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Thoughts on Open Innovation: The Rebirth of the Citizen Scientist

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.

 
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Publié par le 25 mai 2013 dans Research, Science

 

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University of Geneva hosts Citizen Cyberscience on PLoS Blogs ‘CitizenSci’

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.

[read more on PLoS Blogs]
[View the story « #CitizenCyberscience workshop in Geneva » on Storify]

 
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Publié par le 23 mai 2013 dans Research, Science

 

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#aMomentaryLapseOfReason + #GeekyTreasures on Twitter

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.

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Publié par le 11 mars 2013 dans Science

 

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Retraction Watch suffers DMCA bugs*

*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.

 
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Publié par le 6 février 2013 dans Miscellaneous, Research, Science

 

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#ArsenicLife reviews leaked

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.
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Publié par le 2 février 2013 dans Research, Science

 

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Science blogging in the Arab world (or the lack thereof)

This was first posted at Nature Middle East blog ‘House of Wisdom’.

When I started browsing the web for science blogs from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, I didn’t think it would be such an adventure. And for a quest, it was one.

I thus started entering keywords in the search engine. The outcome was disappointing: one or two blogs in English popped up. I thought it is because I was only searching in English, but French and Arabic searches did not harbour significantly more results. When I asked friends to point me out my wrongdoing, they just laughed and the comment invariably was: “dear, spare your efforts, there is no such thing like science blogging in the region.”

The blogging culture in the Arab world thus seems to mainly touch opinionated people with a say in politics and economy. There is nothing wrong with this. I’ll spare you a lecture on the importance of social media for changing the society we live in, this has been thoroughly discussed elsewhere. Loads of bits and ink have also been spilled to demonstrate the importance of science blogging. Given the paucity of science blogs in the Arab World, I guess a reminder is more than useful.

Why writing about science? Reason #1: scientists get to speak directly to the public. Reason #2: lay scientists or enthusiasts engage and keep up to date with developments in various scientific fields. Reason #3: open discussions on research topics are promoted among peers.

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Publié par le 16 janvier 2013 dans Research, Science

 

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How do we make DIYBio sustainable?

At December 13th’s SoNYC discussion, hosted by Nature Publishing Group (NPG), a panel will discuss the growth of DIY science, describing some of the opportunities it presents and looking towards the future. The conversation will cover the challenges faced by DIY science enthusiasts, such as safety and accurate data collection, as well as the ways to deal with these concerns within an online world of support. In the build up to this event, the folks at NPG are publishing a mini-series of guest posts from DIY science tinkerers, amateur astronomers, enablers, as well as educators interested in this field. Follow the online chatter using the #DIYSci hashtag and feel free to share your own experiences.

This post is cross-posted on the SpotOn blog and published on SciLogs.com’s ‘Beyond the Lab’.

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Publié par le 13 décembre 2012 dans Science

 

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Life performs computation much more than you’ve ever thought

This post was first published on SciLogs.com ‘Beyond the Lab’

“The level of intelligence has been tremendously increased, because people are thinking and communicating in terms of screens, and not in lettered books. Much of the real action is taking place in what is called cyberspace. People have learned how to boot up, activate, and transmit their brains.

Essentially, there’s a universe inside your brain. The number of connections possible inside your brain is limitless. And as people have learned to have more managerial and direct creative access to their brains, they have also developed matrices or networks of people that communicate electronically. There are direct brain/computer link-ups. You can just jack yourself in and pilot your brain around in cyberspace-electronic space.” ― Timothy Leary, Chaos & Cyber Culture

This quote brings up thoroughly discussed concepts of “wired human interactions” and “globalized self,” all describing our relationship to the internet. The quote also highlights another perspective: the ultimate connection as showcased in cyberpunk culture through the “console cowboy” Case in the Neuromancer or the “game pods”, these outlets plugged through bio-ports in Cronenberg’s movie, Existenz. But if this sounded as daring science fiction 10 years ago, achieving this ‘ultimate connection’ now looks feasible in the near future. Research unveiling the hidden potential of DNA in terms of molecular computation has been ongoing for years, and its outcomes are more promising and mind-blowing than one might have imagined. I kindly invite you to join me in a dive into the exciting waters of DNA-based computers.
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Publié par le 23 novembre 2012 dans Research, Science

