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Researchers Complain About Changes in Amazon Tool Used for Surveys

This week Amazon changed the terms for a service that has become a standard tool in social-science research, and many scholars are complaining that it will mean higher costs to conduct surveys.

The service is called Mechanical Turk, and it is a marketplace that connects people on the Internet looking for paid piecework with anyone who has a small task and is willing to pay someone to do it. The concept is known as crowd-work, and many researchers have used it to pay strangers small amounts to take part in social-science surveys.

Amazon announced on Monday that it would take a larger commission on each gig, increasing its percentage to 20 percent from 10 percent next month. That means researchers will have to pay Amazon 20 percent of the roughly $7 or $8 per hour that respondents earn for completing a survey. Researchers have said the change will mean a significant extra charge to younger scholars who have relied on the service to quickly gather a large number of survey responses at a low cost.

Mechanical Turk is probably the most popular research pool in the social sciences right now, said Carey Morewedge, an associate professor of marketing at Boston University. While graduate students conducting research once had to spend a day or two surveying undergraduates, they can now gather at least double the number of responses in two hours using Mechanical Turk, he said.

“It’s really had a tremendous effect on the amount of research that can be done on the social sciences, particularly the researchers with more limited access to grants and research funding,” he said.

Paying the extra cost of Mechanical Turk could make it more difficult for researchers with smaller budgets to send graduate students abroad or travel to a conference, he added.

Some researchers took to Twitter to express their frustration with the added cost:

Researchers are also confused about why they are facing higher fees, as Amazon has not updated the platform in several years, Mr. Morewedge said.

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