Citizen Scientists Wanted! In the Fight Against the Coronavirus

“I asked myself how I, as a computer scientist, could contribute in a meaningful way to research on the pandemic. […] I have little time, but some unused computing capacity. In light of the severity of the situation, I am willing to bear the temporary significant increase in electricity costs if it means that researchers can work on a drug faster.”[1] While precautionary measures are taken worldwide and solidarity networks are emerging locally, scientists are working day and night to develop medication and especially a vaccine against COVID-19, the new coronavirus that is spreading globally. But this needs time. In order to accelerate the processes some projects reach out to the public for help. By participating in citizen science projects volunteers can now contribute to the research on the virus, both with their resources and with their creativity. Increasing numbers of participants in such projects show that this meets the desire of many people to do more – besides staying at home and washing their hands – to stop the rapid spreading of the virus. Online citizen science describes the practice of involving the general public (a.k.a. “the crowd”) into scientific projects. The aim is to solve a specific scientific problem that scientists and their computers alone are unable to solve at all or in foreseeable time. Oftentimes, the tasks to be solved are time consuming and include a large amount of data to be collected and/or analyzed. One of the unsolved questions scientists around the world currently need the help of the crowd with concerns the protein structure of the coronavirus. The coronavirus detects and infects human cells with the spike proteins on its surface (more information on this). Knowing more about these structures and creating proteins that can bind to the spike protein of the coronavirus to blog it is essential. One general problem in protein structure prediction is that there are numerous ways that a protein may fold. This is where the crowd comes in. Three citizen science projects that try to tackle this problem with the help of the crowd and that have gained increased attention over the last weeks are Folding@home, Rosetta@Home and Foldit ­– and each does it in their own way. Folding@home is a distributed computing project for simulating protein dynamics based at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.[2] After downloading the software, users help advance research on cures for diseases simply by running the software while they’re not working at their computer, using idle CPU-cycles of their computer. With the announcement of Folding@home in late February to specifically focus on coronavirus, the project has received huge response...

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Choosing Sides: Doing Interviews in a Divided Field

“You are not going to agree with this, but I voted leave.” A participant in my research told me this early on in an interview. I had not shared with her my personal opinion on the EU, but from my accent (which does not sound Scottish) she discerned I was from continental Europe and decided that I probably did not agree with Brexit. During interviews I am not trying to find out how the interviewee voted in the EU referendum, but it is a difficult topic to avoid when discussing Europe. Navigating a divided field In the past six years, the Scottish people have taken part in two divisive referendums. In 2014 they were asked whether Scotland should become an independent state (55% chose to remain part of the UK) and in 2016 they were asked whether the UK should remain a member of the EU (in Scotland, 62% chose to remain part of the EU). Both referendums left a significant mark on the current political landscape in Scotland. My research focusses on the personal dimension of this: how do Scottish people, in particular supporters of Scottish independence, identify with Europe and what does the concept of Europe mean to them. To do this, it is important for me to get beyond the results of the referendums in my fieldwork, but this is not always straightforward. The problem with discussing politics in Scotland today is that opinions are immediately pigeonholed into the answers of the referendums: participants in my research often identify themselves (and others) first as yes/no or remain/leave. It is of course uncommon that reality is as binary as that: it is a messy and personal calculation of values, beliefs, influences and experiences. Participants are hardly ever completely yes or remain without a conditional but. To get a result which is valuable for my research, I aim to break through the referendum replies as early as possible in the interviews and uncover what is hidden below. Placing myself in the field At the same time as providing us with an opportunity to research beyond the suggested binaries of the referendums, ethnographic fieldwork forces the researcher to reflect on his/her own connection to the communities being researched. In my case, that reflection starts by asking and being asked where I fit on the yes/no, leave/remain spectrum. I have experimented with sharing my own opinions on these matters and keeping them to myself during fieldwork. Sharing my stance can have different effects: if it is in agreement with the participant, the interview feels more at ease, resulting in a form of ‘safe space’ which can be highly beneficial for...

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The digital prophets of Israel
May02

The digital prophets of Israel

An Israeli web series featuring monologues of activists sparks debate beyond the Jewish-Palestinian binary. It shows the power of new media for effective anthropological interventions, but also the intensity of the controversies such visibility often entails.

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Engaged anthropology: Reality? Necessity? Utopia?

On June 21st to 25th, 2015, the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore organized the congress entitled Utopias, Realities, Heritages: Ethnographies for the 21st century. The event took place in Zagreb, Croatia, and brought together over 900 anthropologists, ethnologists, folklorists and others interested in European cultures and beyond. Five of our TRANSFORMATIONS editors organized the panel named “Engaged anthropology: Reality? Necessity? Utopia?”.

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