Report Urges Researchers to Reconsider Crowdsourcing

February 4, 2016

Higher education needs to reconsider the use of crowdsourced labor in research, an article in last month's issue of PS: Political Science & Politics argues. Vanessa Williamson, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, writes that researchers who rely on websites such as Amazon Mechanical Turk are taking advantage of workers who in some cases earn less than $20,000 a year. The use of online marketplaces such as Mechanical Turk has risen in the past five years, Williamson points out.

"Mechanical Turk is a bargain for researchers, but not for workers," Williamson writes in a blog post. "A survey typically takes a couple minutes per person, so the hourly rate is very low. This might be acceptable if all turkers were people with other jobs, for whom the payment was incidental. But scholars have known for years that the vast majority of MTurk tasks are completed by a small set of workers who spend long hours on the website, and that many of those workers are very poor."

In the article, Williamson calls for researchers to raise wages, for journals to only accept articles where workers have been paid a fair wage and for colleges to create ethical guidelines for crowdsourced research.

"The alternative is continuing to pay below-minimum-wage rates to a substantial number of poor people who rely on this income for their basic needs," Williamson writes. "This is simply no alternative at all."

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