[English] Hatewasabi has a new home: read me there 🙂
[Français] Hatewasabi a une nouvelle maison : lisez-moi là 🙂
[First published on Jadaliyya.]
[…] the [Telecommunications Regulatory] Commission directs you to do what is required to block the websites listed in the attached document and prevent your subscribers from accessing them before the end of today, June 2, 2013. Note that the websites that don’t have a URL in the list, you will be provided with later.
This is the request sent by the Jordanian Telecommunications Regulatory Commission to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) on 2 June 2013, and published by Jordanian citizen media platform 7iber. The request is in line with legislation enforced back in September 2012––the Press and Publications Law. The Press and Publications Department, a state entity once formally known as thee Censorship Department, is now in charge of applying this law.
Jordan counts nearly 500 online news outlets. According to the current version of the Press and Publications Law, any such website has to register with the Press and Publications Department in order to obtain a license. Registering is reported to cost 1,000 Jordanian dinars (1,400USD). The websites listed in the blocking request are deemed « unlicensed, » meaning having neither obtained a license nor applied to obtain one. Reportedly, 102 websites remain accessible for either having obtained a license or for having applied for such within the official deadlines.
The move caused a deluge of discussions on a wide range of media channels, when Press and Publications Department director denied a fee is required to get registered and after a cement factory website was identified as listed among the websites to be blocked for allegedly manufacturing paper. As no official has offered commentary on these discrepancies, the process through which websites are selected for blocking remains obscure.
[First published on Nature Middle East.]
A new UNESCO report looks at how ICT is being used in education across five Arab states.
In spite of a push to incorporate ICT (information and communication technology) in education across the Arab world, several countries still lag behind, according to a new report from UNESCO.
The report is the first to focus on how ICT is being used in the region and focuses on five countries in the Middle East: Egypt, Jordan, Oman, the Occupied Palestinian Territories (data from the West Bank only) and Qatar. It identifies four main indicators of how ICT rates in education: infrastructure, gender, teacher preparedness and policy.
The basic infrastructure indicator looks at student access to technology and access to the Internet. Of the five countries, Egypt is a clear outlier. At primary school level, an average of 120 pupils share one computer, and at the secondary level, the number reduces to 25 students. The average number in the other four countries is between seven and 19 at the primary school level (Qatar and Palestine, respectively). These numbers drop to five students at the secondary school level.
The disparity between Egypt and the others becomes even more striking when looking at access to computers connected to the internet. Every 441 pupils at the primary school level share one such computer, dropping to 94 at the secondary school level.
Fewer than a third of the computers at schools in Egypt and the Occupied Palestinian Territories are connected to the internet, computers for educational and administrative purposes are both counted. In contrast, about two-thirds of computers in schools in Jordan, Oman and Qatar are online.
« Computers are not necessary as a pre-requisite for good thinking; good teachers are. But young learners need to use computers to be competitive in the global marketplace, » says Marina Apaydin, professor of Strategic Management and Innovation at the American University of Beirut. « Not knowing ITC and language makes kids illiterate in the modern world and this is one of the reasons MENA lags behind say China and India in producing competitive and mobile workforce. »
When surveying teacher preparedness to use ICTs in classrooms, according to nationally-defined qualification standards, the report found that only « a minority of teachers are prepared to teach basic computer skills or computing » across the five states in both primary and secondary schools.
The report found that gender did not factor significantly in access to ICT in education. Interestingly, wherever such differences appear, they seem to favour access to and use of ICT by girls. These findings need, however, to be considered cautiously as the authors point out that the data speaks little about the methods of use of ICT by gender.
All five countries have formally developed policies to integrate ICT in education by establishing « regulatory institutions to ensure that ICT-assisted educational reform takes place. » These policies do not translate, however into practice, the report says. Egypt and the Occupied Palestinian Territories also lag behind the three other countries when it comes to permeation of ICT curricula across all grades of primary and secondary education.
