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University Of Massachusetts Amherst Researcher Examines The Effectiveness Of The Human Brain Project Forum In New Paper

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Lucy Xiaolu Wang, assistant professor in the Department of Resource Economics, recently published a research paper in the journal PLOS ONE in which she and her co-author explored the effectiveness of the Human Brain Project (HBP) Forum, an online collaborative platform that allows neuroscience researchers to ask – and respond to – questions about the latest breakthroughs and obstacles in the field.

“The HBP Forum was launched in July 2015 as an integral connecting part of the HBP platform infrastructure,” write Wang and co-author Ann-Christin Kreyer, doctoral student at the Munich Graduate School of Economics and Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition. “The forum serves as a public discussion website about HBP-related topics, including questions on HBP-related activities in general, neuroscience progress, and programming challenges.”

The authors compare the HBP Forum to the Stack Overflow computer programming forum, in which topics raised and discussed are public and can be read without registering an account, but only users with a forum account can reply to or comment on topics. “The HBP Forum is designed to facilitate informal collaboration and knowledge-sharing between researchers within and beyond the HBP community,” they explain.

Wang and Kreyer constructed a novel and comprehensive dataset to capture the usage of the HBP Forum, including the range of topics being discussed, plus whether, how quickly and by whom research problems are solved. They found that the HBP Forum is actively used and remains active during COVID-19, that on average each forum post is discussed at a similar interaction level as those on other platforms like Stack Overflow and that the forum’s usage recovered fairly quickly after an initial drop of activity during COVID’s first wave.

They also found that most questions posted on the HBP Forum are solved within 16 days, and that questions are solved faster when forum administrators participate and when code snippets are included. They observed that the forum “appears to be an inclusive online community, where the usage and discussions do not significantly differ across HBP affiliation,” and found no evidence that the gender or seniority level of users alter the discussion intensity or problem-solving probability.

“Our results provide encouraging evidence that the online community built through the HBP has generated active participation among users from different institutions and with different educational levels who may not have otherwise connected,” they conclude. “The institutional support provided by forum administrators appears helpful in supporting the collaborative progress of the online neuroscience community, which may be especially important at the current time, when physical distance to peers is increased. Our analyses offer a first glimpse into the facets of a particular online collaboration infrastructure within a large, long-term life science project.”