Brilliant video by Emily from The Brain Scoop on women in science communication.
Brilliant video by Emily from The Brain Scoop on women in science communication.
Today marks the start of the Mozilla Summit (#mozsummit), a three-day meetup (split between three cities) of Mozilla staff and key contributors. It’s a celebration of and a chance to discuss the amazing work that’s being done across the organisation, from Firefox OS to Open Badges and the Science Lab. This is our chance to come together as a community, learn from one another, and more specifically for our work at the Science Lab – our chance to not only tell our story, but invite our colleagues in to help test and shape it.
Earlier this week, in the lead up to the event, two of my Foundation colleagues posted two stellar pieces that got me thinking about where we’ve come in the last four+ months with shaping the Science Lab. If you have the time, do check out Matt’s post on working in the open – core to how we operate at Mozilla, and Brett’s reflections on the summer of Maker Parties on the Webmaker blog. They’re a great lens into not only the activity going on at the Foundation, but a look into our process as a whole.
On to some reflections of our own …
We launched with an idea of how Mozilla could best help the research community this past June. We had a project up and running to build on (Software Carpentry) and a sketch of some of the areas making the most progress in advancing science on the web, as well as an even longer list of areas needing attention.
So where have we come since June 14? Here’s a look at our progress to date, what we’re excited about and what we’re still exploring (and could use your help with).
We spoke with over 3,000 people.
In the last four months, we’ve engaged with (not just talked at) over 3,000 people, astonishingly, largely face to face, to ask them where they see the research system breaking down, where is attention needed, and start to discuss how an organization like Mozilla can help. I’ve spoken with researchers, educators, developers (or “research software engineers”, bridging both worlds), scientific startups, publishers across the spectrum, and institutions around the world. We’ve spoken with researchers of all shapes and sizes working on problems in the US, Australia / New Zealand, South America, and Africa – to see how we can best work together to achieve this vision of more web-enabled research that helps us connect, helps us learn and innovate, and helps us interoperate.
We honed a model for the Mozilla Science Lab.
A few common threads emerged from those conversations.
There’s a tremendous amount of work being done to move science to the web, but not in a coordinated fashion. And for all of that development, it’s still difficult to discover what work’s already been done. So we’re duplicating efforts, or, even worse, continuing on with business as usual.
You can read more about the model for the Science Lab in our post here (feedback always welcome). We strongly believe that what Mozilla can best contribute to this space is the expertise, values and leadership needed to fill in the missing gaps (digital skills education, examples of what’s technically possible if systems interoperate), to be the support beams needed to truly change the way science is done.
We started to map activity to those pillars
What have we learned (and what do we need to work on)?
… and we need a tighter way of articulating our project aim to a wider audience.
One of the interesting points that’s bubbled up in the last few weeks is a bit of dissonance between the phrasing “Open Science” and “science on the web” – two characterisations that I believe are dependent upon one another, often used interchangeably in these circles. But there are other situations where “open” is used as a catchall, and we need to do a better job at unpicking why what terminology matters, what it means in this context, and explore the relationship between those two.
In the open science circles, working on the web is the condition to moving work forward – crafting our systems to interoperate, designing our communities to operate in a networked fashion, making sure the components of our research (data, code, content, materials) are as reusable and maximally interoperable as possible. Working on the web without having those components or that process be open doesn’t scale. But we need to better articulate what we mean by those two phrasings, and show by doing to researchers what science on the web means.
We need a better, more explicit call to action.
In the short term (for those of you who have been asking ), we are working towards launching our Science Lab website. But that’s not really the type of engagement I’m shooting for, though it will help us create a core focal point for developments and resources not only with the Science Lab, but also in the community. Watch this space.
We’re currently exploring an action-based community building effort that we’d love your feedback on – the aim being to do more science on the web, and build communities of practice around that action. Much of this is a hattip to the brilliant work the Webmaker team has done. For those of you who’ve seen me talk recently, I also take inspiration from the International Geophysical/Polar Years – international efforts spanning 60+ nations, involving 50,000 participants across the social / life / natural / theoretical sciences to push towards one common goal.
I think we have a real opportunity to do the same for science on the web, showing that working with open-access content, open data, open-source / interoperable tools and code, or running a training is the future of 21st century science, and invite you all to join us.
This is where we could use your help. As we work to craft resources to help others learn more about how to work on the web – about implications for data, content, code, new tools, training programs, how can we best structure that for maximum engagement?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
But we’ll save further discussion on that for another blog post … I’ve got to get ready for the Summit.
The event also features Pete Binfield (PeerJ), Elizabeth Iorns (Science Exchange), Barry Bunin (Collaborative Drug Discovery), Mark Hahnel (figshare), Brian Nosek (Center for Open Science / Open Science Framework) and more. Check out the agenda here.
I just landed in Oakland, where I’ll be participating in a two-day workshop exploring the role of software and training for earth and environmental science. The meeting is convened by the Institute for Sustainable Earth and Environmental Software (ISEES), and supported by the National Science Foundation.
Over the course of the meeting we’ll discuss the needs of the community and the evolving role of software as an enabler in advancing the field, with the aim of honing a vision for a “software institute” for environmental science. Whether that’ll be modeled after the Software Sustainability Institute in Edinburgh, I’m not sure – but looking forward to seeing how the conversation unfolds. Also keen to hear if/how training may fit into their vision as a cornerstone for supporting better practice in the discipline.
This is the last in a series of workshops convened by ISEES (with an impressive group behind it, including Trisha Cruse, Peter Fox and Bruce Caron). Stay tuned for more about the event, and for information on ISEES, visit their website.
In the last post, I laid out some of the key pillars we hope to hang our activities off for the Science Lab moving forward. There’s been some great feedback sent via various channels so far (thank you! and keep it coming), one message raising the issue of the “black box” in research.
