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Test Your Assumptions With UC San Diego Citizen Science Online Tool

February 6, 2019 1:49 p.m.


Austin Durant, citizen experimenter and founder and chief fermentation officer, Fermenters Club

Vineet Pandey, lead designer and developer, Galileo

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Ever wondered if Kombucha the fermented tea is actually good for you. Well like many food and drinks touted as healthy there hasn't been any scientific research to rely on it. You just have to come to your own conclusions on that. Now UC San Diego researchers are empowering regular citizens to design experiments to test hypothesis and recruit participants becoming scientists themselves. An experiment designed by the founder of the San Diego firm Hunter's firm mentors club is currently testing the impact of Kambucha on gut health. Joining me to discuss this is Vineet Pandey lead designer and developer of the platform and Austin Durant citizen experimenter from the combustion experiment.

Austin Vineet welcome. Thank you. Thanks great to be here. Indeed need I've heard of citizen science experiments right that that involve participants sending in photos of different species of insects and the waves during the king tides. How is the platform you built different from that type of citizen science experiment.

Yeah no that's a great summary of what citizen science is doing right now. And I mean it's been really useful. So I mean citizen scientists have collected data about birds which is used to actually predict changes because of climate change and the details. So it's been great. One of the concerns though has been that citizens are still working on problems that are framed by experts and sort of provide data work as data collectors are algorithms really. And with my platform people can essentially take the role of being an expert and come up with their own questions and design an experiment to test that out.

And I do not know of any other citizen science platform that enables people to design an experiment and actually run it with people from around the world at the same time. And we saw the opportunity for that in my research and I've been at that up and I think it's turning out to be a fantastic experience.

And can you explain to us how the platform works.

Oh sure. So I mean the platform is called gut instinct it's at gut instinct to UCSD not to you and you can just log in there you know you can sign up at any of the usual suspects you know Google Facebook something as you can just log in with your e-mail and once you do that you can look out on the platform you can find a bunch of experiments we have more than 60 experiments designed by citizens from around the world and these are on topics such as fomented foods. These aren't topics such as circadian rhythms.

These aren't topics where people are curious about you know the effect of blue light the effect of social media consumption on their optimism and things like that everything that people you know feel curious about their own health lifestyle and other reasons. And so you know you can look around you can learn from that. And once you get a sense of what's going on the platform you can just hit the big blue design and experiment button and it's gonna take you about 20 minutes I mean the median time for experiment design our platform is 27 minutes and you end up with a controlled experiment that test the intuition that you have.

And the way this works is you don't need you know references to any book or videos or anything else. I mean you just come in with an idea or a question and you can watch that step by step into an actual experiment. And I think it works really well.

So Vineet you created this platform. Austin you're using it. You born in this fuzzy Cam Boucher concoction here.

Tell us about that in the experiment that you're doing so it's a tonic beverage made. It's a fermented tea made with the help of bacteria and yeast that decided to get together form a little party and you take this culture and you add it to tea and you're in you ferment Kombucha and tell us what you're testing. So we want to understand how computer makes people feel. So we thought you know by drinking a cup of Caboolture a day how does that affect your stool consistency. Because I believe that that's a good marker of our gut health.

Is what what our still looks like and what phase of the experiment are you currently in.

So we just launched the experiment so. So to to further elucidate how I tie in with with what needs doing as a user of the platform I'm curious to know OK we've heard anecdotally that kombucha is good for us but there really are not any controlled scientific experiments that prove this is merely more of a marketing thing. So we got together and brainstorm how could we contribute to science and encourage people to drink more kombucha.

What has the response been like to the platform so far the response has been fantastic.

We have had participants from more than 30 countries and people end up taking different roads you know a bunch of people design experiments a bunch of people act as reviewers who provide feedback on those experiments and improve them and many others join it as well. So I have had participants more than 200 participants from courtyard countries doing this we have more than 60 experimental designs and the response to Austin's experiment has actually been amazing. So we have about 54 participants right now. And you know I mean people are separated into different conditions based on you know what they're supposed to do and the data they provide us and we have participants from five different countries.

So we have majority of people from us but we also have participants from Canada Australia UK Pedro Mahi. So it's more than fight. So it's it's pretty international. It's the first instance of a citizen led experiment. That's you know gone international maybe people are doing all of these things. I find that exciting.

Yeah. Outside of gut health what else is it being used for.

Oh sure. So that's a great question because the whole idea of scientific method or experiment design is not just about for example you know biology and microbiology. So you know in psychology and other places you can use that too. So one of the communities on our platform open humans and you can find them you know by googling up their name. So open your minds is a community of people who basically want to share their data in an anonymous secure fashion so that researchers or even other citizen can access that data analyze it and find useful details about you know patterns of our health and open humans around and experiment with its members from you know again five plus countries about changing their social media usage and studying its effect on their sense of optimism at the end of the day.

So you know they ran that experience for three days and you know people reduce the social media usage compared not to what they were doing before and they definitely saw a trend a small correlation between people reducing their social media usage and feeling better are more optimistic at the end of the day. We did not have enough participants in that we had about 15 participants do you know to be able to claim causality but it was really interesting trend and we would like to maybe follow up on that.

And you both will be at the San Diego fermentation Festival later this month. Austin tell us about that festival right.

So this will be our fifth year and what it is is it's my attempt to help create community centered around this very important thing which is getting people back into the kitchens making fermented foods enjoying them and sharing. So it's a day long celebration and outdoor festival happening in Encinitas on February 17th. We will have classes and demos on various styles of fermentation. We'll have a do it yourself sauerkraut station where we sort of curate you through and build your own jar of sauerkraut and then you let it go home and let it ferment.

We'll have it Ambrosia garden which features our local craft beer wine cider. Mead higher garlic and butcher and spirits. All the things that are the great things that are happening in San Diego as well as wellness pavilion where you can chill you can get acupuncture you can get sound healing. So just just again a community event of course a lot of live local bands will be there it's just a very festive environment again celebrating from attitudes and beverages and community.

All right. And Vinny you will have a booth at that festival what will you be talking about to those that stop by.

Right. I'll be there with my colleagues from the American Gut Project which you know as I said is the world's largest crowdfunded citizen science project. If people want to know about the microbiome they can just sample essentially their poop and you know get free so just realize that and tell them what it is. And so I would be there with them. They'll discuss their own research and I'll present details about the platform and what we have done so far and give people a demo and get their interest in figuring out what sort of experiments they might want to run.

So for example Austin right now mentioned that you know sound healing seems to you know make people feel better as well why don't people design run experiments or does that out. So you know wherever I go I bring my platform along and I get people to do whatever interesting things I want to do with it.

All right a very informative conversation over a glass of Caboolture v. Ponti AP Ph.D. student in computer science at UC San Diego along with Austin Durand founder and chief fermentation officer at fermenter Club San Diego. Thank you both for joining us.

Thank you very much. Thanks so much.