SciCast, Crowdsourcing Science and Technology Forecasting For Policy

SciCast is a crowdsourced forecasting platform for science and technology run by George Mason University. It is based on the idea that the collective wisdom of an informed and diverse group is often a better predictor than the judgment of a single expert.


Part of the Forecasting Science and Technology (ForeST) Program funded by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), SciCast questions are generated by its participants, as well as ForeST teams at Inkling Markets, George Mason University, BAE Systems and SRI International. KaDSci LLC helps scientists and policymakers formulate questions for SciCast, and Gold Brand Software, LLC is the systems integrator.

SciCast is the largest S&T forecasting effort we know of, crowdsourcing in real-time from a pool of thousands of scientists and enthusiasts.  Popular topics include Bitcoin, the search for MH370, chess, alternative energy, space sciences and honeybee colony collapse.  We also have a richly connected set of questions on Top500 computer speeds, and another set on open problems in theoretical computer science.

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Digital Humanitarian Technology and Knowledge Politics

Technologies are usually developed to accomplish a handful of tasks, while mapping technologies are usually made to represent only a limited number of things. While they are being developed, and afterward when they evolve,developers make decisions to allow some things to be mapped — and, by consequence, others to be excluded. These decisions are usually made after some deliberation. These are knowledge politics: The struggle for how knowledge will come to be included or excluded in technologies. This line of thinking has a long tradition that shows how values, biases and norms come to be embedded in technologies.

In my article in the January issue of Geoforum, “Moments of Closure in the Knowledge Politics of Digital Humanitarianism,” I examine four moments when digital humanitarian technologies took one such development path over any others. I explore when there was a deliberation about how digital humanitarian technology should develop/evolve and look at the possible effects of those decisions.

These moments often occur in passing, without people considering the full impacts of such everyday decisions. After looking at these four moments, I argue that digital humanitarian technologies right now privilege a particular worldview that reflects the contexts in which the technologies evolve. This inclusion/exclusion is contested by those seeking more comprehensive inclusion of knowledge. Continue reading “Digital Humanitarian Technology and Knowledge Politics”

The Open Data/Environmental Justice Connection

The Riffle is an open-source data logger that can be put into streams to measure water quality. Photo Credit: Public Lab
The Riffle is an open-source data logger that can be put into streams to measure water quality. Photo Credit: Public Lab

Open data and transparency are becoming full-fledged movements in government, and initiatives such as the Sunlight Foundation and Chile’s Intelligent Citizen project demonstrate that data transparency has as much to do with civic engagement as with accountability. 

These flows of data, however, are increasingly portrayed as one-way streets. Open data initiatives seem to assume that all data is born in the hallowed halls of government, industry and academia, and that open data is primarily about convincing such institutions to share it to the public. 

It is laudable when institutions with important datasets — such as campaign finance, pollution or scientific data — see the benefit of opening it to the public. But why do we assume unilateral control over data production?

The revolution in user-generated content shows the public has a great deal to contribute – and to gain—from the open data movement. Likewise, citizen science projects that solicit submissions or “task completion” from the public rarely invite higher-level participation in research –let alone true collaboration.  Continue reading “The Open Data/Environmental Justice Connection”

Establishing a Citizen Science Community of Practice within NOAA

Editor’s note: Below, please find a guest blog post by John McLaughlin and Sepp Haukebo of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Education. For more information about the NOAA Citizen Science Community of Practice, please visit their web page.

As a science mission agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a rich tradition of supporting citizen science. For instance, the National Weather Service’s Cooperative Observer Program (COOP) was created under the Organic Act in 1890. However, the program’s website further explains that “many COOP stations began operation long before that time. John Campanius Holm’s weather records, taken without the benefit of instruments in 1644-45, were the earliest known observations in the United States. Subsequently many persons, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, maintained weather records.”

This transition persists today in the form of citizen science, tentatively designed as a type of organized research in which members of the public engage in the process of scientific investigations. There are currently more than 60 active citizen science projects at NOAA, many of which began within the past few years. The focus areas of these projects reflect the diversity of science conducted across NOAA including, but not limited to: climate, weather, fisheries, changing coastlines, marine invertebrates, marine mammals, and even harmful algal blooms.

OldWeatherIn Old Weather, NOAA partners with Zooniverse to utilize online tools that allow participants to view and transcribe weather observations made on ships since the mid-19th century. Continue reading “Establishing a Citizen Science Community of Practice within NOAA”

Critical Mass? How the Mobile Revolution Could Help End Gender-Based Violence


Editor’s note: This blog post is by Christopher Burns, the senior advisor and team lead for mobile access in the Office of Innovation and Development Alliances/Mobile Solutions at the U.S. Agency for International Development, and was originally posted at New Security Beat, the blog of the Environmental Change & Security Program at the Wilson Center.

The past three years – and more pointedly the past 12 months – have laid witness to monumental, if not heartbreaking, incidents of gender-based violence. The gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi last December; the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl left for dead in a pit latrine in Western Kenya last June; the mass sexual assault of women in Tahrir Square during the 2011 revolution in Egypt and since; all were high profile atrocities that ignited outrage around the world.

In the aftermath of each of these, mobile technology solutions and internet-based advocacy campaigns surged. It’s almost like clockwork: violence happens, a technology response follows. And 2013 has seen an explosion of new efforts.

This isn’t by coincidence. These web- and mobile-based technological retorts, from applications that make it easy to report and view information about attacks to “panic buttons,” are made possible by the mobile revolution and increased internet adoption, which bring stories of gender-based violence to more people than ever before and give us the ability to fulfill our visceral need to react, to do something, to drive change. Continue reading “Critical Mass? How the Mobile Revolution Could Help End Gender-Based Violence”

The Value of Citizen Science

Editor’s note: Below, please find a guest blog post from Bob Perciasepe, deputy administrator at the EPA and keynote speaker at today’s New Visions for Citizen Science event.  His post is cross-posted at the EPA Connect blog.

