Using Amazon Mechanical Turk to track down Africa’s Scientists

I am just now getting acquainted with Amazon Mechanical Turk. This is pretty amazing if you want somebody else to do a repetitive, cumbersome task and you have an extra $25 to buy a solution. For example, my goal for Fall 2010 is to learn something about Python programming, and build a useful website to map and connect people with scientists working at universities in Africa. This should help me find a teaching job and promote innovation there more generally.

The first step was finding all the information. I was able to scrape 500 or so urls for African universities, but I wasn’t about to visit each one to find the names, departments, and emails of the various scientists. Instead, I was able to verify that 381 of these urls were indeed valid, and then turn the whole list into a human intelligence task, or HIT. My HIT is HERE, unless of course, the task is completed so quickly that it no longer appears.

In that case, here is a copy of one of the 381 tasks:

Find up to 3 scientists & contact information from this African University Website:

  • Visit the website for this univeristy below and extract information on up to 3 scientists
  • Type person’s name
  • Type person’s email
  • Type the person’s department of residence
  • Do not provide information for contacts that are from a department that is not related to a science field.

Entry record: 261 – African University Website: http://www.ku.edu

It turns out that people are willing to provide the names of 3 scientists for $0.03. Thus 900 or so names imported into a spreadsheet for me come to a total of $26. Each task appears to take 6 minutes to complete on average.

Given the simplicity of this, I guess I’ll continue scraping all of Africa’s university websites for useful information until I have the best interactive map of African science and innovation on the planet.

Future HITs I plan:

  • Find the name and website for one university in __COUNTRY__ that is not already in the list below. (Thus all I need to do is import the list of universities I already know about and this task is off to the races. I can also repost this task many times over.)
  • Find the LATITUDE and LONGITUDE for this university in Africa.
  • Locate the RSS feed for news from this university in Africa.
  • Identify and list all distinct departments related to science at this university (biology, chemistry, enigeering, etc).

african-university-rankings.jpg?w=261&h=269
Imagine an interactive map that helps you find scientists working in Africa with some more details? Perhaps with this new information I could finally get the right somebodies to look at my CV. I am very interested in teaching science at an African University but none of the dozen I wrote to seem to respond to email. I even met admins from one of these universities in person at a conferences meant to support innovation, but they still forgot to reply. I’ve moved to a more proactive strategy of mapping them to find out which ones are active, so that I can write to the ones that are.
Mechanical-Turk-001.jpg

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2 thoughts on “Using Amazon Mechanical Turk to track down Africa’s Scientists

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