at topics like Governance, Conferences, ways to publish, and ways to communicate via other means.  There will be a webinar on September 17th to report on progress and it sounds like a worthwhile thing to listen to.  I haven’t been involved in the Association, but I’m planning to listen in.  Because technology keeps lowering the barriers to entry, and I’m really excited to see what comes out.

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3D printers, DIY Bio, French bistros and one possible future path for drug development

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk

The Long Tail is Everywhere There’s Information

Several years ago I happened upon Chris Anderson’s great book The Long Tail.  He wrote about the amazing changes that were taking place in commerce because of the digitization and electronic dissemination of information.  Mix incredibly cheap (essentially free) data storage with the Internet and reasonable bandwidth, throw in the power of search and individual customization algorithms, and suddenly business models no longer had to rely on bulk consumption and the generation of popular hits.

The first industries to feel the change were in entertainment:  music, movies, books, where having a physical copy was once necessary to enjoy Madonna, Star Wars, or Carl Hiaasen’s latest thriller.  Digitization turned that upside down.  It became clear that what we’re really paying for is information, and it’s a lot harder for the entertainment industry (or any industry) to keep control over the dissemination of information than when they sold that information packaged in shiny plastic discs.

Anderson also described how in this digital world, and aided by the powers of personalized search, niche markets could not only survive but thrive.  Once, something like Tuvan Throat Singing was a niche musical form that you might have heard of on a trip to Siberia, but you’d have had no luck finding a CD at your local Tower Records (remember them?).  Now, you can not only find several tracks from iTunes or Amazon, you’ll also get suggestions for what else you might like based on your fondness for overtone singing.  Since it costs Amazon basically nothing to store the music and associated information, they can afford to have it available for the 20 people who might want to buy it.  Tally that up across all the niches in the world and it’s a hefty sum.

This is pretty neat.  But it’s still uncertain how the business of entertainment will shake out financially and logistically among the producers, distributors and promoters.  I’m not real fond of chaos like that in my professional life, and for a long time felt secure that my job–drug development scientist–was not in danger of becoming part of a long tail phenomenon.  Only now I’m not so sure. Continue reading