written on March 21, 2014 and saved for publication until tenure
I like to think that I have become more socially conscious since the onset of my adult life. I like to think that when I hear of injustice, I at the very least make the adjustments to my own life in accordance to those injustices. I limit my carbon-footprint-intensive travel to a minimum, I support unions, I no longer shop on Amazon, and so on.
It’s a learning process. I am sometimes taken aback by my own ignorance when something it first pointed out to me. Such as the day a fellow 350Corvallisite told me that half of our city’s electricity bill goes to water treatment. Half! I have always known that water use is an issue, but I had thought it more of an issue in drought-prone California. I hadn’t thought of the energy-requirements and so carbon-footprint of water use. So, I’ve started looking into gray water and rainwater collection and use.
What does this have to do with work? Well, I was sitting in yet-another-job-talk that included yet-another-use of Amazon’s mechanical turk to generate and collect data for research. The question popped into my head: “how much do these people get paid? what are the labor issues of this machine?” Given Amazon’s (abysmal) track record in labor practices, I didn’t have high hopes. Turns out they pay 50c to $5 an hour. And please don’t get me started on “its okay for someone in India to be making 50c an hour”.
I don’t know how much my colleagues are offering for mechanical turk labor — perhaps, and I hope, they offer at least minimum wage. If not already, I would hope that NSF would demand minimum labor standards for research they fund.
addendum September 1, 2014:
Ironically, it is Labor Day and I am working. A colleague just shared this “Guidelines for Academic Requestors [of Amazon Turk Labor]” with our faculty email list much to my happiness. It includes guidelines on fair payment and includes information pointing to an at-least-minimum-wage payment is required for ethical treatment of Turkers and arguments to be paying much higher than the US minimum wage standards.