[21th to 28th of August 2013] New York : deep dive into Open Science communities

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3 hours drive from Boston and here i am, in New York. Let’s go for 7 busy days of appointments and meetings scheduled all over that big cosmopolitan city. The Big Apple has showed me another aspect of Open Science. Here, Open Science seems to be standing at the junction of different citizen, artistic and technological movements. Whether or not they are linked to the notion of “citizen science” or “participative science”, the important part is that they facilitate interactions and opening of science to other aspects of society.

Mozilla Science Lab : When Open Science Communities and Open Web encounter…    

First appointment of the week. I have the great opportunity to meet one of the most lovely and busy woman in the whole field of Open Science : Kaitlin Thaney. This young woman has been working, among other things, for Science Project from Creative Commons. And she is now at the head of Mozilla Science Lab. This project allows Kaitlin and her team to make Open Science and Open Web, whose Mozilla Foundation is a major actor, encounter and interact.

Mozilla Science Lab incarnates values from the OpenScience community and, in essence, OpenWeb values too : openness, open source ethics, and importance of cooperation. By engaging in projects on open technologies, the Mozilla Science Lab wishes to help coordinate and federate tools and initiatives developed by Open Science community. Kaitlin, in one of her article, from which i’ve borrowed some parts of this text, explains clearly the validity of this mission. The lack of coordination and communication with other interesting initiatives often brings to the concomitant creation of similar and sometimes redundant projects. It is then necessary to favor new collaborations and a wider interoperability. For instance, this can allow the adaptation of already existing tools used in the field of science to other different fields without having to start back from scratch.

Sharing the keys to understand such tools represents a major goal at Mozilla Science Lab. Moreover, science becomes more and more oriented towards computation, research depends more and more on the analysis of massive amounts of data, while scientists are expected to have all the skills and tools to understand and use the kind of data that they produce and analyze. Preparing science and scientists to this demanding environment requires a continuous training to learn the use of appropriate tools and tecchnologies. Kaitlin Thaney, through this project, helps research in general to adapt to technological challenges of the present-day era. And, to a larger extent, she places Open Science as a cornerstone of this new way of practicing research.

” It was clear that there is a pressing need for coordination, interoperability, and better communication in this space, whether you’re building digital infrastructure for high performance computing, building open source tools for visualisation, or looking for new (open) means of doing your research in the lab.”

Kaitlin Thaney : Our plan for the Science Lab : version 1.0 

Interaction between Sciences and Society : some inspiring projects

Following this first and quite fascinating meeting, Mozilla has crossed my way again several times in New York. Despite the fact that Mozilla’s “headquarters” are based in San Francisco, its new yoker community seems very active. That’s how i found the  OpenArt project sponsored by Mozilla during my visit at the EyeBeam technological and artistic center. This space offers residency and fundings to several artists that offer a mixture of art and technology in their work. Eyebeam describes itself as a sort of “creativity incubator”, as an “encounter accelerator” but also as a place of experimentation and research, labeled as “Open”. The Open Art project, launched by Eyebeam and Mozilla, stands at the intersection between art and OpenWeb. Two fields that seem to sparkle when they interact !

 

eyebeam

Public Lab : when DIY helps tackling environmental issues

People sharing and gathering around a common interest or project has occured to me as one of the major particularity of New York City. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which started here almost 2 years ago, may be for something in it. In this context, i encountered one of the co-founder of Public Lab : Liz Barry. With the help of 6 other co-founders, Liz decided after the New Orleans oil spill of may 2010 to federate a community around several environment topics. Indeed, Public Lab specializes in building prototypes of DIY tools and kits allowing citizens to collect interesting and relevant data about their environment.

This hub also allows to share and analyze data in a collaborative way. The way Public Lab is organized seems to have a good hang of it : they have a mailing list accessible for questions, a wikinode to start building projects, a wiki page to describe in details each and every prototypes… Everything is open hardware and open source. The goal in this project for Liz Barry is to make means and tools available to every citizen wiling to push their expertise and sharp knowledge of their environment forward. Then, what makes the strength of such a movement is the pooling of respective skills and the commitment of everyone for a common interest.

Project Noah : regain appeal and curiosity for sciences

Other encounters during this week have shown me the design of communities linked with science, whether it is for research or for communication purpose. It is, for example, the case of Project Noah. This hub allows to all curious ones to share pictures of animals or plants, taken from their place. The network is international and the website presents an incredible diversity of the fauna and flora of our planet.

Amateur zoologists as well as more confirmed ones have fun on the website, trying to define and classify exactly each species on pictures. Yasser Ansari has created this project a couple of years ago. According to him, we were all born with a researcher soul ; curiosity and thirst for learning being innate features in many children. His goal with Project Noah is to rehabilitate a taste of science into society and create a strong commitment of citizen to sciences. You’re welcome to go and listen to his interview that is definitely refreshing !

Genspace : Biohacking in New York

To discover other projects linking science and society, here is an interview of Oliver Medvedik from GenSpace, one of the first biohacker space (december 2010).

And to learn more about what is going on in France in the biohacking community, here is the talk of Thomas Landrain, co-founder of La Paillasse.

Wikipedia : a major lever for OpenScience

Take note of Lane Rasberry about Wikipédia. He considers this well-known framework as a wonderful mean of communication for health and medical topics.

On this matter, a wikiprint, that is a special one-day long event to improve and grow Wikipedia’s content, will occur shortly. This project has been proposed in the context of the OKcon (Open Knowledge Conference) on Thursday september 19th.

Citizen Science : Wealth and diversity of initiatives

What is the proper expression to define these initiatives ? “Science for citizen” ? “Collaborative Science” ? Or what about a fancy “Citizen Science” ? It is difficult to categorize this kind of projects. Shapes and formats vary. As well as the degree of involvement and interaction with the realm of research. Open and innovative spaces are also quite difficult to label for the same reasons : “hackerspaces”, “makerspaces”, … I already mentionned this issue in the previous post called Open Science in San Francisco week.

This characteristics may be explained by the essence of the projects themselves. Fondamentally, they are based on the commitment of different people and provides an individual and specific identity to every project. The common ground in this myriad of initiatives is the notion of mission and the affirmation of common values. Then, collaborative work and interactions between actors, from different backgrounds and skills, give birth to these projects and shape their respective outcome.

Thanks to these initiatives, the boundaries between science and society become then more porous. Although, it is not to say that every citizen is a researcher, or has to be one ! The goal is to create dialogue and understanding. In this context, researchers need to accept the expertise of non-scientists on certain topics. Then it is ours to have enough curiosity to take part in such initiatives (there is something to suit all tastes !) and to lift the veil that separates research from the rest of society.

 

Thanks to François Asperti-Boursin for the translation from french into English and Guillaume Dumas and Matthieu Lechanjour for proofreading.

 

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