 

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No to Cuts: Secure EU Budget for Science | Non à l’austérité budgétaire dans la recherche

[Français ci-dessous]

Since yesterday (22 November), the European Union holds a very important meeting: EU heads of states decide upon member states budgets. Naturally, EU budget for research is discussed during this meeting, and its amount for the next seven years is determined (re HORIZON 2020, the follow-up of FP7). Researchers have mobilized to have their voices heard as the European Commission proposes the minimal amount of 80 billion euros for HORIZON 2020 budget, opposing the 100 billion euros suggested by the European Parliament. As the initiative No Cuts on Research highlights it, « for the European Research Council (ERC) that means annual increases of about 6% which is just enough to allow the ERC to consolidate its funding activity and its mission to support European leadership in world class research. It will not be sufficient, though, to launch any new activities. » Fears persist, however, that these 80 billion euros melt down to much less.

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Publié par le 23 novembre 2012 dans Politique, Research, Science

 

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Women in Science: Still Thin on the Ground But Not For Too Long

I have started curating stories for SciLogs.com’s The Aggregator, In brief, the idea is to have resources collected when an interesting story happens. I did this one for Ada Lovelace Day 2012, but as it relates to Women in Science and Research in general, we can have Ada Lovelace Day everyday 🙂

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Publié par le 21 novembre 2012 dans Research, Science, Women

 

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Bacon Fans United: The Pig Genome Sequenced

This was initially published on Australian Science.

Breeding healthier and meatier piggies has been one of the many scientific challenges of the past decades; creating more reliable models to study human diseases is another. The swine disease model is indeed much better to use when studying human disorders than the (thus far) widely used murine models. Although pigs reproduce slower than mice and are more expensive to take care of, they are more similar to humans when it comes to anatomy and physiology. These common grounds have allowed the development of accurate swine models for diabetes, cystic fibrosis or retinitis pigmentosa (a cause of blindness). In its issue of 15 November, Nature published the fully sequenced and annotated pig genome. This is a major achievement, and will allow considerable progress to be made on both the yummy and the healthy fronts.

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Publié par le 19 novembre 2012 dans Research, Science

 

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The Genetic Fatality of What You Are

This morning while checking my Twitter feed, I stumbled upon a tweet on the « internet addiction gene ». My reaction was: « Have pity. Please ». Thankfully, some people have had spare time to write and dismiss such a scientific breakthrough. It is perhaps a question of timing — all the very recent hysteria about how ENCODE unveiled the indispensability of « junk DNA » just got a bit on my nerves. I’ve written about this elsewhere, so would prefer to skip it here and focus on the ultimate honour for people like me (i.e., geneticists): identifying « the gene of [insert some word here] ».

Actually, I’m pretty committed to do all my best and discover no « gene of ». Before coming to the concrete reasons why, let me list the top ranking « gene of » below.

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Publié par le 11 septembre 2012 dans Research, Science

 

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#JobOffer: « Post-Doctoral Fellowships – Domain Specific Language for Synthetic Biology »

Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with the lab or the researchers there. Just that I know how tough is to find an exciting position and how closed can communication channels be in science. Hence, I decided to publish offers I spot, it may always help.

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Publié par le 1 juin 2012 dans Research, Science

 

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Women in Science: Why So Few?

[This piece was first published on FutureChallenges.org.]

When a  few years ago I first got interested in this topic, I obsessively read all I could about it. The oldest paper I found at that time was from 1965 and bore the title: “Women in Science: Why So Few?” Yes, it’s the same as the title of the current posting and no, this is not a simple coincidence: women are thin on the ground in science and technology.

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Publié par le 29 avril 2012 dans Research, Science, Women

 

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Coming back to life

Brain Bookshelf. Image from dokumaciorumcek

Brain Bookshelf. Image from dokumaciorumcek

It’s been quite some time I haven’t written anything. This has an explanation. Well, actually, many explanations 🙂 I started writing for other media — such as Global Voices Advocacy and Global Voices Online. Also, since I am coming closer and closer to the end of my PhD, I don’t have that much time to read any paper that comes around and tickles my curiosity. Which is frustrating.

