Jan 22, 2015

It’s All Happening - The Future of Crowdsourcing Science


Excitement in the air

My generation – the 20-something, millennial generation — has led technological advancement that has had an unprecedented impact on business, medicine, politics, and even social interactions. Technology is in a constant state of advancement and if you’re plugged in, you can easily get swept away. There is an overwhelming feeling that we are living in an age where ‘it’s all happening’, and in ways it has never happened before.

I’ve been thinking about this state of mind in the context of the current “reproducibility crisis” (Pashler & Wagenmakers, 2012). I recently asked a few (more established) social psychologists if this feeling is based on actual innovation and change or if it’s just a product being young in the field. They emphatically agreed that now is different than any other time in psychology and things really are changing; the air of excitement is real.

Crowdsourcing science

In the midst of the reproducibility crisis, crowdsourcing science has emerged as a means to produce transparent science. With each large-scale, crowdsourcing project, most notably, the Reproducibility Project - Psychology and Cancer Biology, Many Labs 2 and 3, and CREP, the benefits of such methodology are made clear. Sharing the scientific process with other researchers from different institutions enables those outside the primary lab to reap the rewards of the project. The many contributors of these projects have, in their own right, some sense of ownership of the project. For the Reproducibility Project – Psychology (RP-P), collaborators not only are helping the lead researchers answer meta-scientific questions, but are also involved in the excitement that the project has created in the field.

As a contributor to the RP-P, I feel directly involved in this huge open-science movement. This involvement is one of the reasons the reproducibility conversation has had so much momentum over the last couple of years. Crowdsourcing science in conjunction with projects explicitly devoted to improve the integrity and transparency of science will keep the spark alive.

The lab I work in at the University of California – Riverside is utilizing crowdsourcing to spread the benefits of collecting rich and big data. The International Situations Project and International Personality Project are cross-cultural studies in which collaborators from 19 and 13 countries, respectively, have managed the data collection process from a combined 7,454 participants worldwide. We’ve also partnered with Psi Chi and Psi Beta to crowdsource undergraduates and collect data from 13 colleges and universities across the US (Grahe, Guillaume, & Rudman, 2013). Generally, we’re interested in how people experience a situation and how behavior and personality informs, and is informed by, these experiences. To do this, we had our collaborators ask their participants to log on to the study’s website, answer the question “What were you doing at 7:00 pm the previous night?” and then evaluate the situation, their behavior and their personality using Q-sort methodology. The comparison of a large number of cultures along common personality variables is sure to yield important scientific "news" regardless of what is found. With these projects we are aiming to quantify the differences in personality and situations among cultures. Though this research is exploratory in nature, we expect to gain insight into the degree to which behavior, situations, and personality vary both between and within cultures.

In line with the crowdsource methodology’s mission, our many (33+) collaborators have the opportunity to analyze the wealth of data they helped collect to answer important psychological questions. Indeed, a few have already made waves in the field in doing so (Rauthmann et al., 2014). Each ISP/IPP contributor feels (like I do as an RP-P contributor) well-deserved ownership for the project, and shares in the feeling of excitement associated with the project’s analytical and theoretical possibility.

The future of crowdsourced science

Recently, I have had the unique opportunity to use open-source software to expand these projects. Over this past summer I worked as a developer intern at the Center for Open Science (COS) in Charlottesville, VA. COS is a non-profit whose mission is to improve the integrity, openness and reproducibility across all scientific disciplines. To support this mission, COS has developed an online tool called the Open Science Framework (OSF) to enable scientists to maintain productive collaborations, publicly display their methods and data, and encourage the growth of open-science conversation. My experience led me to two major intellectual accomplishments: understanding how to build online tools that make crowdsourcing projects possible, and instilling a new passion in me that will inform all of my future projects. I have begun to appreciate how tools like the OSF and methods like crowd-sourcing can aid in pushing the reproducibility movement forward.

Despite the use of crowdsourcing methods in both projects, the Reproducibility Project and the International Situation (and Personality) Project have distinct scientific goals and it is this distinction that illuminates the scope of scientific endeavors crowdsourcing and technology like the Open Science Framework can facilitate. For example, RP-P utilizes various labs’ resources around the world in order to generalize answers to meta-scientific questions. ISP, on the other hand, recruits its US and international researchers to establish strong scientific connections and lend unique theoretical insights on the massive amount of data collected. Both projects use crowd-sourced data. Both projects intend to strengthen the generalizability power with use of these data. Both projects use the Open-Science Framework to display the methods, materials, and data to encourage the openness of the projects. Yet their research goals exist on two different, yet equally important scientific planes.

The future of crowdsourced science is a bright one. While metascientific projects like RP-P and Many Labs 2 and 3 have illuminated the many benefits crowdsourcing has on science, the projects going on in my lab use this method to involve many scientists in theoretically novel projects. And we do so cross-culturally. The International Situations and Personality Projects offer a unique opportunity to the open-science community to reap the rewards of a project with so much potential for further questions.

It’s all happening

Although I appreciate that some of the excitement around psychological research is a product of being young and new in the field, there is an undeniable sense that things are changing in meaningful ways. Conducting research that uses open-source technology and crowdsourcing methodology will ensure that I am directly involved. It’s important to harness this excitement and continue to establish innovative ways to utilize these crowdsourcing methods. To involve many in the scientific process – no matter what the end goal is – and utilize technology that is constantly pushing forward and carrying scientific integrity and value along with it.


Pashler, H., & Wagenmakers, E. J. (2012). Editors’ Introduction to the Special Section on Replicability in Psychological Science A Crisis of Confidence?.Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(6), 528-530.

Grahe, J. E., Guillaume, E., & Rudmanm, J (2013). Students collaborate to advance science: The International Situations Project. CUR Quarterly-Online, 34 (2), 4-9.

Rauthmann, J. F., Gallardo-Pujol, D., Guillaume, E. M., Todd, E., Nave, C. S., Sherman, R. A., & Funder, D. C. (2014). The Situational Eight DIAMONDS: A taxonomy of major dimensions of situation characteristics.

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