AAAS Policy Fellow Makes Predictions About Tomorrow Today

Experts from around the world are predicting the next big thing – from the development of a 3D manufactured organ to whether or not implantable sensors for monitoring cancer will enter clinical trials by the end of 2015 on SciCast, the largest known science and technology-focused crowdsourced forecasting site.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science and several other leading science and technology professional societies are proud partners of SciCast, a research project run by George Mason University and funded by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). More than 9,000 SciCast members are predicting events and discussing – even competing - with their peers. SciCast participants, who come from all over the world including Europe, Russia, India, China, Africa, and the Middle East, range from from engineers to chemists, from agriculturists to IT specialists. They include undergraduate and graduate students, professional scientists, people from the military, United States Government employees, defense contractors, and world class professors.

There are more than 500 questions currently active on SciCast in the following categories: information systems, engineered technologies, biology & medicine, global change, transportation, social sciences, business of science, mathematics, computational sciences, energy, chemistry, space sciences, physics, agriculture. Questions are posed by participants, SciCast Topic leaders and the SciCast editorial team.

We were interested to find out why AAAS member Dr. Claire Standley, 29, accepted the position as SciCast Topic Leader for Biology & Medicine.  She is originally from Oakland, CA and earned her Ph.D. in biomedical, parasitology and genetics from the National History Museum and The University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

Q.  What is your profession?

I am a program officer in biosecurity engagement for the U.S. State Department.  I am an infectious disease biologist by training and currently an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow working on biosecurity issues.

Q.  What do you love about science?

I love the opportunity to find answers to questions that will actually have an impact on the world and improve people's lives. That's why I have always gravitated to applied research, and specifically in multidisciplinary fields where I also get a chance to work on the ground and see the effect of my work. Having said that, I also very much appreciate that all applied science relies heavily on basic research, which is also hugely important. 

Q.  How, and why, did you get involved with SciCast?

I spent a few months working with the CSTSP (Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy) group at AAAS at the beginning of my current fellowship, and one of the team members there invited me to join SciCast as a topic leader. I decided to sign up because I was interested in trying something new - I had not previously been exposed to much "forecasting" or crowdsourced information gathering, and thought it might be an interesting experience. 

Q. What do you like best about it? 

I like the flexibility to collaborate with other users on questions - in other words, there is crowdsourcing both at the front end as well as the response end!

Q. What was the most interesting question you forecasted (or posted)?  Why?

My favorite question to date is one I just recently posted, related to transmission of Chikungunya in the contiguous United States. There has been a lot of media attention about the spread of Chikungunya through the Caribbean, but also a fair amount of misinformation about what it means when we see cases in the US. I don't think most people realize that a so-called "tropical" disease like Chikungunya could very easily establish local transmission in the US during the summer months. To me, this is a pertinent example of how disease transmission patterns are and will change as our climate patterns alter, and how this can actually affect our lives, even those of us lucky enough to live in a developed country with effective disease control strategies and strong healthcare systems.

Visit the Chikungunya question here.

QHow do you see SciCast fitting into the “real world”?

I think one of the most obvious ways SciCast fits into the real world is by exposing people to cutting edge and important questions in science and technology. By demonstrating that sometimes even the public can contribute just as much as scientists or experts, I hope that SciCast can pique people's interest in science and remove some of the mystery which prevents some people from feeling comfortable with science and scientific concepts. 

Q. How would you suggest your peers take the first step into getting involved?

Check out the site! See what questions are trending or have been posted, and start making forecasts!