John Wilbanks' started our day with a presentation explaining that if government is a platform, science is a wiki. In its current state, it's a terribly inefficient one, however. He shared some statistics on references to traditional versus open-published papers, such as the number and variety of citations resulting. So why is science such a terribly inefficient wiki and what can we do to improve sharing, reuse, collaboration and ultimately progress?
|John Wilbanks Presenting|
Another important point was that there can be no change in outcome without change in stakeholders. Noting the frequency of lobbying activity by organizations opposed to open access, John explored other ways of getting legislators' attention. For example, he kickstarted a campaign on the White House's We the People petition site that reached the threshold of 25,000 signatures in about two weeks, a quick and clear indication that this issue needs attention from policy and lawmakers. We all look forward to the White House reply.
The next step in making science more efficient is open data. Using an example of climate data, John pointed to the variety of data collected independently, for different reasons, and how making it openly available is crucial for context and understanding, especially by lay people. For example, there's research on runoff, ocean temperature, land surfaces, clouds and precipitation, solar energy, and much more. At the same time, raw data alone is only a small step toward making use of it: raw metadata and standards processes, document submission standards and archives are necessary too. There are also the existential questions about data, which led to the final requirement for making science efficient: open consent.
Here, John spoke of the time and expense of organizing participation in clinical and other studies, and the narrow scope of that consent. Yet we're constantly producing a stream of data in every activity we do. Why the disconnect? Surely part of it is legal, not having clear legislation or guidance (or conservatively interpreting current law, especially where there's no explicit guidance and little case law). John used the example of The Eatery, an app that allowed users to vote on how healthy their meals are, and other users can vote also. The millions of ratings demonstrated not only that we overestimate the health value of our food intake, but that in only 5 months, with no grant and no academics involved, 7.68 million data points were collected and now that data set is in high demand from researchers.
After seeing this example, services like 23andme, interviews, and more case studies, it became clear to John that there is a critical mass of people who prefer sharing as a form of control. However, one of the unintended consequences of informed consent is that data remains limited to a specific purpose, rather than the portable consent John is working on that would allow one to simply donate data to science. In other words, donating data to be used in any study by anyone. The Consent to Research project teaches users the core ideas of informed consent, allows review of a consent agreement, and prompts participation by allowing users to upload data while selecting the permissions granted to researchers: right to research, redistribute, public the results, and right to commercialize products derived from research. Along the way, users are required to watch a video explaining the potential for harm from sharing. What if, for example, your shared data is used to connect you to a crime? The potential social, legal and economic issues are only limited to your imagination. Consider things like paternity suits, analysis by employers or insurance companies, etc.
With open content, permission via informed consent, and the participation of people (who want sharing as a means of control), science can become at least a modestly effective wiki.
|Wherein I note that,
"At CfA, |
we infiltrate the civil-bureaucratic stack."
|The Open Science Hub Team|
Following up on their work scraping and displaying information about the Open Access petition mentioned above, and a subsequent conversation on Twitter about furthering the work, one team started work on a specification for a whitehouse.gov We The People API. There's a Python scraper here, proof-of-concept map, and more detailed specs and next steps here. One goal of the project is an easier way to see the time, actual location (not just what people entered - there could be ambiguity, such as Ontario, CA being California or Canada) and other info about petition signers.
A number of side conversations I heard were about front end responsive design, Unglue.it (a site that collects donations for purchasing literary works or reaching agreement with publishers to release existing works under Creative Commons licenses), and the economic implications of open access. All in all, we had a great time, many new connections were made, and lots of follow up scheduled. Thanks to all who attended, and thanks to Mozilla, PLoS, and CfA for their support.