« The problem in Egypt is that a very ambitious modernisation campaign was led to equip schools with computers and internet while less attention was given to building human capacities to use them, resulting in a lack of vision for sustainability of such initiatives, » says Karim Kasim, telecentres regional coordinator for the Egypt ICT Trust Fun ¬—, which was jointly established by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
You can download the full report from UNESCO’s website
This is the section in a chapter I co-wrote and edited with friends from the Open Science group of the Open Knowledge Foundation. The chapter is part of the insightful discussion that the Open Forum Academy (OFA) initiated earlier this year, and I am very glad to have been part of it. The chapter, entitled « Bottom-Up Creation of Open Scientific Knowledge », is part of OFA’s second book, « Thoughts on Open Innovation ». Enjoy the read!
The rebirth of the citizen scientist
In the recent decade, the term ‘citizen science’ has emerged to define public involvement in genuine research projects. Synonym labels such as ‘crowd-sourced science,’ or ‘networked science’ actually represent a new make-up for an old idea: back in 1982, science theoretician Feyerabend advocated the “democratization of science.” Going more decades backwards in time, Thomas Jefferson used to envision weather stations operated by volunteers as a means for people to be informed and educated thus engaging into self-governance, a dynamics that is currently happening for real.
This Jeffersonian idea illustrates one of the basic and most crucial issues with science as it is currently performed (i.e., through research within official institutions): its isolation. Contrastingly, citizen science operates – by design – free of the constraints inherent to such strongly formalized places. Citizen science thus not only relocates science, but it also fosters its growth in the mainstream of society. Non-professionals join professionals, thus co-creating knowledge that makes science an integral part of our daily lives and shared human culture.
Numerous examples can be quoted, each bringing its unique colour and shape to the picturesque landscape of citizen science: from birdwatchers illustrating how times of nesting shift as a consequence of climate change to disaster management, from mapping roadkill accidents to producing one’s fluorescent yoghurt at home. These projects illustrate a shift in public engagement in science: from citizens being solely data collectors to data analysts, visualisers and generators of new hypotheses. The hacker and DIY movements have widely contributed to the emergence of a true citizen science, i.e. one that fully explores human curiosity in a non-professional context.
Citizen science is in its infancy yet its popularity grows exponentially as the concept is modular enough to reach the humanities and social sciences (HSS), generally overlooked by both professionals from the so-called “hard” sciences, and citizens. HSS are studies of human nature at large. They encounter the same issues as the “hard” sciences: popularization and communication, policy questions, and a wide range of ethical concerns. Additionally and similarly, HSS have particular theoretical traditions, methodological orientations, and critical interests. The recent surge of citizen science, greatly assisted by information and communication technologies, thus allows reconsideration of the somewhat artificial categorizations of science domains and naturally involves trans- and interdisciplinarity in scientific practise.
These considerations indicate that one does not need a ten-person lab, multimillion-dollar grants and caffeine-intoxicated PhDs in order to perform brilliant science. Citizen systems of participation aimed at collective problem-solving bring, however, two crucial questions: Is citizen science capable of producing reliable data? What guarantees do we have that it is ethical science?
Engaging huge numbers of citizens in a research project means that massive input is generated. Indeed, volunteers already collect data for scientific projects: how reliable is this? Two decades ago, the USA introduced an amendment prohibiting volunteer-collected data to be used in the US National Biological Survey. In the case of a community-based bird species diversity survey, the estimated number of birds correlated with the changes in numbers of observers. Such examples contribute to a stigma associated with citizen science data, which is sometimes labelled ‘incompetent’ or ‘biased.’ In a recent piece, John Gollan argues the opposite: “a growing body of literature shows that data collected by citizens are comparable to those of professional scientists.” Although data-integrity issues can occur, Gollan highlights an important message: “it’s just a matter of honing in on those particular issues and addressing them if necessary. This can be through training to improve skill sets or calibrating data where possible.”
The second question that springs to mind when opening scientific practice to non-professionals is ethics. Many have voiced concerns about dubious ethical frameworks in various citizen science projects. The project that caused recent kerfuffle was uBiome, a project to sequence human genome entirely supported through crowdfunding. Indeed, research ethics are not something to play with: thus, every project dealing with human subjects requires the review and approval of an independent committee – generally referred to as Institutional Review Board (IRB) – prior to its start. The uBiome citizen science project was thoroughly criticized for seeking IRB review of their protocols only after the crowdfunding campaign was completed. A similarly strict review framework is de rigueur when a research project involves animal subjects. In a recent piece for Scientific American, professional scientist and citizen science advocate Caren Cooper called for community answers to ethical questions as the boundary between hobby practitioners and citizen scientists is too blurry to be defined, and so are the cases in which participants need to be invited to follow official ethics protocols. As also exemplified by numerous reactions from open and citizen science enthusiasts, IRB approval can be a hurdle for citizen scientists.
