Mozilla lab wants scientists to step out of analog age

Jun 18, 2013 by Nancy Owano report

(Phys.org) —Talk about big ideas. Not satisfied to rest on laurels of having brought forth the open source browser Firefox, Mozilla—defined by some as a global project, by others as one of the key open-source movements, is thinking big, really big, about changing the world of scientists. This month Mozilla announced that it is launching the Mozilla Science Lab, with support from the Alfred Sloan Foundation. According to a blog post by Foundation executive director, Marc Surman, Mozilla is creating a Science Lab for researchers around the world.

The idea is to enable researchers to more easily (1) be in a virtual place where they share ideas, tools and best practices for using next-generation web solutions to solve problems in science, and (2) to make this an exploration as to how to make research faster, more agile and collaborative. But, here's the problem. Mozilla is ready to get started, but are scientists ready to get started? Surman wrote, "Scientists created the web—but the still hasn't transformed scientific practice to the same extent we've seen in other areas like media, education and business. For all of the incredible discoveries of the last century, science is still largely rooted in the 'analog' age."

This is 2013 and the style of scientific work is in a time warp, say critics who wish there was a different type of work environment. The researcher may conduct research and submit findings in the form of a paper to a peer-review journal; upon publication the world will see what was achieved. While developers easily share tips and observations in online community groups that push projects and solutions ahead, scientists elsewhere may feel the pressure of sticking to a publish-the-paper path and hang back from working in a global collaborative environment. The Lab's team is ready for the challenge. "In scientific research, we're dealing with special circumstances, trying to innovate upon hundreds of years of entrenched norms and practices, broken incentive structures and gaps in training that are dramatically slowing down the system, keeping us from making the steps forward needed to better society."

A basic step forward will be providing digital literacy for scientists. Sharing, re-using and producing research on the web involves computer skills they may not yet have. Software Carpentry will be a member of the lab team for this purpose. According to the announcement, "As part of the Mozilla Science Lab, Software Carpentry will explore what 'digital literacy' means for scientific researchers and how these digital skills can further aid their work." Kaitlin Thaney is the director of the Mozilla .

Software Carpentry, a volunteer organization supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation, teaches basic computing skills. They operate through two-day boot camps for scientists. Organizations have supported their efforts since they ran their first class at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1998. Learners are typically graduate students in science, engineering, and medicine who have written a few lines of code either on their own or for a class as undergrads, but are not familiar with practices in scientific computing such as version control or unit testing.) With or without the Mozilla effort, however, there is a sense that scientists are moving toward a collaborative model; at least some scientists believe that it is the obvious way of the future in an Internet-connected world. ResearchGate, the networking site for scientists, is given as an example. ResearchGate began in 2008, by scientists for scientists. Its founders, physicians and a computer scientist, have seen its membership grow considerably. ResearchGate is used by researchers who can present their work, share publications, connect with specialists in their field, ask questions, and get answers about research issues.

Explore further: Beyond GoPro: Skiers and snowboarders can measure everything with apps, hardware

More information: www.researchgate.net/
www.nytimes.com/2012/01/17/sci… ?pagewanted=all&_r=0
wiki.mozilla.org/ScienceLab

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xeb
1 / 5 (1) Jun 18, 2013
Down-top vs top-down. Stron links vs weak links. You cannot do without strong links, as the random graph is less efficient then e.g. star-network, if resources are limited (as resources for research).

What is needed is not just give easy way for weak links to self-organize, but to take wide group of the best experts with synthetic and interdisciplinary skills and fund their research on THE PROJECTED MAP OF SCIENCE (not a map that comes out of citations database etc. (this would be down-top)) - multi (at least 3) dimmensional map of key terms and statements that would make a sceleton for numerous, short-term, temporary connections (of concepts, methods, approaches etc.) that would make a dow-top, a bit random (i.e. distribution, popularity, also marketing, croud-funding etc) search for succesfull innovations.

This won't be easy because grand syntheses engage in epistemology, methodology of science or meta-methodology. And there is a lot of disagreement - especialy in social/human sci.
xeb
1 / 5 (1) Jun 18, 2013
So we need also top-down transdisciplinarity (which is lacking, and to a degree whole science, global society, do live in postmodern epistemologies) not just easy tools for "multi-disciplinarising".

Other exemplary fields (top / down relations): e-democracy (no way to have good decisions with only opinion distribution as basis); bioethics (e.g. of genetic engineering); meaning-language-AI-brain [cummulation of many carrier-level structures/events vs projecting arbitrary ontologies (or cybernetic rules) that do not apply to every "natural" case but do work (for restricted areas) and can be improved].

And finaly: yes, Universe with its levels of complex orders is buil down-top (no mysterious hand to "emerge" newness), but topological limits make for sth like "top-down" causality (self-eco-organization, eco-self-organization). ( www.universityofc...le/28687 ) .
xeb
1 / 5 (1) Jun 18, 2013
Let me just add one last glimpse of exemplary situation.
Imagine the field of "scientific study of religion". There are innovative approaches connecting "religious phenomena" to brain, cognitive-cybernetic mechanisms, societal evolution etc. Now add more on-line to institutional functioning of ma, phd, "senior proffessor" education/sharing/researh/discovering dimmensions/levels. Around the world, the tensions, frictions, etc between young, who are ready to change "classical" views on religion and established figures would increase and be more evident. So what, that young may (e.g.) design brain-religion experiments, if old ones would say "religion is a cultural phenomenon and culture cannot be studied objectively, we are left only with interpretations" or "religion has sth supra-natural, transcendental in essence". For older to be more elastic means to risk ... employment.
So we need (e.g.) to promote naturalism in human/social sci (just as evol vs creationinsm in education).
drhoo
5 / 5 (1) Jun 18, 2013
Horsepuckey.

Scientists must be careful and thorough and not release anything prematurely.
Low intensity chatter is more detrimental than good.

They also want credit for their discoveries.

Who would have thunk it.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Jun 18, 2013
Scientists must be careful and thorough and not release anything prematurely.

Exactly. You check. You double check. You triple check. Then you write a paper (and you still may have missed something). That's just the nature of science - it's always at the very edge. And on the very edge you are always in danger of falling prey to unforeseen effects.

Quick pre-publication doesn't serve any purpose. The scientists who work on closely related subjects around the world are aware of each other's work since a state-of-the-art chapter is a must in every publication.

And the ones who really work on closely related subjects are mostly in contact with each other in any case (yes: scientists do know how to use email - and they're also a pretty easy going/friendly bunch. Email is a much better format than 'social media' for this as you tend to take more time/be more thoughtful when putting one together...which is very important in science.)