Well, to a certain extent, in fact. The good news is that with some fellow geeks, we started the very first French-speaking crowd-sourced blog about bioinformatics. It all happens here. Yours truly is among the nasty people who require that there are no spelling errors, who require modifications of the content cuz it is better this way and not that way, and who ravages poor authors with licenses… 🙂 Well, yeah, this is what the editor’s job is about.

Cuz editor’s never enough and writing is a burning passion, I also write for the blog. Thus, I have my monthly column: Journal Club. Oh, how astonishing, huh: it is nothing else but science blogging about what is new in bioinformatics 🙂

Screenshot Bioinfo-fr

Screenshot Bioinfo-fr

So, I said « crowd-sourced blog ». Actually, we are quite a few enthusiasts, everyone coming along with a different expertise. Amongst us, there are not only research engineers in bioinformatics, but also PhDs, post-docs and even full-time researchers. We thus talk about many things: from discovering a particular domain to a description of a graduate program on bioinformatics through feedback from various conferences and various practical tips making your everyday scripting easier 🙂

Honestly? It is time-consuming, sometimes you feel like you become Hannibal Lecter… but it is finally so much fun. Getting to know people, their backgrounds and helping them to improve writing and expressing themselves is really a great experience. I’m sure you are particularly envious if you happen to be French-impaired… 😉

Alongside, I recently became the editor for the newest chapter of Global Voices, namely Global Voices Bulgarian. This is a rather different incentive when compared with bioinformatics, for sure. But this is another type of accessing the world and its never-ending evolution.

Screenshot GV Bulgarian

Screenshot GV Bulgarian

So far, we are a very small team, but we believe this will improve over time. My interest here is getting the way citizen media makes the world to Bulgaria, where this kind of things are still underdevelopped. This is really a great opportunity and a challenging entreprise. Cross your fingers it all goes well! And, of course, you are warmly welcome to follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.

Last but not least: I am actively searching for a post-doc. If you see something that encompasses a combination of bioinformatics analyses and experimental work, do let me know through the comments 🙂

 
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Publié par le 15 avril 2012 dans Science

 

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2nd International Symposium « Microbes For Health »: live-tweeting from there in one week!

I was kindly invited by Yoni Winogradsky on behalf of Danone Research to live-tweet during the 2nd International Symposium « Microbes For Health »: thanks millions 🙂 So, in one week, here we go!

The official hashtag to follow will be #MFH2011.

MFH2011 banner

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Publié par le 24 novembre 2011 dans Bookmark, Science

 

RIP Lynn Margulis

Sad news, everyone. Lynn Margulis passed away two days ago.

Important? Hell, yeah. Never met her in person. But she came up with one of the most fascinating scientific theories ever: the endosymbiotic theory. Remember, the stuff you are told from high school: mitochondria and plastids (such as chloroplasts) originated from free-living bacteria that were integrated in other cells. The whole system ended up being an eukaryotic cell, in other words what composes us.

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Publié par le 24 novembre 2011 dans Miscellaneous, Science, Women

 

[Brevia] Gendered Innovations portal

I got this through the eq-uni mailing-list, from Londa Schiebinger, Stanford University, Ineke Klinge, Maastricht University and Martina Schraudner, Fraunhofer & TU Berlin. It is about the Gendered Innovations In Science, Health & Medicine, and Engineering Project.

This project develops practical methods of sex and gender analysis for scientists and engineers, and provides case studies as concrete illustrations of how sex and gender analysis leads to innovation.

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Publié par le 7 novembre 2011 dans Science, Women

 

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The EMBO Meeting blogging coverage

I think you will all be interested in finding more about the many and various topics that were approached during The EMBO Meeting 2011. That is why I hereafter link to the other certified bloggers’ pages 🙂 In case you want to refresh your memory about some of the topics I shortly wrote about during The EMBO Meeting 2010, I link them below as well. Enjoy!

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Publié par le 30 septembre 2011 dans Research, Science

 

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The EMBO Meeting Day 0: Career Advancement Day

The EMBO Meeting 2011As I told you earlier, I was selected as certified blogger for The EMBO Meeting 🙂 This was really cool even though I had to travel a lot right afterwards and am now ill: definitely, when you come back from a place where it is 38°C every day to ~23°C, you feel the difference! But anyway: blogging about the conference makes me feel better 😉 Here is thus a short overview of the Day 0.

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Publié par le 30 septembre 2011 dans Research, Science

 

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