In DepthPsychology

Mechanical Turk upends social sciences

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Science  10 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6291, pp. 1263-1264
DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6291.1263

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In May, 23,000 people voluntarily took part in thousands of social science experiments without ever visiting a lab. All they did was log on to Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), an online crowdsourcing service run by the Seattle, Washington–based company better known for its massive internet-based retail business. Those research subjects completed 230,000 tasks on their computers in 3.3 million minutes—more than 6 years of effort in total. The prodigious output demonstrates the popularity of an online platform that scientists had only begun to exploit 5 years ago. But the growing use of MTurk has raised concerns, as researchers discussed at the Association for Psychological Science meeting in Chicago, Illinois, last month. Some worry that they are becoming too dependent on a commercial platform. Others question whether the research volunteers are paid fairly and treated ethically. And looming over it all are questions about who these anonymous volunteers actually are, and concerns that they are less numerous and diverse than researchers hope.