We Used AI to Generate Messages for Citizen Scientists

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has come a long way since its inception. Advancements in technology have paved the way for sophisticated algorithms and deep learning models that are capable of performing tasks that were once deemed impossible. AI has the ability to paint you a picture of a puppy watching a sunset, help write an introduction for a blog post on the topic of AI (as done here), and even help recommend projects to thousands of citizen scientists.

AI Generated Picture from openai.org

In 2018, Kobi Gal, an AI researcher at Ben-Gurion University and the University of Edinburgh, meant Darlene Cavalier, the founder of SciStarter, at a workshop on the Open Science of Learning. Shortly after meeting, the AI and Data Science Lab of Kobi Gal at Ben-Gurion University began a research collaboration with SciStarter to make it easier for citizen scientists to find the right project to engage in. SciStarter is an organization that strives to connect curious and motivated people who are looking to make a difference to projects that allow them to do just that all while participating in real scientific research. With thousands of projects housed on SciStarter, it can be difficult for volunteers to find the perfect project. What was the solution?


Kobi Gal and his team developed an AI “recommendation system” that uses hundreds of thousands of data instances to predict which projects a user would prefer using algorithms that analyze past behavior to recommend items to users. Recently, Kobi Gal and his team made further improvements to the system to help prevent a phenomenon called popularity bias. Most of today’s recommendation systems tend to recommend popular project among the community as they often draw most of the traffic, but these recommendations are not always the best fit for the user. This new system considers “long-tail projects” (projects that get less exposure) in the recommendations.

Why is this important?

According to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, citizen scientists’ motivations are “strongly affected by personal interests,” and participants who engage in citizen science over a long period of time “have successive opportunities to broaden and deepen their involvement.” Thus, it seems that sustained engagement through the use of intelligent recommendations can improve data quality and scientific outcomes for the projects and the public. AI has the potential to benefit everyone that is involved in citizen science from project leaders to volunteers.

If you wanted to see what types of projects the new system recommends for you, head over to SciStarter.org. Not sure if citizen science is right for you?

Here are 7 reasons (given by AI) to become a citizen scientist.

  1. Autonomy: “As a SciStarter.org volunteer, you have the freedom to choose from a wide variety of projects that align with your interest and passions. You have control over your participation and how much time and effort you want to contribute.”
  2. Competence: “By participating in SciStarter.org projects, you are developing new skills and expertise in fields such as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). You are making valuable contributions to scientific research and discovery.”
  3. Relatedness: “Through SciStarter.org, you are part of a larger community of citizen scientists who share your interests and goals. You have the opportunity to connect and collaborate with like-minded individuals from all over the world.”
  4. Intrinsic Motivation: “Your participation in SciStarter.org is driven by your own internal motivation to learn, grow, and make a difference in the world of science. You are motivated by the joy of discovery and the satisfaction of contributing to something meaningful.”
  5. Purpose: “By volunteering with SciStarter.org, you are helping to advance scientific knowledge and solve real-world problems. You are part of a movement to create a more sustainable and equitable future for all.”
  6. Progress: “Your ongoing contributions to SciStarter.org projects help to advance scientific understanding and create new opportunities for discovery and innovation. You are making a tangible difference in the world.”
  7. Support: “The SciStarter.org community is here to support and encourage you in your efforts. You have access to resources, tools, and guidance that will help you succeed in your volunteer work.

AI is a tool that has the ability to change every aspect of our life, and that thought can be scary. As Kobi Gal said in a podcast with SciStarter, “AI, just like any tool, like any technology, can be used whether for the good or for the bad…the research we do here in SciStarter, our collaboration, is aimed at mitigrating these fears in that we create a system that is able to help people achieve better satisfaction, find the projects that match their interest, rather than trying to tell them what to do, or to manipulate the way they interact on the site.” AI is simply “a collection of techniques and technologies that complement human abilities, rather than replace human abilities, and help us to do better jobs, whether as teachers, judges, doctors, or computer users.”

Categories: Citizen Science, Citizen Science News, CitSci Research, Other, podcast, Use of Citizen Science data

About the Author

SciStarter Team

SciStarter Team

SciStarter connects you to thousands of searchable citizen science projects in need of your help. Use the Project Finder (SciStarter.org/Finder) to find a project to match your location, interests, and age level. Your free SciStarter account will help you earn credit for participating in projects across apps and websites (use the advanced search option at SciStarter.org/Finder to find Affiliate projects eligible for credit in your dashboard). Together, we can move the world forward!