Science – There's An App For That.

The internet – smartphone combination has “democratized” many activities. The publishing of music, books, and news are the examples that come immediately to mind. With fewer filters provided for us by the great and the good, we now have to be able to make our own judgments as to quality.

Scientific research has also seen the democratizing effects, but not in quite the same way. However, things may be about to change. Some research endeavors require large pools of data if the results are to be reliable and that can be difficult to organize, and data mining of old records can be somewhat limiting.

A new idea has popped up. Defau, with an international team of 16 collaborators has piloted the smartphone as a scientific tool with a very long reach (1). They work in the area of cognitive science and are now able to work with human “lab-rats” from a huge population worldwide.

Their proof-of-principle experiment was in hearing spoken words, some at high sound frequency and some at a low, with the recognition of real words or fake words at short time periods. This is a multi-language project with 4157 participants to date. The participants were initially self-selecting by down loading an App for their iPhones or iPads from the iTunes App Store.

The results tallied with previous data from controlled experiments. The challenge comes in designing the statistical analysis for large numbers of participants that need to be grouped by their characteristic details entered into the app. With the numbers being very large and increasing with time, it should be possible to watch the data distributions grow, change, and finally stabilize as the stats get reliable.

The real tool, of course is the App as opposed to the smartphone. It will be interesting to see if someone starts an enterprise to build custom apps for individual projects.


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