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Peer power for the advancement of science

By Daniel Lombraña, founder and CEO of Scifabric.

In order to change the light bulb we would need more than 30.000 peers actually. All over the world. But let me start from the beginning. Two years ago a PhD student contacted me at a hackathon because he had an idea about how to study and fight light pollution from space.

His idea was incredible: re-using all the photographs taken by astronauts from the International Space Station using only the ones that portrayed cities at night. The problem? All the photos are in archives where there is no order, tag, or search function. In other words, looking only for pictures of cities at night was almost impossible because they were stored mixed together with pictures of cities at day, selfies, the ISS, stars, aurora borealis, the moon, etc.

The first question is obvious: why not using an algorithm? Well, because due to the variety and conditions it is almost impossible for an algorithm to identify the photos he was looking for, while we people can identify the proper pictures in a few milliseconds or even less.

« Peer production is here to stay, and anyone can be part of it »

Therefore, he was at this hackathon asking me if it was possible to create a citizen science project in our Crowdcrafting platform, where people like you, using a web browser could help him to organize that huge photo archive.

The result? NASA wrote an article about this project and in less than a month we classified, thanks to people, more than 100.000 images. And this was just the beginning.

Last June, Alejandro Sánchez, the PhD student, defended his thesis getting the best possible mark: Cum Laude. But what makes his thesis unique is that it has been possible thanks to our peer science production platform, where more than 30.000 people collaborated on a citizen science scheme. And the project is still going on!

Thus, how many peers does it take to change a light bulb? Well, it may depend, but the truth is that peer production is here to stay, and anyone, even you, can be part of it.

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About the Question
How many peers does it take to change a light bulb?

Systems like Linux and websites like Wikipedia are paradigmatic of a particular way of open collaboration known as peer production. Peer producers choose their tasks freely and coordinate their work using open digital platforms. They share the fruits of their labour as part of a global commons, and everyone works according to their abilities and benefits according to their needs.

Is this an emerging form of communism? Or the future of liberal capitalism? Or is it simply a new mode of production? In this blog we want to explore both the benefits and the downsides of such way of working.

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