Month: October 2011

2011 Fall Editorial

Journal of CyberTherapy & Rehabilitation

Fall 2011, Volume 4, Issue 3



“When you undervalue who you are, the world will under- value what you do and vice versa,” said financial guru Suze Orman. Is this true for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that contribute to the attainment of information and communication technologies (ICT) goals in Europe? Read on, and judge for yourself.

According to UEAPME, the European association repre- senting crafts and SMEs, 99.8% of Europe’s 23 million enterprises are SMEs. The most recent survey of SMEs, ending February 2011, showed that 21% more SMEs showed declining vs. increasing profits. That same survey pointed to causes such as the increased cost of oil and com- modities, resulting in a 69% increase in production inputs, and an improving European economy resulting in a 46% increase in labor costs. Among the most common economic challenges reported by SMEs are finding customers, obtaining financing, and competition. The European Commission (EC), recognizing that SMEs provide 67% of all jobs in Europe, is committed to collecting these data to en- sure that SMEs have access to adequate financing.

Between 2002 and 2008, the SME job engine was churn- ing, increasing by 1.9% annually vs. 0.8% for large com- panies. In 2008, the Small Business Act for Europe (COM[2008] 394 final) was launched, just before the eco- nomic slowdown brought this powerful job creation engine to a temporary halt.

So-called “micro” firms, employing an average of two people, are the mainstay of the European economy. The 2009 EC report found that “For micro enterprises, gross investment in tangible goods amounts to 24% of value added, compared to 19% for all firms … higher than could be expected on the basis of their profitability, underlining their importance for the EU-economy.”

The value of SMEs to the EU is further underscored by the relative dearth of companies with revenue greater than €100 million. A 2008 article on ICT SMEs reported the number of large companies at 2,006 in the EU (for a pop- ulation then numbering 310 million) vs. 3,176 large com- panies in the U.S. (for 291 million people). The EU ICT community has its own association of SMEs formed in 2007, PIN-SME (see It currently rep- resents 50,000 ICT SMEs that provide approximately 200,000 jobs.

Another organization for SMEs, founded in 1996, is SME UNION (see It is the business organization of the European People’s Party, representing a network of pro-business politicians and political organizations. “Its top priority is to reform the legal framework for SMEs all over Europe and to promote and support the interests of small and medium-sized enterprises which, due to their willingness to take risks and responsibility, are the engine of the European economy, thereby contributing to eradicating unemployment and promoting economic growth in Europe.”

Efforts to promote economic parity made by the EC and organizations such as those mentioned above are essential to the economic security of SMEs. This is evidenced by the fact that although SMEs win 60% of public procurement contracts, the value of such contracts represents only 33% of market share. This EC study reported that the job- creating micro enterprises garnered just a 6% market share. Thus, SMEs are underrepresented by between 14-21% (based on 2006-2008 data) relative to their importance to the EU economy. This is not insubstantial when you consider that public procurement represents 19% of EU GDP.

As UEAPME Secretary General Andrea Benassi said in a recent statement, “The EU is not suffering from a shortage of entrepreneurship in ICT; but it is suffering from a shortage of ICT SMEs that are empowered to grow and innovate at international competitive levels.” As an owner of an EU SME, my future may depend on my willingness to take an activist role to ensure that my company is not undervalued, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.



Brenda K. Wiederhold, Ph.D., MBA, BCIA

Editor-in-Chief, Journal of CyberTherapy & Rehabilitation

Virtual Reality Medical Institute

Citizen Scientists Generate Benefits for Researchers, Educators, Society, and Themselves

What, exactly, is a ‘‘citizen scientist’’? ‘‘The term ‘citizen scientists’ refers to volunteers who participate as    field    assistants    in    scientific    studies.    Citizen    scientists . are not paid for their assistance, nor are they necessarily even scientists.’’1 Two hundred years ago, everyone was a citizen scientist and made their living in another profession. Ben Franklin, who invented the lightning rod and bifocals, made his living as a printer, diplomat, and politician. Contrast that with today’s call from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service to ‘‘Be a Citizen Scientist’’ ( .pdf) and join its network of 230,000 trained severe-weather spotters.

