I spoke on a panel last week about citizen science and open data. The panel was one of the events put on by the University of Alberta library for Open Access week.
I went first so my presentation didn’t reflect directly on the work of others, although there was much to think about. I started by describing the key dilemma faced by many scientists who have turned to citizen science methods: how to deal with the huge amounts of data which are needed to do or are used in science today?
This post is a partial response to a post at the CLIR blog on information ecology and morality by Timothy Norris.
In 1999 Bonnie Nardi and Vicki O’Day published the book Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart with the MIT press. The book summarizes some of the common metaphors used to describe technology, such as tool, text, system, and ecology. At the same time it reviews some of the major technological critiques of the twentieth century by authors such as Jacques Ellul, Langdon Winner, and Neil Postman.
The big story was winning the best conference paper award for my presentation, co-authored with my adviser Suzie Allard, on libraries and citizen science. The basic argument of the paper was that libraries are poised to assist the general public with citizen science projects. A citizen science project is a scientific research project where professional scientists recruit non-scientist to assist with data gathering or analysis. E-bird is a popular and widespread example in the United States.
One of the research projects I began last spring is starting to show some initial results. I wanted to study the reception of some key technologies by information science professionals over the past 40 years. I was interested to see if there were any differences in professional attitudes toward different technologies. I decided on two cases to look at in depth: first was the development of OPACs, online public access catalogs, during the 1970s and 1980s; second was the World Wide Web, during the 1990s.
Today the White House held a press conference announcing a new “big data” initiative pledging $200 million dollars to new efforts. Agencies involved include the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy, and US Geological Survey.
A PDF of the press release and a fact sheet is available at the Office of Science and Technology Policy website.
Joi Ito posted about the cognitive limits of organizations at the MIT Media Lab blog.
Ito posts a thought provoking slide by Cesar Hidalgo. The slide shows the interaction between the total stock of information in the world and time/history. Human beings, as civilization has evolved, have grown the total stock of information in the world and over time have reached various cognitive limits. It’s not hard to reach the cognitive limit of the individual.
Steve Kelling from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the eBird project presented the second ASIST 2011 keynote on citizen science. Kelling began by describing the background of the ornithology lab and its long-term commitment to involving the public in science. The lab was founded in 1915 so the centennial is rapidly approaching. They have engaged over 200,000 citizen scientists in various projects, many of them in eBird for which Kelling serves as information science director.
ASIST 2011 kicked off with a keynote by Tom Wilson on the challenges of preservation in the digital age. What we know about the past has been preserved through a series of happenstance and contingencies. Aristotle mentions over 100 playwrights in the Rhetoric but only 4 of them have been preserved to the present day. We don’t know why these 4 survived but we suspect that they were highly valued by the people of Greece.
Jose-Marie Griffith spoke at a research forum today about Leadership in Context, specifically in connection with library and information science professions and institutions. She covered material on economics, education, and ethics for library leaders.
According to her research there is an increase in the use of libraries during economic recessions. Recent studies in Florida and elsewhere estimate the return-on-investment in libraries as 6 to 1, six dollars of gain for every dollar invested.
Time for another mashup of ideas. I recently read about the September project, a group of good-hearted librarians who have been hosting discussions during the month of September around the themes of democracy, patriotism, and citizenship.
So connecting this back to Harry Boyte, my ongoing interest in Open Space, and a nascent Citizen Media Camp, I start thinking that Minneapolis needs to have a September project event.
Consider this post a marker for the idea.