3 Examples Of Crowdsourcing Science

Despite being used for many years, it is now that crowdsourcing is becoming a hot topic in science. Read below what is it and how crowdsourcing science can help you?

The basic definition of crowdsourcing says it is a process that involves outsourcing tasks to a distributed group of people. These tasks could be online or offline, paid or for free, and they are outsourced to an undefined public, in opposition to traditional outsourcing.

So the idea behind crowdsourcing is: the more people working on your project, the better or faster or more varied results you will get.

In the field of graphic design, 99designs users submit a request for a logo and a associated budget and a crowd of designers present their designs. In this way the user can choose from many more designs that if he had outsourced the logo to a single designer.

In terms of raising funds, using the crowd is recently getting hot among entrepreneurs. You can crowdfund your ideas with sites like Kickstarter, which allows the crowd to donate money to creative projects in return of good karma and some goodies. Once the funding goal is reached, the money is transfer to the project and the backers get the promised rewards.

Can crowdsourcing science help your research? Wouldn’t it be great to have 1000 volunteers trying to solve a problem?

Volunteer Team

Volunteer Team (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Crowdsourcing Scientific Problems

Starbucks is using My Starbucks Idea to collect ideas from their customers about products, shops, and company values. You can see it a as a supercharged way of collecting questionnaires and satisfaction reports.

How can you use crowdsourcing for your science? You can ask from your blog or some online forum what are the uncovered topics in your field of research, hoping to generate enough buzz among experts. Among their replies you could harvest some nice ideas for future research or engage in new collaborations.

A classic example of this approach is Tim Gowers, who posted in his blog a mathematical question and in a matter of days the commenters had solved it. This gave birth to the Polymath Project, an online effort to solve some mathematics problems. In his TED talk, Michael Nielsen advocates for Open Science and the Polymath Project is one of his examples.

Crowdsourcing science is not only a brainstorming session on steroids, but also be a solution for high performance computing.

Distributed computing has been used to find Marsenne Prime Numbers (GIMPS), process radio signals to detect alien trasmissions ([email protected]), or calculate protein foldings ([email protected]). The process is very simple, members of the crowd install a screensaver that runs some calculations for these projects when their computers are idle.

Thousands of computer hours have been used in this way for research. Can you imagine how much money has been saved? And if you happen to discover the next Marsenne Prime, your name will appear next to it in the Wikipedia. That’s what I call a nerdy badge!!

Crowdsourcing Funds

You guessed it right, crowdfunding is not exclusive for startups, crowdfunding science is a reality.

Crowdfunding websites like SciFlies and projects like #SciFund Challenge run by RocketHub are helping scientists to raise money for their projects. The have raised money for projects like analyzing ancient roman DNA or studying the color communication of chameleons.

Crowdsourcing Science Crowdfunding Sciefund Challenge

Raised money still remains in the thousands, which does not allow to fund huge projects. What kind of projects would you encourage to use crowdfunding? I would say DIY garage science, books for scientists, or science outreach projects.

Do you think crowd funding is ready for bigger projects? Have you donated to scientific projects? Share your view in the comments section below.

Crowdsourcing A New Job

Bora Zivkovic is a chronobiologist. But he is better known for his online activities as a scientific blogger, active Twitter user, and online community manager at PLoS One.

In 2007 Bora saw a job opening at PLoS One and wrote a post saying he wanted it. The overwhelming reaction of his readers, posting why he should be given the job acted on his favor and a few months later he was enjoying his new job at PLoS One.

The action of Bora fitted nicely with the job he was applying to, a community manager. He showed that he knew how to built a community of loyal readers, exactly what they were looking for at PLoS One. As you can see, the crowd can provide more valuable recommendation than the two reference letters.


Is crowdsourcing a hype or is it here to stay? We will see in the next years the real impact of crowdsourcing science in terms of published papers and breakthroughs.

Yes, I know, measuring impact with papers is so old fashion. But as Michael Nielsen advocates, there should be a way to acknowledge contributors to crowdsourcing and open science projects, otherwise there are no incentives to take part in them. Or is good will enough?

Have you had experience with crowdfunding and  crowdsourcing science? Are you planning to? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

About Julio Peironcely

Julio Peironcely, PhD is the founder of Next Scientist and a PhD by Leiden University. He helps PhD students to stay motivated, be more productive and finish their PhDs. Follow him on Twitter (@peyron) or read more from him on JulioPeironcely.com.


  1. Great post. I think crowd sourcing will take off, I’d be incredibly interested to see how projects funded by crowdsourced money work.

    Another thing that could be interesting (if problematic) is crowdsourcing experiments or data collection. Imagine if you could find someone to do something that you didn’t have the expertise to do to complete an academic project. Trust and compensation for collaborators would be big barriers to this but I wonder if it will be possible? 

    • You are right, it is always about compensation. I guess it would make things easier if the project plans to publish in Open Access and also release the data. Of course offer co-authorship would also attract collaborators. 

  2. Hi Julio, I’m currently writing a project in school about this. My case is http://www.tattoodo.com/ – which I think it’s quite interesting. The people behind is people like Ami James – Daniel Agger and investors, so I think it’s gonna be interesting! This project is based on the same style as 99designs just for tattoo’s – if you have any good input. (Love your article by the way) – it would be great for me to have as inspiration as well. Thanks again!

    • NextScientist says:

      Hi Pete,
      thanks for your words. If you think I can help you somehow you can drop me an email here.


  3. Sharon Cunningham says:

    We are doing a “combo” project that whereby we will draw attention to the importance of thyroid function while creating an open source data base and raising a modest amount of $$ for a future mHealth project. I like your idea of acknowledgement of all participants and the lack of need to maintain privacy -an inhibitor in the collaborative process. http://www.thyroscore.org will launch before the end of September on Indiegogo

  4. thomassrobert says:


  1. […] Crowdsourcing is gaining in popularity – the people decide for themselves what research projects their donations will help.  In the case if Paper Thin there’s no middle-man crowdsourcing platform (they take a commission). […]

  2. […] (Here’s a link to one of thousands of online posts on crowdsourcing science. Of special interest is Michael Nielsen’s TEDx lecture linked there, which gives a great success story, the Polymath Project, but discusses why crowdsourcing has been slow to take hold in science more broadly. ) […]

  3. […] involves outsourcing tasks to an undefined group of people. Crowdsourcing may allow a research team to complete a series of […]