Our Purpose

The Citizens and Technology (CAT) Lab at Cornell University is a public-interest research group led by Dr. J. Nathan Matias, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication.

Our Mission: Work with communities to study the effects of technology on society and test ideas for changing digital spaces to better serve the public interest.

Our Vision: A world where digital power is guided by evidence and accountable to the public.

How We Work

We do citizen science for the internet. We seek to enable anyone to engage critically with the tech tools and platforms they use, ask questions, and get answers. Working hand-in-hand with diverse communities and organizations around the world, we identify issues of shared concern (“effects”) related to digital discourse, digital rights and consumer protection.

Our research methods can discover if a proposed effect is really happening, uncover the causes behind a systemic issue, and test ideas for creating change.

How do we do this?

Test: Produce scientific evidence on causes and effects, informing how people relate to each other and the digital products that shape our lives.

Discover: Develop research goals with and for the public, growing scientific knowledge by respecting the unique cultures, needs, risks, and potential in every situation.

Empower: Support people worldwide to make discoveries by growing widespread capacity to conduct, interpret, and and collaborate on behavioral science at scale.

Innovate: In our quest for citizen behavioral science that is democratic and accountable to the public, we develop open technical, statistical, ethical, and legal systems that anyone can use.

We publish summaries and results of all CAT Lab experiments here on our website. We invite you to explore our research, read our latest news & posts, and sign up for email updates to learn more about what we do and how we do it.

The Team

Meet the core team of CAT Lab!

Dr. J. Nathan Matias
nathan.matias at cornell.edu

Nathan is an Assistant Professor in the Cornell University Department of Communication, where he leads CAT Lab. He works with social media companies, news organizations, and online communities to test ideas for a flourishing internet and evaluate the social impact of online platforms.

Nathan developed CAT Lab as part of his PhD at the MIT Media Lab and MIT Center for Civic Media. Nathan, who is Guatemalan-American, has a background in tech startups and nonprofits. His research regularly appears in the news, and his writing has appeared in The Atlantic, PBS, the Guardian, and many others. [Image credit: Allison Usavage/Cornell CALS.]

Read posts by Nathan.

Dr. Julia Kamin
Research Manager
julia.kamin at civilservant.io

Julia manages CAT Lab’s research projects and coordinates our relationships with communities.

Julia has a PhD in Political Science from the University of Michigan where she studied social media, polarization, and political behavior–interests that grew out of her work in citizen engagement at TheVoterGuide and CitizenJoe. Prior to that work, Julia did research for Eli Pariser and Todd Rogers on books including The Filter Bubble, advocated for students’ rights at Advocates for Children and founded Opening Act, an after-school theater program that serves NYC’s highest need public high schools. Julia also has an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School, is a late-comer to jazz and can be an irritating proselytizer for the virtues of NYC.

Read Julia’s posts by Julia.

Eric Pennington
Data Architect

Eric is hosted by the MIT Center for Civic Media as the Data Architect for CAT Lab. Prior to this he was in the Media Lab’s Social Machines group as a research engineer on the Electome. Eric will complete his MS in Computer Science at Georgia Tech with a focus in Interactive Artificial Intelligence. His interests include the intersection of AI and society, increasing widespread access to data for better collective decision-making, and wishing he were tall enough to be a pro basketball player.

Max Klein
Data Engineer

Max Klein (Data Engineer) is a Data Scientist with interests spanning AI, online collaboration, and social problems. As a Wikipedian he has created tools which assist gender-equality-focused editing. As a fellow for Data Science for Social Good he developed machine-learning for 3rd Grader reading practice. He has a Computer Science Master’s degree from University of Minnesota, a Bachelor’s in Mathematics from U.C. Berkeley, is a certified Yoga teacher, and has absolutely no qualifications or hesitations being a humourous essayist.

Read posts by Max.

Our Path

The Citizens and Technology Lab (formerly known as CivilServant) began as the MIT PhD project of founder J. Nathan Matias, who was studying the role that anyone can play in understanding digital power and creating change independently from tech firms.

Originally incubated by Global Voices, we are now transitioning into Cornell University’s Department of Communication. We are grateful for the support we’ve received from a range of entities, past and present. You can find a complete list of our funders here.