Wired – “…We decided to formally launch our effort with a weekend hackathon. Other groups had organized similar events to develop diagnostic tests and help with the shortage of medical equipment, so why not do the same for research? From the beginning, we knew we’d have to shake up the usual way of doing things. In a traditional lab environment, the structure tends to be hierarchical: A principal investigator sets the agenda and divvies up tasks for the group. Our hope was to proceed more democratically. We didn’t want to scare off people who were donating their spare evenings and weekends, an immensely precious commodity at a time when everyone’s lives had been upended. And we suspected that a group as diverse as ours, encompassing a wealth of disciplines, 20 different native languages, and 25 self-identified ethnicities, would work best with minimal limits on its ingenuity. More than 30 volunteers across dozens of different institutions signed up for the event. We started by hosting an all-hands meeting on Zoom, where the oversight committee laid out some of the unanswered questions we’d encountered in our own research: Could we use smartphone mobility data to gauge whether people were adhering to lockdown orders? What might internet search query data reveal about the public’s interest in coronavirus treatment scams?
The participants sorted themselves into groups, settled on eight different projects, and got to work. They kept at it for 54 hours; shockingly, no one quit. Many of their studies will soon be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. One team, made up of epidemiologists and computer programmers, decided to perform a meta-analysis of clinical and epidemiological parameters associated with Covid-19, then develop an interactive online interface to visualize their results. A tool like this can help public health decisionmakers predict where the disease will go next, and it makes the same knowledge accessible to the general public. This kind of cross-institutional, almost cross-cultural, work is very much at odds with academia’s usual way of doing things. Prior to the pandemic, it was rare that any of us ventured outside the bubble of our own universities and hospitals. Over the decades, this siloed approach to research has shaped the way science gets done—and who gets to do it. The system tends to favor the career advancement of those who belong to a select few institutions over all others, irrespective of the depth of their skills or training. A growing body of literature suggests that underrepresented minorities are less likely to attend prestigious universities, even when they are equally qualified to do so. As a result, scientific research suffers from a lack of diversity—despite the fact that deeply diverse teams appear to produce better solutions to problems…”