Cooper’s call-out to the community of both professional and citizen scientists does echo a widely shared concern: is there someone – and if so, who? – to provide oversight of DIYbio/citizen science practices? By design, both professional and citizen scientists need to urgently address this particular and foundational issue. None of us can continue standing passive when a threat is posed to citizen science. It fosters our common culture of curiosity and bridges gaps between people whose personal aims and leisure-time activities converge on a desire to advance research and improve human welfare and communities.
Citizen Cyberscience was at the honour at the University of Geneva on April 22-23, 2013. I wrote a brief sum-up on it for PLoS Blogs ‘Citizen Science’.
A short time ago, I attended a two-day Citizen Cyberscience workshop at the University of Geneva. As much as the USA and the UK are happy having a vibrant community of citizen scientists, such initiatives in many other European countries are still stuttering. A dedicated workshop in one such country was thus even more exciting. I was there not only because of my interest in the topic but also on behalf of my current position within the EU-funded Citizen Cyberlab’s Synthetic Biology section.
The goal of the workshop was both to get everyone updated on the latest developments of tools for actual citizen science doing and “to work in teams to design and implement a first prototype of a citizen cyberscience project”. The first day was dedicated to talks, and the second day – to hands-on activities. As I recently launched the ‘Open & Citizen Science’ workgroup at the Open Knowledge Foundation France, I am pretty much interested into concrete tools I can use to get people involved into actual projects. Thus, there were two talks of special interest for me: the presentations of Epicollect and Crowdcrafting.
I am finally done curating this awful thing… Five months, twelve hearings, nearly 100 defendants and countless ‘collateral’ victims detained over delirious charges. Albeit some of the defendants belonging to Al-Islah (UAE’s Ikhwan division), this is just a very badly disguised thought trial. The Storify, gathering nearly all that exists in English on the topic, covers the timespan between Jan 29, 2012 and May 20, 2013. It’ll be regularly updated:
View the story « #UAE94: Thought Trial in the UAE »
The Bulgarian chapter of the European Association of Journalists calls for swift measures against death threats received by investigative journalist Hristo Hristov and his family. Hristov has been investigating the history, development and ramifications of intelligence services under the former totalitarian regime and their implications in the current governing bodies.
The press release is available in Bulgarian.
La section bulgare de l’Association des Journalistes Européens appelle à des actions immédiates de la part des pouvoirs compétents en réaction aux menaces de mort adressées au journalisme d’investigation Hristo Hristov et sa famille. Mr Hristov a consacré ses recherches des dernières années à l’histoire, le développement et les évolutions des services secrets de l’ère sovietique et leurs implications dans la gouvernance du pays depuis la chute du Mur de Berlin jusqu’à aujourd’hui.
Save the date 🙂 I’ll be covering the OECD’s 2013 Global Forum on Development (April 4-5) along with fabulous Lova Rakotomalala and Julie Owono. We have been invited to do so on as Global Voices authors interested in spreading the word about challenges developing countries face:
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international economic organisation of 34 countries that supports democracy and world trade. The Global Forum on Development is focussed on poverty reduction and social cohesion and attracts a wide range of participants from governments and civil society to help discuss solutions.
As for now, you can follow the Twitter hashtag #oecdgfd (OECD Global Forum on Development). I also recommend you to read these thought-provoking and insightful pieces and get involved in the conversation!
Today March 12 is the World Day Against Cyber-Censorship. Initiated by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières, RSF) back in 2011, the Day aims « to rally everyone in support of a single Internet without restrictions and accessible to all. » RSF released a special report highlighting the « Enemies of the Internet. » The report, which presents the 2012 list of countries, has identified five State Enemies of the Internet: these are all ‘spy’ states as they conduct systematic online surveillance which results in human rights violations. They are Syria, China, Iran, Bahrain and Vietnam.
