Saturday, January 19, 2008

Open Science in Developing Nations

Part 2 of the Science Blogging Conference

Understanding the impact of the reach of the internet, and how people in developing nations are accessing the information out there.  These countries which are developing around the also developing internet are going to be redefining themselves to incorporate these changes with them.  In some countries, the scientists are ranked by the rating of the publications which they produce.  In other countries there are policies in place which mimic the standards of open source projects (e.g. publish early, publish often; rather than waiting for long projects to fully come to fruition).

In these countries, what can be done to improve the access of open access material?  How can we improve the penetration of scientific information?  One of the options is to push people to create as much as possible - if people are not actively creating information on the web, there is going to be little emphasis placed on this.  While the penetrance of the information may not be high, if there is no culture that is being fostered in which this habit is valued, then the internet will not be a particular source of outreach.

What is the effect of the $100 laptop? One issue that is raised is that the major obstacle of this is getting people access to computing.  However this may be irrelevant to the idea of open science, because most places that are actually doing science will have some computational abilities.  While it may be part of the issue, getting the information out to the developing countries - such as subscriptions etc.

Apparently Science and Nature have deals with many developing countries to help increase the penetrance of science.

There definitely appears to be a split in the perspectives of what issues developing nations have with access are different.  Even solar panel technologies, are going to have issues with local climactic impacts - e.g. solar panels in the rain forest.  Outreach programs to improve infrastructure from the bottom up, seems to be a good idea.  Build the computers, then the infrastructure to support access, then the access itself.

There is obviously not enough exposure of what is going on in the developing countries.  We currently view this from the lense of our perspective.  We have very little knowledge of the information of what's going on in the developing nations.  We don't really know much about how the developing world is developing it's science unless we go looking for it.  Blogging can be some of this outreach, however the scientific publication institutions can also improve this as well.  PLoS just released a resource on tropical diseases (need link) which the majority of the research was pushed by researchers in the developing nations which are the most affected by these diseases.

Another issue is how can science be verified and how can people find meaningful information on the web?  One suggestion was to make sure that thinks are highly linked and well sourced.  This is the current standard of science, but should it also be applied to blogging?

Another issue is how much information can be released by blogging.  Blogging allows people to be pedestrian, which is not an insult.  It allows the information to reach people without the necessary training in the depth of the information.  It moves beyond the 'publish or perish' mantra. One person made this pitch: we should use plain language.  This type of writing should be really pushed forward.  Make your work accessible!

The open access movement is in the process of leading people to primary literature, but not much to the secondary literature.  Scientific American, etc are not yet accessible.  Science and Nature do have News and Views sections, of course, however these aren't accessible.  PLoS does have editorial articles that are openly available.  And those articles are necessary for better outreach, because it is what can be accessible for most people.  Currently blogs are the best we have for getting these ideas out.

There is also the issue of who the audience in the blog.  You must make sure you know and target your audience.  One important thing to remember when blogging is that many things are lost in the translation.

The discussion has shifted to how to create greater access out into the web.  Linking your blog to a site as a way of getting your information out there.  Postgenomic ( indexes >700 blogs, and pulls information from the blogs and integrates it.  This may be a way to better mine and link out blogs for wider consumption.

Another way to do this is search engine optimization, however, this is usually a time and monetarily expensive barrier for most people.  Another way is to utilize local mirrors, and to use this to mail CDs of journals physically to low access areas which could then be hosted on these local mirrors.

One commenter brought up a physics program set up by UNESCO which will allow people to send in e-mails, without a search engine, but allows people with low access.  It's centered around e-mail based queries.  this could be utlized to build a new network whereby people e-mail in keywords, which then quiries pubmed, and then returns the results in ASCII format.  These could then be used as sources for people to download the full article if desired.

Openwetware is another resource which possibly could be better utilized.  It was just mentioned, but it's a wiki based site that is used to help better share information across.  And global voices, is a site which takes international blogs and translates them to other languages.  This would also be interesting to utilize better.

Blogged with Flock

No comments: