Revisiting EFSA@EXPO: crowdsourcing, crystals and communities

Openness in science is not new, but society is demanding that science opens up more. Public bodies, consumers and other stakeholders want a voice in risk governance as a whole, from the beginning onwards, not just at the end. Escalating volumes of data require new ways of approaching assessment and analysis. Innovative companies and online communities, among others, can help to develop tools to meet these challenges. The session brought together some of the latest open assessment models and tools that are emerging.

Science and society: an evolving partnership

Keynote Gerard De Vries from the University of Amsterdam provided the ideal conceptual springboard to start the session, outlining the assets that society can add to the scientific process, where to look among the public and experts, and the skills and tools that they can bring.

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Idea crowdsourcing driven by motivated users

Crowdsourcing is not really new, stated Miia Kosonen of Mikkeli University in Finland. Crowd wisdom is as old as human society. What’s new is our ability to connect and engage in knowledge-based interactions. Citizen science is not intended to replace scientific expertise rather complement it. She outlines three models for crowdsourcing that are motivated by degrees and combinations of competition and collaboration – contests, events and communities.

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From NASA to the Amazonian jungle: crowdsourcing at work

According to InnoCentive’s Steven Drew, people science is a phenomenon in line with general socio-economic trends towards “crowd labour”. He describes his company’s open innovation tool whereby hundreds of thousands of registered “solvers” take part in “challenges” designed to solve scientific problems. With prize money and new opportunities for further collaboration, challenges are having impressive results.

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Knowledge crystals leading to effective decision-making

For over a decade, Jouni Tuomisto of Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare, has been developing practical open assessment tools using web-based platforms. His “knowledge crystals” answer a specific research question and make available in a fixed location on the internet the best currently known answer, all available data, information and discussion needed to convince a critical reader. The crystals are updated as new data appear and open to anyone’s participation under specific rules.

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Big data and cognitive computing

The volume, variety and velocity of data are creating an unprecedented opportunity, but also new challenges; individuals cannot hope to critically evaluate all of these data on their own. But new tools can help. Cameron Brooks from IBM Watson dazzled the audience with numbers about the potential of cognitive computing for extracting evidence from unstructured big data. Watson can read 200 million pages of data in three seconds. But not only does it understand, it can also generate and evaluate evidence-based hypotheses, and adapt and learn over time, he claimed.

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Diversifying expertise: regulatory impact assessment of chemicals

Involving diverse types of expertise, for example, from both the natural sciences and social sciences is already a reality in some areas. The European Chemicals Agency’s Tomas Öberg described how such an inter-disciplinary approach is used to carry out impact assessment for chemicals covered by the EU’s REACH Regulation.

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Risk profiling: understanding science, improving dialogue

Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, explained Mark Lohmann, has developed a graphical tool that illustrates the magnitude of substantial risk assessment parameters. The tool is used for risk communication to increase knowledge about risks and understanding of scientific findings, and to promote dialogue with the public and stakeholder groups that helps to deter misunderstandings and avoid conflicts.

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Increased rigour and efficiency are needed

Before the final discussion, Robert Doubleday of Cambridge University’s Centre for Science and Policy, summed up the session neatly. Rigour is needed because no single form of expertise can encompass every requirement for complex scientific questions, and the process of selecting expertise needs to be open. Efficiency is needed too – data and demands may be growing exponentially but public resources are not growing at the same rate. Don’t miss the final discussion among all the participants and the audience.

Moderated Panel Discussion

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