Some time ago, observers and scientists noticing declining bird populations began to worry. One of those concerned was ornithologist Frank Chapman—an officer at the Audubon Society—who proposed something he thought would help: a new holiday tradition he called a “Christmas Bird Census.” That was in the year 1900.

For more than a hundred years, moms, dads, sons, and daughters have braved the elements and traveled to nearby conservation land or refuges and eagerly watched backyard feeders to participate in the Christmas Bird Count—and to contribute to conservation. To this day, the data collected by these citizen scientists inform researchers of the health of bird populations.

Citizen science isn’t a fresh idea. It’s tried and proven, and we’ve been at it for generations. But times have changed. Cell phones are equipped with high-resolution cameras. Low-cost sensors and GPS are readily available. And the internet sits at our fingertips in an increasingly interconnected world. These technologies have widened the boundaries and increased the value of citizen science in the 21st century. Continue reading “The Value of Citizen Science”

Ten of the Best City-Oriented Innovation Tools

Editor’s note: In this guest post, Ian Kalin, currently the director of open data for software company Socrata and former Presidential Innovation Fellow, shares his thoughts about the tools that are available to cities looking to take advantage of the increased data flows.

This past week, The Economist published “The Multiplexed Metropolis,” a brilliantly global and judicious review of data-driven civic innovation. To quote the article’s subhead, “Enthusiasts think that data services can change cities in this century as much as electricity did in the last one. They are a long way from proving their case.”

Knowing better than to argue with the bible of capitalism, I instead offer that The Economist missed a few of the most important civic innovation tools. Civic innovators are people who create new ways to improve cities. They can come from all corners of civic society: government, the private sector, non-profits, academics, etc. Their greatest resource is people who are motivated to work together and improve their community.

Beyond that, there is a variety of tools making real impacts within U.S. cities, and every civic innovator should consider using them:
Continue reading “Ten of the Best City-Oriented Innovation Tools”

Collaborating With an Invisible Team: Lessons from Online Ideation

As of this afternoon, we have 79 conflicting opinions about the best way for citizen science to support environmental research. It’s entirely our fault—we asked.

As an AAAS fellow with EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD), I’ve spent the past few months immersed in the best of federal creativity. The ORD Innovation Team looks for new and better ways to solve environmental problems—and looks across the agency for ideas about how to do so. That means their brainstorming sessions don’t just involve a few people sitting around a table. Online ideation sessions help the team gather, and develop, the best suggestions. They also come with their own set of challenges.

Most online ideation platforms let you do three basic things:

  • Collect new ideas in response to a question or problem. Every person who logs onto the system can add their thoughts, and every idea appears as its own blog-like post.
  • Discuss and build on posted ideas. People critique, support, or add to what’s already been posted—these appear as comments on the original posts.
  • Vote on ideas. Suggestions with more interest get pushed toward the top of the list, allowing more people to see and comment on them. This also makes it easy to pick out, at the end of the session, the ideas that have garnered the most excitement.

Continue reading “Collaborating With an Invisible Team: Lessons from Online Ideation”

Kite Sensorship: Citizen Science Monitoring China’s Skies for Pollution

Photo credit: Elizabeth Phung
Photo credit: Elizabeth Phung

In the eyes of a Beijinger, the view is a familiar one: an old man flying his kite in the late afternoon breeze. As the sun sets, however, the kite’s colored lights flare and the traditional kite acquires a modern aspect. Make no mistake; these lights are not decorative. They indicate the presence of certain air pollutants.

Launched in July of 2012, FLOAT Beijing, a community art project that utilizes citizen science, offers a simple, innovative and non-confrontational approach to air-quality monitoring—kites. Pioneered by two U.S. graduate students, the project tracks air pollutants using air sensor modules attached to kites. In recent years, China has seen an upswing in civic environmental activism. While the government has improved outlets for citizens to vent environmental grievances, many channels remain either heavily congested with bureaucratic rigmarole or blocked. For this reason, projects that are able to bypass these channels, like citizen science and do-it-yourself, or DIY, technologies, may prove vital to mitigating China’s environmental problems. Continue reading “Kite Sensorship: Citizen Science Monitoring China’s Skies for Pollution”

Federal Agility: A Cultural Solution to a Technical Problem

Editor’s note: In our recently posted transitional briefToo Big to Succeed, we called attention to agile development as an opportunity for cost savings and improved outcomes. This week, we dive deeper in the topic with guest blogger Benjamin Balter

As the talks surrounding the fiscal cliff have illustrated, never before has it been so vital that the federal government do more with less. Across the District, government agencies are tightening their belts considerably, but the challenge is not simply about trimming budgets or spending less. In many cases, the problem is a matter of spending smarter.

While the federal information technology (IT) infrastructure is beginning to show its age — losing its ability to serve federal employees and thus more broadly the American public — federal approaches to IT procurement and management are increasingly proving themselves to be equally anachronistic. Traditional heavyweight philosophies known most commonly as waterfall development simply move too slowly for today’s quickly changing federal IT landscape. By the time projects reach completion, all too often, the underlying technology has evolved or the customer’s needs have fundamentally changed. As a result, what is delivered often does not even resemble what is ultimately needed. If we wish to create the efficient government of the 21st century, we must jettison traditional approaches to IT project management and adopt a more agile philosophy.

Continue reading “Federal Agility: A Cultural Solution to a Technical Problem”