Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Practice and Ethics of Citizen Neuro-science...

I'm still moving forward with my personal citizen science project and everything is coming together quite nicely.  It hasn't left me with as much time for the blog, but I still want to provide the fun and exciting citizen science news you expect every week.  So my Tuesday "Tools of the Trade" continue with another interesting option a friend clued me into.

This time we focus on neuroscience, learning more about the nervous system of insects.  The Backyard Brains has developed a "Spiker Box" allowing citizen scientists to record impulses from insect legs (or other parts) connected to the machine.  Just purchase the kit for a low $100 and rescue an insect from your home bug traps for testing.  The machine will let you listen to the insect's electrical impulses through a speaker and even visualize them through a handy mobile phone app (available for Android and the iPhone).  The web site also includes a wiki featuring many different experiments the creators have designed that you can use, as well as many submitted by teachers and other citizen scientists like yourself.  So if you use pick up the Spiker box and develop and new protocol, let the team know about it!

As a side note, when looking at this project I also noticed a few other DIYBio tools designed to collect EEGs (electroencephalograms for recording brain waves) and ECGs (electrocardiogram for recording heart activity).  While the Spiker Box works with invertebrate animals that are much lower on the food chain, I wasn't as comfortable describing testing on vertebrate animals and even humans.  As a simple blogger I don't have any idea on the legality of promoting these devices or ethical constraints around them, so I've avoided discussing them here.  But it brings up a question...what do you think about those types of projects?  Are they fair game for citizen science since they are only passive recording devices, or should we start drawing ethical lines around machines that could potentially harm the humans or vertebrate animals being tested on.  I don't have any of those answers, but let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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