The report also emphasize the importance of advanced technology which enables authoritarian regimes to
spy on their citizens. RSF has thus compiled a list of five « Corporate Enemies of the Internet, » that is 5 privately held companies which it names ‘digital era mercenaries’ because they sell software used by authoritarian governments to commit violations of human rights and freedom of information. With no surprises, these are Gamma Group, Trovicor, Hacking Team, Amesys/Bull and Blue Coat.
I guess the Bahraini repressive regime is greedy for becoming even more famous: in celebration of its excellent rank in the top 5 of the ‘Enemies of the Internet,’ it has arrested 6 tweeps. The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights lists the names and a few details on each case. The Bahraini Ministry of Interior cheekily explained:
The General Director of Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security announced on Tuesday that a group of individuals were monitored for using social media for defamation of the King. Investigation identified six of them, in which they were referred to the public prosecution.
He said that freedom of expression in protected within the constitution and law, while urging for the best use of social media to avoid breaking the law.
I guess no comment is needed at this point…
After some thinking and web crawling, I decided to launch these two hashtags on Twitter: #aMomentaryLapseOfReason and #GeekyTreasures.
Why? Well, because I do curate stuff anyway. The thing is that I tweet about so many different things that all the geeky, funny, weird, creative things can easily go unnoticed. Hence these two hashtags.
It is about Wickr, an app only available for iOS thus far. I remember this app made me smile when it was announced back in June 2012: it sends messages and photos that will be erased. The funny thing is that the user chooses for how long the messages/photos will last.
Nico Sell, co-founder of Wickr and one of the organisers of the DefCon, says Wickr will bring « NSA top-secret level encryption to the masses. » It seems absolutely awesome.
As operating on entirely proprietary and locked OS was not enough, Wickr also uses proprietary cryptography algorithms and its source code is closed. I’m confused about the « geek utopia » Sell depicts as follows:
Wickr has a patent pending on technology which Sell said could give people ways to safeguard anything they send or put online, even digital bytes in Internet telephone calls or posts to leading social network Facebook.
Loads of discussions (Mashable, for the non-crypto specialists and Liberationtech for the geekier) have been taking place around how much one could trust this tool. As quite a few security concerns have been addressed (see the Liberationtech messages above), I was particularly alarmed by the following in the Mashable article:
So could Wickr be used by an activist in Syria who is worried about enemy spies and Assad’s regime? Sell has no doubts — she answers that question with an unflickering « yes. »
Just a quick notice: I’ve written a piece for TechDirt. on the outrageous agreement between the French National Library (Bibliothèque nationale de France) and ProQuest: Dirty Deeds: French National Library Privatizes Public Domain, Part 2. If ever you are wondering: Part 1 is here, by great Glyn Moody 🙂
This morning, February 9, the Cairo Administrative Court announced its decision to ban YouTube and « all other websites that showed the anti-Islam film » ‘The Innocence of Muslims’. The ban is for 30 days. The lawsuit was initially filed on 18 Sept 2012 by a lawyer, Mr. Mohamed Hamed Salem, in the middle of a MENA-wide turmoil the trailer provoked. The lawyer insisted on having the website removing all anti-Muslim videos as they « distort the image of the Prophet ».
*Ok, trolling away, DMCA itself is a bug.
The background: Retraction Watch is one of the must-follow resources on the web for anyone who is interested in scientific publishing. The blog, maintained and nurtured by Ivan Oransky (Reuters health editor) and Adam Marcus (science journalist and managing editor of Anesthesiology News), is the place for keeping abreast of retractions and corrections in scientific and medical journals. Recently, the blog editors woke up to find out that 10 of the posts have been taken down.
What happened? Apparently, some firm from India copied these 10 posts — relating to Anil Potti, a cancer researcher whose career is imploding as 19 of his papers were already retracted, — then claimed them and filed a DMCA takedown notice. Consequently, the posts were pulled off by WordPress from Retraction Watch… and haven’t been restored thus far.
