The internet echo chamber polarizes discourse.  When we only read news that confirms our opinions (no matter how extreme) it is possible for those opinions to become unanchored from reality.  It's time for cautious, careful thought to make a comeback.

The academic world also struggles with the echo chamber. When researchers write papers they look for supporting literature.  Inevitably, literature search engines like google scholar are employed in this effort.  While search engines are necessary, they have a biasing side effect.

search engines bias readers as Kris Straub at chainsawsuit.com so perfectly illustrates

An old method has taken on new life in research to combat these biases, systematic review. In a systematic review, all relevant literature is collected and curated to extract nuanced information surrounding a topic.  Sometimes these reviews requires practitioners to screen thousands of articles.  

A great example of this process is the EntoGEM project at sysrev.com/p/16612, where researchers are screening articles on changes in insect populations in order to track biodiversity trends. The project looks not only at insect declines, but also increases, lack of changes, and stochasticity in insect population numbers over time in order to inform policy and management recommendations. The co-coordinators of the project, Eliza Grames (@elizagrames) and Graham Montgomery (@sierrawormlion), were the first winners of our mini-grant to support open access review projects.

The first winner of sysrev's mini-grants was the entogem.github.io project. This project carefully reviews the existing evidence for changes in insect populations in order to track biodiversity trends.

I love the entogem project because it is a perfect example of taking a cool-headed approach towards a hot button topic.  Already entogem reviewers have completed thousands of document reviews.  

Unsolved problems cannot be resolved with a simple google search.  We need to bring back the careful research methods lauded in a time before the answer to every question was just a click away.

Here are some more open access projects carefully analyzing the data behind important questions:

  1. Hallmarks and Key Characteristics of Cancer
    One of the first sysrevs, this NIEHS project identifies cancer hallmarks, methods, key characteristics, and assays in pubmed abstracts.  Cancer hallmarks are one of those things with many online references, but to truly know what data exists a more careful review is required.  

    If you have a strong medical vocabulary you can join this project.  Just read the overview.  Dr. Alexandre Borrel @AlBorrel and Dr. Nicole Kleinstreuer (@NKleinstreuer) started this project.
  2. Optimal Human Nutrition
    Anbe642 (@EvoPhys) asks reviewers to identify the health effects of various kinds of foods. When it comes to confirmation bias, nutrition is a subject where we all have weaknesses.  People pick teams for diets (keto? paleo? vegeterian?) and find supporting literature.  More careful review of these topics is the only way to get yourself out of the echo chamber.  He has also made the review free to join, so anybody can join in identifying all kinds of nutrition mechanisms.
  3. Mangiferin Data Extraction
    Mangiferin is a fascinating compound with activity ranging from anti-tumor effects to weight loss.  Studying potential supplements can be a tricky subject. It is tempting to google your favorite new supplement and read the first positive article.  By carefully reviewing all of the studies behind a supplement's health effects, we can better understand the strength of evidence. Sysrev just started a data extraction study to identify in-vivo experiments involving mangiferin.  We extract species, disease, organ, administration method, and outcomes for each in vivo experiment.  All data is readily available for download.  
  4. Humanitarian Evidence in Conflict and War
    Perhaps the most contentious of human issues is war.  Global Evidence Synthesis Initiative (GESI), another sysrev mini-grant winner, runs 7 sysrevs extracting information about refugees, migrants, and health from grey literature and academic articles.    

If you find these projects interesting, subscribe and we'll be sure to alert you when new projects get moving on sysrev.