eLife supports SwipesForScience to gamify crowdsourced research and machine learning

By helping scientists gamify the crowdsourcing of data analysis, SwipesForScience will engage the community to speed up research.
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eLife is collaborating with participants from its inaugural Innovation Sprint earlier this year to develop SwipesForScience – a templating service that lets researchers quickly create mobile-friendly games that allow players to help with analysing large amounts of research data.

The prototype of SwipesForScience, developed at the eLife Innovation Sprint and originally called Appstract, used natural-language processing to mine free-text descriptions of scientific research and identify numerical data and text within them. These were presented to users as a game, tasking them with tapping only the values that contribute to a study’s sample size. This data could then be fed back into the natural-language processing algorithms to further improve automatic sample-size detection in research papers.

The next phase of the project is being led by Postdoctoral Fellow Anisha Keshavan, from the University of Washington, US, and User Experience (UX) Designer Andreea Hrincu, in Sydney, Australia.

“Curating these data in this way could allow researchers to perform meta-analyses on biomedical literature, which is important because the number of publications in any given field is rapidly increasing, and we need to assess the validity of a claim or result by aggregating multiple studies,” Keshavan explains. “In order to perform meta-analyses, we need to extract content from scientific literature into useful nuggets of metadata. It is a process that could take months for a researcher working alone, but instead SwipesForScience could help yield results in just a matter of days by engaging citizen scientists in research.”

The Appstract project quickly accrued a following of researchers vying for the top spot in its leaderboards, demonstrating the potential of crowdsourced research analysis in the form of a simple, engaging game. SwipesForScience will now help researchers to quickly and easily create their own games for crowdsourcing data analysis and drive their research forward. The games will support a variety of annotation tasks, including text-based annotations for meta-analyses, and image and sound-based annotations.

eLife has a mission to help scientists accelerate discovery by operating a platform for research communication that encourages and recognises responsible behaviours in science. Through the eLife Innovation Initiative, the non-profit actively supports the development of new tools that enhance the communication or interrogation of new research. As part of this initiative, the organisation has committed to developing a releasable version of SwipesForScience.

Giuliano Maciocci, eLife’s Head of Product, says: “Games are a great way to let anyone participate in the scientific process. They can encourage crowdsourced participation in a research project, facilitate citizen science, and even use the power of the crowd to help train machine-learning algorithms that will help automate some research analysis tasks. This project makes the creation of games for research much more accessible to scientists, and we look forward to seeing what experiences they create.”

The software will be made available with open-licensed data and a user-friendly interface, allowing people to play with the main template implementation and/or build their own game based on one of various templates.

Appstract was created at the eLife Innovation Sprint 2018 by: Anisha Keshavan, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Washington; Charlotte (Charlie) Whicher, Product Manager, Repositive; Peter Murray-Rust, Founder, ContentMine; Jen Spencer, Software Engineer, YLD; Sam Galson, Software Engineer, YLD; Nuno Job, CEO, YLD; and Andreea Hrincu, UX Designer.

The team are continuing to develop the tool, and encourage others to play online.

For more details about the software, visit https://swipesforscience.org.

And for more information about Appstract and other projects developed as part of the eLife Innovation Sprint, see https://elifesciences.org/labs/bdd4c9aa/elife-innovation-sprint-2018-project-roundup.

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eLife is a non-profit organisation inspired by research funders and led by scientists. Our mission is to help scientists accelerate discovery by operating a platform for research communication that encourages and recognises the most responsible behaviours in science. We invest in innovation through open-source tool development to accelerate research communication and discovery. eLife is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society, the Wellcome Trust and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. Learn more at elifesciences.org/about.