The point made me realise that I may have assumed the broader vision of the project was clearly defined (the three areas outlined in the previous post more seen as the means in which we hope to execute on that vision).
Let me explain.
(Also, this allows me to include one of my favorite depictions of said problem … )
The vision we’re working towards at the Science Lab is one where openness is the norm for research – where there’s unfettered access to knowledge and the components associated (articles, data, software, materials, methods), where work can be built upon without asking permission (setting our eyes on reproducibility), and where our modus operandi is more rooted in open collaboration (and we’re rewarded for such behavior).
We’ll be building out communities of practice and use cases around these points, from showing what’s possible on the tooling / technology front, to addressing some of the gaps in education (in many cases keeping researchers from using open tools to achieve this vision). And on top of that, amplifying the current work in this space and building out resources so that the researchers can easily find information on developments in this space, creating a focal point for the community.
It’s a big problem we’re aiming to tackle, but with the help of the community, I think there’s no better time to set out to help truly make the web work for science.
It’s been just over two months since we announced the start of the Mozilla Science Lab, and I wanted to share with you our thoughts on how to structure our activities moving forward.
Our aim from the beginning has been to see how we could best support and extent the existing work going on in “open science” – in some cases bridging existing technologies to address new problems, in others providing the educational resource to help close the gap in skills and awareness. And on top of that, map some of the core values and areas of expertise of Mozilla to science (e.g., openness, digital literacy, open-source ethos, community), like we did at Creative Commons years ago with the science project.
To ensure sure we were not just operating off of assumption regarding what the community needed (especially one as diverse, dynamic, and with as many stakeholders), we hit the road (literally and somewhat figuratively speaking, thank you Skype). Over the course of the last 2+ months, I’ve spoken to rooms of 20 / 300 / 700 asking for their feedback, and had a series of 1-on-1 calls and meetings with researchers from a diverse sample of disciplines (earth science, biology, ecology, social science, astronomy, physics), policymakers, publishers, tool developers, and educators.
It was clear that there is a pressing need for coordination, interoperability, and better communication in this space, whether you’re building digital infrastructure for high performance computing, building open source tools for visualisation, or looking for new (open) means of doing your research in the lab. Taking everything we heard into consideration, we distilled that activity down into three core areas, each mutually dependent upon one another. We view each of these areas as key to filling in some of the gaps in this space, as well as providing the infrastructure and support for the breadth of activities already going on.
Let me go into a bit more detail about each of these areas, to help you better understand our programmatic focus moving forward. We’ll be elaborating on each of these areas in a series of subsequent posts, as well.
Through this work, we’ll be engaging with other external groups (scientific startups, publishers, researchers, etc.) to help bridge existing technologies where possible, build our prototypes to explore new problem sets, and supporting existing development in the community. An example of this could be taking an existing tool that may be discipline-specific and working to see if it can be applied to a different field. Or it could be taking existing infrastructure (say, the badges work) and working with external groups to test out different implementations.
Our aim here will be to serve as a means to bring together community around best practice, and also support existing work and extend it through small prototyping bursts of activity, collaborations and internal development.
Running in parallel to all of our other efforts in building community, communities of practice and open tools is a skills training layer, exploring what “digital literacy” for science means. Research is becoming increasingly digital in nature – data-driven and in many cases computationally-dependent – yet digital skills such as version control, visualization, analysis and online collaboration are not often taught at the university level. There’s an increasing gap between what researchers are expected to know, and what they have access to training wise. And practices fundamental to doing open, reproducible science are still outside of most formal training at the university level, despite increased availability of free, open tools for data sharing, collaboration, electronic lab notebooks and external pressures from funders.
Our work will help bridge that gap – in part by making such training accessible and attainable to all, so that scientists can do better, more digitally-enabled research.
Software Carpentry is our main activity in this space to date, a project founded by Greg Wilson to help teach basic computing skills to researchers. This is done via short two-day bootcamps, taught by a volunteer instructor base all around the world. We hope in the future to be able to build out additional components and work with others in the community exploring different approaches to heightening digital literacy for research.
Last but not least is our focus on building and supporting community around the work mentioned above. We hope to be that connective tissue between various bursts of activity, understanding and practice, providing a focal point for information on developments in this space and a means for others to plug in. Mozilla has a longstanding history in building community, and we want to use that know-how to amplify the work currently going on, build communities of practice around openness, and serve as the glue to bring interested parties together. Engagement is also high on our priority list, exploring how best to use the expertise and enthusiasm of the community to help push these ideas forward.
We will be announcing later this year an international effort that hopes to do just that – so do stay tuned.
And in the shorter term, we’ll soon be announcing our first community call which will give you a chance to interact directly with us and help us continue to shape the Science Lab, hear about new tools and projects in this space, and learn more about what we’ve got cooking for 2014.
We view these three areas as the support beams for the open research community. You’ll notice arrows showing flow between each of those core areas, as well – that’s intentional. From a technical partnership starting a broader conversation with the community about best practice to a gap raised in our training efforts turning into a technical project, we view these areas as interdependent and mutually reliant upon one another. Moving forward, our hope is to also use model as a means to assess new opportunities, build out new programs and measure our successes.
I’ll be going into more detail about our activity in these three areas over the coming weeks. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to chime in here in the comments, send to mail or find me on IRC @ kaythaney.
I’ll be joining the Hangout, along with William Gunn (Mendeley), Brian Glanz (Open Science Federation), Jeff Spies (Center for Open Science / Open Science Framework), Charles Fracchia and Adam Marblestone (Biobright), and Ann Lam and Elan L. Ohayon (Green Neuroscience Lab).