In September 2011, you may have heard that an amazing event occurred: citizen scientists formulated a structure for a key enzyme related to the development of the AIDS virus by using FoldIt,2 an online game in which volunteers can shake, wiggle, or pull apart different pieces of a protein molecule ( It took these gamers a mere 2 years to crack a code that had eluded scientists. What you may not know is that this breakthrough was just the latest contribu- tion by citizen scientists, who are increasingly moving into the life sciences, and that FoldIt was created because of a project called Rosetta@home.3

Rosetta@home, like the more famous SETI@home that sorts through radio signals in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), harnessed volunteers’ unused computer power to research complex issues through so-called grid computing. When the volunteers noted to the researchers that they could do a better job of manipulating the molecule than the computer, the researchers developed the FoldIt program, and the rest, as they say, is history.

It is interesting to note that most of the gamers didn’t have sophisticated knowledge of biology, but instead had good spatial reasoning skills—something that is difficult to emulate in a computer program. We don’t know yet whether these successful gamers have increased their knowledge of and improved their attitude toward science, but an earlier study may provide some clues.

Environmental science was one of the first fields to so- licit volunteers in projects such as the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, which began in 1900. The Birdhouse Network (TBN) is a more complex citizen scientist project involving the creation of nesting boxes and reporting on the behaviors of cavity-nesting birds such as swallows; interaction with TBN staff is encouraged. In a standardized evaluation of this project, the researchers determined that participants’ knowledge of bird biology increased, but they were unable to detect a significant increase in attitude toward science or the environment, or increased knowledge of the scientific process. As a result, the authors suggested, ‘‘Citizen-science projects that hope to increase understanding of the scientific process should be framed in a way that makes participants particularly aware of the scientific process in which they are becoming involved.’’4

How can we encourage more individuals to become citizen scientists? As we wrote in our last editorial about engaging the public in scientific discourse, how we frame the issue is key. Also important are the software and other tools that make participation easy. Most citizen scientists, such as those now becoming involved in genomic research, derive satis- faction from knowing that researchers will use the data they contribute. Science grant recipients will increasingly find public outreach requirements as a condition of funding, and should welcome the opportunity to engage citizens in a way that encourages participation.

As National Academies of Science researchers put it, ‘‘Citizen science has a number of benefits for four separate communities. For scientific researchers, it allows projects that were previously impossible to be done quickly and easily. For volunteers, it can provide fun, a sense of community, and the ability to contribute to science. For STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) educators, it can offer the opportunity for in- creased learning, a window into the process of science, and a chance to promote the idea that ‘I can do science.’ For society at large, it can build a closer connection between scientists and the public, and can result in a public with increased knowledge about science and scientific habits of mind.’’5

Given that anyone with Internet access has the potential to serve as a citizen scientist, we think that cybertherapy projects and citizen scientists are a good fit. We hope that you, our CYBER reader, will consider the benefits of engaging citizen scientists to the fullest extent possible in your work as you test and validate new virtual environ- ments and related technologies.

1. Cohn JP. Citizen science: Can volunteers do real research? BioScience 2008; 58:192–7.
2. Gamers succeed where AIDS researchers could not. Inter- national Business News, Sep. 20, 2011. art/services/print.php?articleid = 216916 (accessed Sep. 25, 2011).
3. Bonetta L. New citizens for the life sciences. Cell 2009; 138:1043–5.

4. Brossard D, Lewenstein B, Bonney R. Scientific knowledge and attitude change: The impact of a citizen science pro- ject. International Journal of Science Education 2005; 27: 1099–21.
5. Riddick MJ, Bracey G, Carney K, et al. Citizen science: Status and research directions for the coming decade. AGB Stars and Related Phenomenastro2010: The Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey, Vol. 2010, p.46P. 2010/DetailFileDisplay.aspx?id = 454 (accessed Sep. 26, 2011).


Brenda K. Wiederhold