[9th to 20th of August] Open Science in Montréal and Boston : A world of bubbles

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After California and Oregon, Montreal and Boston were my first steps on the East coast. I didn’t stay long in Montreal but it was worth it and I left enriched with many interesting comments about the Open Science Movement. Once settled in Boston, I mostly explored Cambridge, a neighboring city hosting Harvard university and the MIT. I went there twice and got the impression that people live in very different bubbles. Some of them, though highly innovative were quite far from Open Science perspectives. Others give rise to refreshing initiatives both regarding form and content.

Montréal : Getting out of comfort zone 

HackYourPhD in the US made a short detour through Québec. 4 days in Montréal, 2 presentations and many questions.

Open Access with Jean-Claude Guédon

Freshly out of the plane, I was spending my first afternoon discussing about Open Access with Jean-Claude Guédon, an historian of Sciences at the University of Montréal. He believes evaluation and communication of science should be a continuous flow and not restrict itself to scientific publishing.  During my interview he insisted a lot on the hope that open access platforms brings to developping countries, citing ScieELO (Brazil) and Redalyc (Mexico) as examples.

HEC Montréal :

My stay in Montreal was short but rich. For the first time since the launch of HYPhD, Guillaume Dumas and I had the opportunity to attend meetings and presentations together. Two different but complementary profiles and perspectives to answer questions of people rather skeptical about the Open Science Movement.

At HEC Montréal, we faced students and researchers in business and/or economy oriented. This audience was very different from the usual one consisting mostly in researchers aware of today’s issues in Science and/or advocates of the principles of Open Science. Here, this was a discovery and each term had to be clearly defined. Some researchers did not understand what the notion of Open Science was meaning. Interesting questions were raised, among which about the definition and nature of Science, Research and the Open Science Movement and its sustainability. “Are the commons and Open Science movements just another trend that will soon vanish?”

This confrontation reminded us that there is a great need to study Open Science and other movement such as the Collaborative Economy in order to clarify them and prove their value. They should be studied, compared. One should dive in the history of science to understand the mechanisms of collaboration and how it evolved through centuries. One other approach would be to try to model the dynamics of such organizations. This could help to give feedbacks to these initiatives and give us some clue on their sutainability.

This adventure in Montreal thus led us to confront other opinions which is always something positive as long as discussions remain fruitful.

MIT and Harvard : more bubbles

A 10 hours bus drive crossing the border led me to Boston. The concentration of Colleges and Universities here is impressive. Among those, the MIT and Harvard can be found in the city of Cambridge.

MIT and Medialab : Closed innovation

I discovered a pretty bubble at the MIT and Medialab.

I spent 2 afternoons at the Medialab. XiaoXiao, a PhD student of the Tangible Media Group, was a great guide throught this Alibaba cavern where one can find 3D Printers, robots, legos and other U(F)Os. This multimedia storify summarizes the visit.

Medialab celyagd

Medialab : changing places

The places and the projects I discovered were highly inspiring but I was surprised by some discussions I had with a few researchers. My personal feeling is that Open Science is not a core matter here. The goal is to innovate but not to be innovative in the research process. Finding funding and sponsors is a main goal here. Researchers would happily share their data if it wasn’t that time consuming or if the risk to loose their funding wasn’t that high…

In another MIT lab, I discovered the Little Devices team whose core is DIY. They are designing a set of kits to build cheap technological hardware in the field of health: for example, the solar clave can be used to disinfect surgical tools, a DIY pregnancy test, a spray working with an air-pump…


Quantified self ECG

 Those kits are distributed in developing countries. I asked the Open Hardware question:

Why don’t you share your design so to allow people to build the kits themselves?


In this lab, this is not an option. This would reduce their competitivity and reduce the funding options.

Those MIT meetings gave me the impression that those labs were another bubble where strong innovation was paired with a highly competitive traditional research system.

A few underground stations away, Harvard university was a very different story.

Harvard : the Dataverse Network Project and the Open Data licences question

At the Institute for Quantitative Science, a team is working on a 100% Open Science project : The DataverseNetwork Project. It consists in building a platform allowing any researcher to archive, share and cite his data. It has many functionalities cleverly linking it to other aspects of Open Science ( open access journal with OJS, citation, altmetrics..)

The head of the project, Mercè Crosas, has been working on Open Data Licencing for over ten years. This was also a main topic of our discussion.

During my trip, I realised that Data Licencing was a big puzzle for many. Most institutions still do not know which licences to use. People have diverging opinions on the issue, mostly when it is human related data. The Privacy tools project to which Merce also contributes will probably help to solve the problem.

Boston and its surroundings are a great place to ask such questions regarding data licencing and sharing and to experiment with new solutions

The Boston Ecosystem: A life Science and Medically oriented bubble

During my stay around Boston, I met many people involved  in projects related to health and medicine. Different approaches have been taken to deal with sharing human data.

In 2005, the Personal Genome Project (PGP) was launched by a team of the Harvard school of Medicine. The PGP find volunteers, the genome of which they sequence and publicly share. According to Jason Bobe, the 3″O”s Open Source, Open Science, Open Consent form the basis of the project. Their data become part of the public domain and are not anonymised. This choice is summarized here:

« Privacy, confidentiality and anonymity are impossible to guarantee in a context like the PGP where public sharing of genetic data is an explicit goal. Therefore, the PGP collaborates with participants willing to waive expectations of privacy. »

Open Research exchange is another project in the medical field. Pushed forward by the startup « Patients like me », it is a real collaboration between patients and researchers. Surveys are proposed to patients. Patients answer them and provide feedback leading researchers to come up with an updated version etc.. Those questionnaires, published under creative commons licences can then be used at larger scale, which is one of the crucial idea behind the project. Listen to Shimon Rura discussing about the project:


The H@cking Medecine project goes even further. It organizes hackathons to provide new solutions again in the medical world. They get medical doctors, data scientists, designers, students and entrepreneurs to work together. Boston hospitals collaborate with them by providing them with databases, in a secured way.


These hospitals seem to play a crucial role in the development of Open Science projects. For example,  Domeo are Cell Stem commons  -other projects that I discovered here – are funded by the Massachussets General Hospital.


During this week in Boston, I discovered a very rich ecosystem where hospitals, biological institutes, universities and start-up work together. Its potential appears to be huge. Most projects are pushed forward by students or young researchers or even entrepreneurs. The blossoming initiatives are and will even more in the future blur the boundaries between academia and the private sector. What lacks however is a link between those isolated projects that do not really talk to one another. Federating such initiatives around common values is of great importance for Open Science.

Next Stop: New York City, last but one stop in this large us loop…

Thanks to Matthieu Lechanjour for proof reading and Vincent Adam for translation into english.

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