This is my #LulzOfDaDay 🙂 Background: the Obama administration provides a web platform — We the People, — for citizens to send a petition to the President, and « if a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response. » Among the most popular petitions, you can find one calling for free access to scientific publications arising from taxpayer-funded research or the one asking for the removal of District Attorney Ortiz for overreach in Aaron Swartz case.
And here comes one of the most important petitions to Obama ever: « Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016. » Launched on Nov 14, 2012 it has gathered nearly 35,000 signatures thus far. The rationale:
By focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense.
This makes you laugh? Come on, don’t go medieval on this concerned citizen. The Obama administration took his demand into consideration as it « shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense. » Unfortunately, a Death Star isn’t on the horizon:
You certainly remember the allegedly revolutionary discovery of a bacterium using arsenic instead of phosphate to build its nucleic acids. Arsenic is a poison, and phosphate is mandatory for life. Thus, this alien, « the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic » as presented during the NASA HQs press conference, was supposed to be an alien constituting a paradigm shift, etc. — you remember the hype. The alien that wasn’t one as I already summed up critics shortly after the paper was published (ici en français). The story received an incredible media coverage as well as a huge number of comments from other fellow scientists. A few months after the paper was published in Science, follow-up studies revealed the bacterium does require phosphate — even though in small amounts — to be able to grow and sustain life.
Read the rest of this entry »
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UPDATE: The Macedonian Metamorphosis Foundation For Internet and Society has translated the Brussels Declaration into Macedonian and is urging people to sign it.
The EU directive on data protection is to be amended (process already started), and massive corporate lobbying in Brussels against the data protection reform is happening. A few organisations, namely European Digital Rights (EDRi), Bits of Freedom and Privacy International, drafted a statement: the Brussels Declaration. Such an initiative is very needed as the first vote of the Consumer Committee of the European Parliament showcased how resistant is to US lobbies: not at all. I strongly encourage you to sign it (on your personal behalf and/or as an organization).
In an Op-Ed in Libération (in French), Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for Internet-related policies, can be found giving in to telecom operator pressure and giving up on Net Neutrality. Ms. Kroes supports the creation of a fragmented Internet, banning innovation and opening the door to unacceptable censorship.
One day, my overcrowded inbox delivered a particular message: an invitation to enroll in a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) on information graphics and data visualization. This made me pause a bit, for a few reasons. First one is curiosity, of course: I’m obsessively curious, my memory is like a sponge, so anytime I bump into something new, my neurons start jiggling. This happened this time as well: I had never taken a MOOC before, and anyway #dataviz is something I’m quite interested in.
Second is this, precisely: I’m a hardcore scientist, and infographics are generally dismissed as « fancy, glossy and stupid » by a majority of my peers who hail the idea of presenting raw, dry facts which supposedly speak for themselves. Indeed, many infographics I have seen when browsing the web are not far from this pejorative definition as they are just a nicely put brag of a gifted designer but bring no insight whatsoever in the information they are supposed to present you.
Third is that I somehow got into data storytelling, or making big boring numbers relevant for the layman. I know many people — including myself! — who are not keen at all digging into the World Bank Database and reading about GDP or GNI or whatever the eggheads out there have decided to call it. This repulsion is, however, much easier to overcome when you are scientist for the mere reason that a major part of your daylight job is just this: crunching raw boring stuff to make sense of it.
How was I supposed to reconcile my somewhat innate obsession of analysis, of uncovering mechanisms and ‘reverse engineering’ even art pieces — which supposes a great sense of detail and possibly a quite rigid mindset, unwilling to give up on details — with depicting and abstracting this incredibly broad range of information into an infographic? I gave it a try or two on my own. I was not happy, either because I feared it was too heavy on facts (the mechanistic freak was too present) or because in an attempt to make it understandable, it was sloppy (the perfectionist came forward).
Then the course kicked off. And my talespinner-scientist schizophrenia got a breathing space 🙂 This sums it pretty well: « The life of a visual communicator should be one of systematic and exciting intellectual chaos. » This just sounded right to me and for me. The quote is courtesy of Alberto Cairo, our instructor, who does an amazing job introducing things in a progressive and logical fashion. I recommend you follow him on Twitter and/or read his blog as his prolific remarks are really worht the read (and funny).