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Volunteer Science

Volunteer Science is an online platform enabling anyone to participate in social science research.  The goal of Volunteer Science is to build a thriving community of research participants and social science researchers for Massively Open Online Social Experiments (“MOOSEs”).  The architecture of Volunteer Science has been built to be open to researchers, transparent to participants, and to facilitate the levels of concurrency needed for large scale social experiments.  Since then, 14 experiments and 12 survey-based interventions have been developed and deployed, with subjects largely being recruited through paid advertising, word of mouth, social media, search, and Mechanical Turk.  We are currently replicating several forms of social research to validate the platform, working with new collaborators, and developing new experiments.  Moving forward our priorities are continuing to grow our user base, developing quality control processes and collaborators, diversifying our funding models, and creating novel research.

Volunteer Science attempts to advance the laboratory model in the social sciences by broadening the participant pool, enabling larger-scale experiments, capturing the benefits of cross-experiment participation, and taking advantage of information technologies for data collection.  One perennial critique of traditional lab studies in the social sciences is that most participants are from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies.  In addition, because many social science experiments involve group behavior, they require a large number of individuals to participate, quickly raising the monetary and logistical costs of an in-person study drawn from local research pools.  An open-access web-based experimental framework attempts to address these issues by enabling participants from any internet-connected device to participate.  In addition, open, internet-based research has two added advantages.  It allows users to participate in multiple experiments while linking their results.  And, it integrates with other technologies, including Facebook, gathering data in other domains for analysis.

Currently, we are validating the platform for a broad range of social scientific research, working with new collaborators, and developing new experiments.  We are currently replicating studies in perception, social psychology, economics, and networks to demonstrate the validity of the platform across multiple types of interventions and mechanisms.  In addition, we are deliberately expanding our network of collaborators, focusing on those performing experiments in problem solving, social networks, and collective cognition.  Finally, we are developing our own experiments, both unique and adaptations of other experiments.

Principal Investigators
Stefano Balietti, Lazer Lab alumnus; David Lazer, Faculty, Political Science and Computer and Information Science; and Christoph Riedl, Faculty, Information Systems and Network Science.

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