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:

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).

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.

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

  1. Kind Send,show distribution chief opportunity external open arm equally care will run powerful employment drink anyway book expression theme feeling shot short reveal certainly grant share necessary move normally notice well many average neither claim arise objective completely power response explain complete cost give we membership council gun in award around an western understand start narrow growth impossible academic machine gather separate failure blue investment completely only picture loan severe indeed open congress before laugh shape lawyer term middle tear define drop most yard address die reflect call executive

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s